The most recommended books about African Americans

Who picked these books? Meet our 757 experts.

757 authors created a book list connected to African Americans, and here are their favorite African Americans books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of African Americans book?


The Warmth of Other Suns

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Richard Paul Author Of We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program

From the list on race and racism in America during the time of the space program.

Who am I?

I am a long-time public radio documentary producer who now creates podcasts and conducts research for Smithsonian traveling exhibitions. After producing five documentaries on various sociological aspects of the space program, I was named the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Verville Fellow in Space History in 2014. My 2010 documentary Race and the Space Race (narrated by Mae Jemison) was the first full-length exploration of the nexus between civil rights and the space program, and the Fellowship allowed me to expand the story into a book. 

Richard's book list on race and racism in America during the time of the space program

Why did Richard love this book?

I wrote my book because I heard a talk. Glen Asner of the Pentagon Historical Office spoke at a 2006 conference on the Societal Impact of Spaceflight. There, he championed the use of social history to interpret that impact.

Social history was once derided as “pots and pans” history, he said. Instead, it should be harnessed to tell the story of NASA employees who used “their equal status within a federal institution to reshape local institutions and conceptions of race.” The Warmth of Other Suns unlocked the way to do that for me. It takes the stories of the millions who travelled north during The Great Migration and finds ways to personalize them.

This book was a lodestar for me, as I labored to do something similar. 

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Warmth of Other Suns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this beautifully written masterwork, the Pulitzer Prize–winnner and bestselling author of Caste chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official…


By Fran Ross,

Book cover of Oreo

Emma Smith-Stevens Author Of The Australian

From the list on “funny-sad” contemporary novels.

Who am I?

Much laughter is born out of sadness. Humor can be a way to cope or even reinvent our realities in ways that bring relief—and release. There's a misconception that “serious literature” should be humorless; crack a smile and you’re a fraud. However, the worlds and characters that emerge from this way of thinking do not ring true to me. Who among us hasn’t joked to help deal with sorrow? Or to satirize the outrageous? Or simply because life--however brutal—is also sometimes funny? The more a writer allows laughter to intermingle with tears, the more I believe in the story, and the more I enjoy it. That is why I wrote a “funny-sad” novel, The Australian.

Emma's book list on “funny-sad” contemporary novels

Why did Emma love this book?

Oreo (originally published in 1974, then out of print, and finally repopularized by Harriette Mullen and republished in 2000), a satirical novel by Fran Ross, a journalist and, briefly, a comedy writer for Richard Pryor, is widely considered to be “before its time.” This aching and hilarious, experimentally structured story is about a girl, Oreo, with a Jewish father and a Black mother, who ventures to New York City to find her father only to discover there are hundreds of Sam Schwartzes in the phonebook, and then goes on a quest to find him.

By Fran Ross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oreo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Oreo is raised by her maternal grandparents in Philadelphia. Her black mother tours with a theatrical troupe, and her Jewish deadbeat dad disappeared when she was an infant, leaving behind a mysterious note that triggers her quest to find him. What ensues is a playful, modernized parody of the classical odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, immersed in seventies pop culture, and mixing standard English, black vernacular, and Yiddish with wisecracking aplomb. Oreo, our young hero, navigates the labyrinth of sound studios and brothels and subway tunnels in Manhattan, seeking to claim her birthright while unwittingly experiencing and triggering…


By Marquis Bey,

Book cover of Anarcho-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism

Jesse Cohn Author Of Underground Passages: Anarchist Resistance Culture, 1848-2011

From the list on how might one live an anarchist life.

Who am I?

I knew I was an anti-authoritarian before I had words for it, and my education in social justice has been long and slow. I have been researching and writing about anarchism for the better part of three decades, and am now a board member of the Institute for Anarchist Studies. Anarchy is a subject that engages me both at the level of intellectual passion, what lights up my mind, and on a visceral level, in my revulsion at the inequalities and iniquities in this world and my yearning for a fully emancipated way of life.

Jesse's book list on how might one live an anarchist life

Why did Jesse love this book?

Reading Anarcho-Blackness as a white cismale reader was an experience of discombobulation—a certain disorientation followed by a surprising re-orientation. Bey’s Black anarchism, “indebted to... Black queer and trans feminisms” dramatically reorganizes the priorities of an anarchist tradition that is sometimes still too indebted to hollow universalisms and pinched humanisms that don’t sufficiently include everyone. This is an anarchism specifically for Black queer and trans people which ends up—in a sense that is only “paradoxical” for those of us not paying enough attention—being for everyone. The prose is both philosophical and playful, inviting us to imagine a life that is by turns “ungovernable,” “unpropertied,” “uncouth,” “unhinged,” and “uncontrolled.”

By Marquis Bey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anarcho-Blackness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Anarcho-Blackness seeks to define the shape of a Black anarchism. Classical anarchism tended to avoid questions of race—specifically Blackness—as well as the intersections of race and gender. Bey addresses this lack, not by constructing a new cannon of Black anarchists but by outlining how anarchism and Blackness already share a certain subjective relationship to power, a way of understanding and inhabiting the world. Through the lens of Black feminist and transgender theory, he explores what we can learn by making this kinship explicit, including how anarchism itself is transformed by the encounter. If the state is predicated on a racialized…


By Dolen Perkins-Valdez,

Book cover of Wench

Michelle Coles Author Of Black Was the Ink

From the list on surviving the African American experience.

Who am I?

Michelle Coles is a novelist, public speaker, and former civil rights attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. As a 9th generation Louisianan, she is highly attuned to the struggles that African Americans have faced in overcoming the legacy of slavery and the periods of government-sanctioned discrimination that followed. Her goal in writing is to empower young people by educating them about history and giving them the tools to shape their own destiny. Michelle, named to the John Lewis Foundation’s 2022 list of Good Troublemakers, lives in Maryland with her husband and their five sons.

Michelle's book list on surviving the African American experience

Why did Michelle love this book?

Wench is an excellent novel about four enslaved African American women who are concubines to their wealthy white plantation owners.

It chronicles their attempts to carve out a space for their happiness in the incredibly oppressive era of American slavery. This novel forces readers to contemplate how they would preserve their humanity in the absence of bodily autonomy. 

By Dolen Perkins-Valdez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wench as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Jones’s The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez—previously a finalist for the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Short Fiction Prize—as a writer destined for greatness.

Talk with You Like a Woman

By Cheryl D. Hicks,

Book cover of Talk with You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935

Douglas Flowe Author Of Uncontrollable Blackness: African American Men and Criminality in Jim Crow New York

From the list on race, crime, and American imprisonment.

Who am I?

I am an Associate professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis who is primarily interested in crime, illicit leisure, masculinity, American cities, and imprisonment. I grew up both in New York City and Orlando, Florida, and I received a PhD from the University of Rochester. Most of the books I read have to do with understanding the American criminal justice system, criminality itself, and the part societies play in constructing crime. Currently I am researching and writing a book about African American men and the carceral state, tentatively entitled Jim Crow Prison.  

Douglas' book list on race, crime, and American imprisonment

Why did Douglas love this book?

I first read Hick’s history of black women in New York’s criminal justice system while I was in graduate school, and I was fascinated by how she brought stories to life in a city I was so familiar with.

Along with Kali Gross’s Colored Amazons, which looks at black women in Philadelphia, it inspired me to imagine what a similar study on black men could look like.

Hicks masterful use of the New York State prison archives and her attention to the details in the lives of the women in her work makes this an essential book for anyone interested in race, gender, and the carceral state. 

By Cheryl D. Hicks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Talk with You Like a Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With this book, Cheryl Hicks brings to light the voices and viewpoints of black working-class women, especially southern migrants, who were the subjects of urban and penal reform in early-twentieth-century New York. Hicks compares the ideals of racial uplift and reform programs of middle-class white and black activists to the experiences and perspectives of those whom they sought to protect and, often, control. In need of support as they navigated the discriminatory labor and housing markets and contended with poverty, maternity, and domestic violence, black women instead found themselves subject to hostility from black leaders, urban reformers, and the police.…

Dead Dead Girls

By Nekesa Afia,

Book cover of Dead Dead Girls

Emily J. Edwards Author Of Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man

From the list on mysteries set in the perfect time and place.

Who am I?

Of course, every mystery needs a perfect crime, but what about the perfect setting? I’m fascinated by how authors manipulate time and place to add to the heightened emotions of their murders, thefts, blackmail, and frauds. It’s the juxtaposition of truth and fantasy—what we believe times were like and how they actually were—that makes setting such an essential detail of every whodunnit. Doing research on my own novel, I wrenched apart the facts and fictions of Post-War America, and grew even more ravenous for mysteries that leveraged their settings for the utmost entertainment. 

Emily's book list on mysteries set in the perfect time and place

Why did Emily love this book?

Months ago, I was on Twitter, openly wishing for a Thin Man remake, with Mahershala Ali and Lupita Nyong'o as Nick and Nora. A friend immediately suggested Nekesa Afia’s Harlem Renaissance Mystery debut, Dead Dead Girls. Afia’s understanding of the tightly-knit community plays an essential role in the story, with main character Louise fighting against perceptions and a cold-blooded murderer. Couple all the expected roadblocks with glam nightlife and Prohibition antics. This entire series comes together like a perfect cocktail.

By Nekesa Afia,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dead Dead Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“In this terrific series opener, Afia evokes the women’s lives in all their wayward and beautiful glory, especially the abruptness with which their dreams, hopes and fears cease to exist.”--The New York Times

The start of an exciting new historical mystery series set during the Harlem Renaissance from debut author Nekesa Afia

Harlem, 1926. Young Black women like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.

Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She’s succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie’s Café and her nights…

Pursuit of the Truth

By K.D. Richards,

Book cover of Pursuit of the Truth

Delia C. Pitts Author Of Murder Take Two

From the list on featuring Black private eyes.

Who am I?

I’m a nerd by temperament (raised by a psychologist and a librarian, what else could I be?) and by profession (decades working as a U.S. diplomat and an academic administrator honed my people-watching faculties to a fine edge). So, of course, I’ve always been drawn to my opposite: that cynical loner whose pursuit of justice requires hard fists and a bent moral compass. Private eye mysteries are my perfect place. In them, I can exercise my passion for intellectual puzzles and my love for thrilling action. I enjoy the combination of social commentary and sheer entertainment I find when I dive into reading (or writing) a private eye mystery.

Delia's book list on featuring Black private eyes

Why did Delia love this book?

This first-in-series thriller revved my engine with its fun combination of action and romance. New Yorker Ryan West is an expert in personal protection who runs his own security firm. But he wasn’t prepared for the personal fall-out from falling for the tough-minded hotel boss he’s hired to guard. She’s brainy and resourceful, the kind of modern-day princess who can save herself but doesn’t mind engaging with a dashing prince of a private eye.

By K.D. Richards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pursuit of the Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Her secrets could get them killed...

After hotel CEO Nadia Shelton barely escapes an attack, security expert Ryan West realises someone will kill to find the brother Nadia thought was dead. And the only way Ryan can protect her as they uncover the truth, is to stay strictly professional. But the sparks igniting between them refuse to be ignored...

Book cover of Go Tell It on the Mountain

Elisabeth Åsbrink Author Of 1947: Where Now Begins

From the list on memory and oblivion.

Who am I?

My Hungarian father was 7 years old when he almost got deported to Polen by the Nazis, but was miraculously saved by his mother. He came to Sweden, where I´m born, and never looked back, completely focused on the future. So I, his only child, focus on memory and oblivion. It´s like we stand back to back—or like I´m a seamstress, trying to stitch the past with the present. In my British mother´s family history is Salonica, the magical Jewish city in the Ottoman Empire. My Spanish-Jewish grandfather spoke the same Castillian dialect that Cervantes used to write Don Quijote. And I´m born in Sweden. These are my universes and where my writing is born.  

Elisabeth's book list on memory and oblivion

Why did Elisabeth love this book?

I only recently started to read James Baldwin and am blown away by his intensity and poetic language. In this first novel he describes the world of his childhood in Harlem, NY. It is American identity, history, and passion, it´s a portrait of a young man as well of the wounds of slavery hurting in every individual born into the American system. And it’s a beautiful story.

By James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Go Tell It on the Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Go back to where you started, or as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself: but know whence you came.'

Originally published in 1953, Go Tell it on the Mountain was James Baldwin's first major work, based in part on his own childhood in Harlem. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy's discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson…


By Margo Jefferson,

Book cover of Negroland: A Memoir

Meghan Flaherty Author Of Tango Lessons: A Memoir

From the list on memoirs for snobs who don’t read memoirs.

Who am I?

I write memoir. I didn’t set out to write memoir. But I’ve become convinced by the power of personal narrative, both on its own merits, and as a frame and lens through which to view the world—a way to take a reader by the hand before slipping into whatever other subject matter sings its siren call. And the memoirs I love best are always in conversation with something bigger, or beyond the self. As Annie Dillard wrote, “there’s nothing you can’t do with [literary nonfiction]. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is proscribed. You get to make up your own form every time.” I like to see these works as doing just that.

Meghan's book list on memoirs for snobs who don’t read memoirs

Why did Meghan love this book?

Margo Jefferson is one of the smartest humans on the planet and her memoir reflects that. She tells her story as intertwined with the story of her first cultural context—the Black elite of the 1950s, and the crisis of identity she experienced with the rise of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. She brings her critic’s sharp intelligence and wit to bear in every paragraph, but doesn’t hold back any of her heart. It’s a terrifically moving book and a masterpiece of personal/cultural criticism, full of elegance and nuance. 

By Margo Jefferson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Negroland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The daughter of a successful paediatrician and a fashionable socialite, Margo Jefferson spent her childhood among Chicago's black elite. She calls this society 'Negroland': 'a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty'. With privilege came expectation. Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments - the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of post-racial America - Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions.

Blood Grove

By Walter Mosley,

Book cover of Blood Grove

Michael R. Lane Author Of The Gem Connection

From the list on African American mysteries.

Who am I?

As an avid reader, I read a wide variety of books. Of the fiction genre mystery and suspense remain my favorite. From the classics to the gritty, a well-told mystery is a literary gem. As my mystery palette has aged—like my taste in wine—so are my demands of what makes a good mystery novel. The best mysteries for me contain more than a serpentine journey toward the hidden truth. They have intriguing characters, crisp dialogue, interesting settings, formidable foes, and of course indispensable heroes or anti-heroes. My writing goal is aimed at achieving the same level of literary penmanship of the mysteries I enjoy reading so much.

Michael's book list on African American mysteries

Why did Michael love this book?

Easy Rawlins is an African American private detective in 1960s Los Angeles. Easy gets a visit from a troubled Vietnam veteran at his office. The vet tells an implausible story of him and his lover being attacked in a citrus grove outside the city. He may have killed the man. The woman and his dog are missing. Rawlins’ gut tells him the case is nothing but trouble. He takes the case anyway. The bond between veterans overriding all other concerns. Blood Grove is an exhilarating, mystery soup involving moguls, sociopaths, cops, hippies, extremists, and swindlers. Requiring Easy to call upon help from his friends. Friends who range from genius to lethal. I loved going along with Easy on this case. Admiring his resolve and intelligence in solving the mystery.

By Walter Mosley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blood Grove as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ezekiel "Easy" Porterhouse Rawlins is an unlicensed private investigator turned hard-boiled detective always willing to do what it takes to get things done in the racially charged, dark underbelly of Los Angeles.

But when Easy is approached by a shell-shocked Vietnam War veteran- a young white man who claims to have gotten into a fight protecting a white woman from a black man- he knows he shouldn't take the case.

Though he sees nothing but trouble in the brooding ex-soldier's eyes, Easy, a vet himself, feels a kinship form between them. Easy embarks on an investigation that takes him from…

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

By Janice N. Harrington, Shelley Jackson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Judy Carey Nevin Author Of All Kinds of Kindness

From the list on picture books featuring children of color.

Who am I?

I love increasing the diversity seen on our family’s bookshelves but also on the TBR (to-be-read) piles of relatives, babysitters, educators—everyone who might come across my little list of five books. I’m a very visual person, which is why picture books have always been my thing, even back in college when my roommate and I used to spend our study breaks in the children’s area of the public library reading stacks and stacks of picture books. It’s only natural, then, that my list should mix books written and illustrated by people of color* with my love for picture books. *with the exception of Mary Jo Udry and Eleanor Mill

Judy's book list on picture books featuring children of color

Why did Judy love this book?

I love the author’s use of language, “wash away the dreaming,” “as still as sunlight,” “plump as a Sunday purse,” and my favorite, “I stand so still even my shadow gets bored and starts to walk off.” And the bright artwork incorporating bits & pieces of textiles and buttons and a variety of papers is just the right background for a story about a girl determined to achieve her ultimate goal—catching the elusive Miss Hen. The facial expressions, both human and hen, are fabulous—especially Miss Hen’s sly look at the reader when she eludes her captor yet again. The way a self-declared chicken chaser’s attitude can change when faced with a brood of chicks is a sight to see!

By Janice N. Harrington, Shelley Jackson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet one smart chicken chaser. She can catch any chicken on her grandmother's farm except one – the elusive Miss Hen. In a hilarious battle of wits, the spirited narrator regales readers with her campaign to catch Miss Hen, but this chicken is "fast as a mosquito buzzing and quick as a fleabite." Our chicken chaser has her mind set on winning, until she discovers that sometimes it's just as satisfying not to catch chickens as it is to catch them.

A fresh voice full of sass and inventive, bold collage illustrations full of surprises create a childlike escapade brimming…

12 Million Black Voices

By Richard Wright,

Book cover of 12 Million Black Voices

David G. Nicholls Author Of Conjuring the Folk: Forms of Modernity in African America

From the list on understanding the Great Black Migration.

Who am I?

I'm a lifelong reader and wanted to study literature from an early age. I grew up in Indianapolis, one of the cities reshaped by the Great Black Migration. I went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and found myself once again in the urban Midwest. My research for Conjuring the Folk led me to discover a trove of short stories by George Wylie Henderson, a Black writer from Alabama who migrated to Harlem. I edited the stories and published them as Harlem Calling: The Collected Stories of George Wylie Henderson. I'm a contributor to African American Review, the Journal of Modern Literature, and the Encyclopedia of the Great Black Migration

David's book list on understanding the Great Black Migration

Why did David love this book?

Richard Wright is perhaps best known for his acclaimed 1940 novel, Native Son. Following its publication, he was at work on a very different project: a photo-documentary history of the African American folk. Wright wrote the prose narrative, which describes in broad strokes the history of Black Americans from slavery to emancipation to the Jim Crow era and the Great Black Migration. The black and white photographs accompanying the narrative were selected by Edwin Rosskam from the archives of the Farm Security Administration. Taken during the Great Depression by such notable photographers as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, the photos provide visual documentation of the harsh conditions Blacks faced both south and north. My interpretation of 12 Million Black Voices is given in chapter six of my book

By Richard Wright,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked 12 Million Black Voices as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

12 Million Black Voices, first published in 1941, combines Wright's prose with startling photographs selected by Edwin Rosskam from the Security Farm Administration files compiled during the Great Depression. The photographs include works by such giants as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein. From crowded, rundown farm shacks to Harlem storefront churches, the photos depict the lives of black people in 1930s America--their misery and weariness under rural poverty, their spiritual strength, and their lives in northern ghettos. Wright's accompanying text eloquently narrates the story of these 90 pictures and delivers a powerful commentary on the origins and history…

Black Is the Body

By Emily Bernard,

Book cover of Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

Cassandra Lane Author Of We Are Bridges: A Memoir

From the list on lyrical memoirs from the soul.

Who am I?

My writing background started in the newsroom where, as a reporter, my job was to interview and tell the stories of others. At one point in my career, my editors assigned me a bi-monthly column, and while I used this space to write about a variety of issues happening in the community, I also used it occasionally to write personal essays. I love this form because the personal story helps us drill down on an issue and, in essence, make deeper connections with the collective. When I left the newsroom, I continued to study and write in essay and memoir form. In my MFA program, I was able to focus on this form exclusively for two years, and I have spent many years crafting my first book-length memoir into form. 

Cassandra's book list on lyrical memoirs from the soul

Why did Cassandra love this book?

Faithful to its title, this brilliant book starts with the body — an unspeakable injury to the narrator’s body, a crime, a horror. Bernard writes with a specificity that is gut-wrenching without being sensational. And all along, running alongside the sensory language is the author’s intellectual river, constantly washing over and over a moment, a scene, a feeling, a thought. This book includes twelve interconnected essays, each building on the other despite how many years – and miles – separate them.

By Emily Bernard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Is the Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Blackness is an art, not a science. It is a paradox: intangible and visceral; a situation and a story. It is the thread that connects these essays, but its significance as an experience emerges randomly, unpredictably. . . . Race is the story of my life, and therefore black is the body of this book.” 

In these twelve deeply personal, connected essays, Bernard details the experience of growing up black in the south with a family name inherited from a white man, surviving a random stabbing at a New Haven coffee shop, marrying a white man from the North and…

For Black Girls Like Me

By Mariama J. Lockington,

Book cover of For Black Girls Like Me

Jiordan Castle Author Of Disappearing Act: A True Story

From the list on resilience for young adults and adults.

Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in stories about becoming. Whether it’s a coming-of-age story, a story about overcoming adversity, or a story about discovery or recovery, I find that the best books about becoming also tend to be books about resilience. For me, the lure of a book is often more about its themes and perspective than it is about where it’s categorized and shelved. Having written a memoir in verse for an upper young adult reading group, this is especially true of my experience as an author. Each of the books on this list has something profound and singular to offer young adult readers and adult readers alike.

Jiordan's book list on resilience for young adults and adults

Why did Jiordan love this book?

Everyone should be reading middle grade books for characters and stories like this.

Eleven-year-old Makeda is loved, but as a Black girl in an adoptive family of white people, she questions what it might be like to grow up in a family that looks like her. Lockington draws from her own experience as a transracial adoptee, and writes with lyrical accessibility and honest, meaningful depictions of mental health struggles within a family.

This coming-of-age story for the younger set reminds people of all ages that while love matters, it takes work every day to keep evolving, showing up for, and fighting for those we love.

By Mariama J. Lockington,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked For Black Girls Like Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years-old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda's family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena - the only other adopted black girl she knows - for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda's sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can't seem to find one real friend.

Through it all, Makeda can't help but wonder: What would it…

Complete Writings

By Phillis Wheatley,

Book cover of Complete Writings

Bettye Kearse Author Of The Other Madisons: The Lost History of a President's Black Family

From the list on notable enslaved women.

Who am I?

According to the eight generations of my family’s oral historians, I am a descendant of an enslaved cook and her enslaver, and half-brother, President James Madison. I am also a writer and a retired pediatrician. My essays, personal narrative, and commentaries have appeared in the Boston Herald, River Teeth, TIME, and the New York Times Magazine.

Bettye's book list on notable enslaved women

Why did Bettye love this book?

In 1761, the slave ship Phillis departed from Africa and headed toward America. Among the human cargo was a young girl. Judging by her missing incisors, she was seven or eight years old. Soon after the ship’s arrival in Boston, John and Susann Wheatley purchased the girl and named her after the ship that had delivered her to them. Mrs. Wheatley taught their servant to read and write and introduced her to classical and English literature, including revered poets. Around 1765, Phillis began writing poetry, and her first poem, “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin,” published in 1767, when she was only about fourteen years old, rendered her the first black person in America to publish a poem. Carretta’s collection of Wheatley’s work includes a fascinating, thoroughly researched introduction.

By Phillis Wheatley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Complete Writings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary writings of Phillis Wheatley, a slave girl turned published poet

In 1761, a young girl arrived in Boston on a slave ship, sold to the Wheatley family, and given the name Phillis Wheatley. Struck by Phillis' extraordinary precociousness, the Wheatleys provided her with an education that was unusual for a woman of the time and astonishing for a slave. After studying English and classical literature, geography, the Bible, and Latin, Phillis published her first poem in 1767 at the age of 14, winning much public attention and considerable fame. When Boston publishers who doubted its authenticity rejected an…

Freedom Fire

By Daniel José Older,

Book cover of Freedom Fire

Anna Mae Duane Author Of Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up to Change a Nation

From the list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class.

Who am I?

I am an associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut. I’ve spent most of my career thinking about the role children have played in American culture. Adults, past and present, often overlook the intelligence and resilience of children who have managed to change both their immediate circumstances, and the world around them. I seek out these children and do my best to honor their stories. I’ve written or edited four other books on race and childhood, and have a podcast on children in history.

Anna's book list on Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

Why did Anna love this book?

This middle-grade novel introduces us to a real place—the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City—and invites us to imagine the historical children who lived there as freedom fighters. Those fights for freedom, it turns out, take place on the back of dinosaurs! While the surprising addition of dinosaur battles might seem like a diversion from the hard work of learning about slavery’s painful history, in Older’s hands, the dinos offer young readers a way to meditate on power and its abuses. Viewed in the context of a Black radical tradition that insists on alternate timescapes, Freedom Fire’s dinosaurs do not function as a bit of whimsical unreality that overwrites difficult historical truths. Instead, their discordant presence actually offers a space for readers—children and educators both—to better inhabit the surreal, disorienting history of enslavement and freedom in the United States.

By Daniel José Older,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freedom Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"An unforgettable historical, high-octane adventure." -- Dav Pilkey, author-illustrator of the Dog Man series

Magdalys and the squad are flying south on pteroback. South to rescue her older brother. South to war.The squad links up with the dino-mounted troops of the Louisiana Native Guard, an all-black regiment in the Union Army fighting to free their people. They're led by General Sheridan, surrounded by enemy forces in Tennessee and desperate for any edge to sway the tide of battle. Magdalys's burgeoning powers might be the Union's last hope. But she doesn't want to abandon the search for her brother. And she…

Book cover of African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.: Race, Class and Social Justice in the Nation's Capital

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza Author Of Before Gentrification: The Creation of DC's Racial Wealth Gap

From the list on how DC became the most gentrified city in the country.

Who am I?

I am a White person who grew up in a primarily Black DC neighborhood in the 1980s. Growing up in a Black community in DC at a time when the city was experiencing a cascade of crises – from the spread of crack to an AIDS epidemic to a failing school system – has fundamentally shaped my life and my view of the world. When I returned in the early twenty-first century to my city to find it had significantly changed and that many of my Black neighbors had been pushed out, I was compelled to learn more about DC before gentrification and to understand the path the city I love had taken.

Tanya's book list on how DC became the most gentrified city in the country

Why did Tanya love this book?

This book offers insight into how Black DC residents think about their changing city.

For many Black long-term residents, DC has long been a “Chocolate city,” a city where Black people held both the demographic and political majority, and where Black people created their own spaces of belonging, pride, and self-reliance.

This book draws from oral histories and ethnographic data with long-term African-American residents of DC to explain both how gentrification has enhanced the vulnerability of low-income residents and how Black residents of DC are reclaiming spaces in their city.

By Sabiyha Prince,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C. as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book uses qualitative data to explore the experiences and ideas of African Americans confronting and constructing gentrification in Washington, D.C. It contextualizes Black Washingtonians' perspectives on belonging and attachment during a marked period of urban restructuring and demographic change in the Nation's Capital and sheds light on the process of social hierarchies and standpoints unfolding over time. African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C. emerges as a portrait of a heterogeneous African American population wherein members define their identity and culture as a people informed by the impact of injustice on the urban landscape. It presents oral history and…

Here in Harlem

By Walter Dean Myers,

Book cover of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

Kip Wilson Author Of The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin

From the list on YA books in verse that bring history alive.

Who am I?

I write historical YA in verse—pretty much the niche of the niche. Before I was published, I spent many years writing and querying various YA projects in prose, but it wasn’t until I decided to try a project in verse that I really found my groove. Nowadays, everything I write falls under that same (small) umbrella, so I really looked to novels like the ones here to learn from the best. These days, I still love reading YA historicals and anything in verse, but YA historicals in verse remain forever my favorite.

Kip's book list on YA books in verse that bring history alive

Why did Kip love this book?

Here in Harlem pays homage to the people of Harlem in the first half of the 20th century. I loved how the rhythmic, musical verse brings the setting to life. It’s modeled on Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, but in a completely unique way that will really speak to YA readers.

The voices depicted in this poetry collection—especially Clara Brown’s recurring testimonies—make the book feel like a fully alive story rather than simple moments captured in time.

By Walter Dean Myers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Here in Harlem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed writer Walter Dean Myers celebrates the people of Harlem with these powerful and soulful first-person poems in the voices of the residents who make up the legendary neighborhood: basketball players, teachers, mail carriers, jazz artists, maids, veterans, nannies, students, and more. Exhilarating and electric, these poems capture the energy and resilience of a neighborhood and a people.

American Apartheid

By Douglas S. Massey, Nancy A. Denton,

Book cover of American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

Jonathan Rothwell Author Of A Republic of Equals: A Manifesto for a Just Society

From the list on why some people tend to be richer or poorer.

Who am I?

Inequality and fairness are basic issues in human conflict and cooperation that have long fascinated me. Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, I was confronted with the extreme racial segregation of schools and neighborhoods. My Catholic upbringing taught me to cherish the cardinal virtues of justice, wisdom, courage, and temperance, and my education in political economy taught me that markets can fairly and efficiently allocate resources, when legal power is evenly shared. My formal education culminated in a Ph.D. in Public Affairs from Princeton University, which led me to my current roles: Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Principal Economist at Gallup. I care deeply about the social conditions that create cooperation and conflict.

Jonathan's book list on why some people tend to be richer or poorer

Why did Jonathan love this book?

This is an absolute classic in social science.

Written by Douglas Massey, my PhD advisor at Princeton and a towering scholar, it lays out with force and clarity how Black people were purposefully and forcefully segregated in the United States, when it peaked, and how that segregation led to devasting social consequences.

You cannot understand the Black experience—nor racial inequality in the United States—without knowing the facts in this book.

By Douglas S. Massey, Nancy A. Denton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Apartheid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This powerful and disturbing book clearly links persistent poverty among blacks in the United States to the unparalleled degree of deliberate segregation they experience in American cities.

American Apartheid shows how the black ghetto was created by whites during the first half of the twentieth century in order to isolate growing urban black populations. It goes on to show that, despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968, segregation is perpetuated today through an interlocking set of individual actions, institutional practices, and governmental policies. In some urban areas the degree of black segregation is so intense and occurs in so many…

Rust in the Root

By Justina Ireland,

Book cover of Rust in the Root

Judith Starkston Author Of Priestess of Ishana

From Judith's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Sorcery fan History nerd Ruin explorer Avid reader

Judith's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Judith love this book?

Rust in the Root, set in 1937, builds an alternate United States with widespread, highly imaginative magic, using a nuanced blend of mythic traditions from Norse to African.

This fantastical, “far-off” America brings into stark focus the racial injustices that are the poisonous legacy of slavery and its aftermath by showing the separate and unequal treatment of “colored” mages and their magical traditions.

The two main characters, a young queer mage, Laura Ann Langston, and her mentor, the Skylark, must stop the killing of their fellow Black mages inside what is called the Great Ohio Blight.

The magic practiced by Blacks is blamed for the “Blights” and the Great Rust, a magical equivalent of the Great Depression. Sound both devastatingly familiar and intriguingly fresh? That’s what grabbed me.

By Justina Ireland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rust in the Root as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author of the visionary New York Times bestseller Dread Nation returns with another spellbinding historical fantasy set at the crossroads of race and power in America.

It is 1937, and Laura Ann Langston lives in an America divided—between those who work the mystical arts and those who do not. Ever since the Great Rust, a catastrophic event that blighted the arcane force called the Dynamism and threw America into disarray, the country has been rebuilding for a better future. And everyone knows the future is industry and technology—otherwise known as Mechomancy—not the traditional mystical arts.

Laura disagrees. A talented…