The most recommended books about African Americans

Who picked these books? Meet our 822 experts.

822 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?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of Notes of a Native Son

Duncan Jepson Author Of All the Flowers in Shanghai

From my list on about protest.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been an activist working on issues relating to human rights and youth protection for over fifteen years and during that time I worked as a lawyer and was lucky enough to make films and write two novels. Eventually, I would concentrate solely on activism and my reading would become very specific and as the focus of my activism changed and I directed my energies to corporate accountability my reading changed course again. The list I offer is from talented writers on important subjects, all write extremely well about things that matter to a human rights activist.  

Duncan's book list on about protest

Duncan Jepson Why did Duncan love this book?

Baldwin writes both fiction and non-fiction beautifully and intimately and if you don’t know his non-fiction work then this is a very good place to start. Across a number of essays, he elegantly sets out the deep struggle faced by Black Americans and articulates how a different humanity, in America and beyond, and a different future can be realized. 

By James Baldwin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Notes of a Native Son as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#26 on The Guardian's list of 100 best nonfiction books of all time, the essays explore what it means to be Black in America

In an age of Black Lives Matter, James Baldwin's essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written. With films like I Am Not Your Negro and the forthcoming If Beale Street Could Talk bringing renewed interest to Baldwin's life and work, Notes of a Native Son serves as a valuable introduction.

Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was…


Book cover of Sarah Rising

Sarah Warren Author Of Stacey Abrams: Lift Every Voice

From my list on to read when you don’t have the answers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’d been a preschool teacher and a children’s author for years before I decided to become a mom. I was pretty sure I’d kill it at motherhood, I mean, I knew all the songs and I had lots of books. I was always up for giving advice to the caregivers at my school, heck, I was the perfect parent before my son was born. I knew everything then. Not anymore. Thank goodness for books. Over the years, my child has asked some tough questions, read on…you’ll see. Do they sound familiar? If so, these books might help you find your footing as you go looking for answers. 

Sarah's book list on to read when you don’t have the answers

Sarah Warren Why did Sarah love this book?

“Mommy, is George Floyd going to be okay?”

My son knows George Floyd is not going to be okay, but he won’t stop asking. I think he’s just wondering if he’s safe…if his neighbors are safe…if the world is going to be okay. I don’t know the answers. I try to cover. I lecture. I complain. I blame. I confuse him. This book did what I never could. It’s about a protest. It’s also about family, love, power, community, and bugs. Sarah’s story engaged my child’s heart and mind so much better than any of my amazing lectures. The world is not okay, but Sarah showed us that we can do something about it, and that makes us feel a little safer.

By Ty Chapman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sarah Rising as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Sarah starts her day like any other day: she eats her toast and feeds her bugs. But today isn't a day like any other day. Today, her dad brings her to a protest to speak out against police violence against Black people. The protesters are loud, and Sarah gets scared. When Sarah spots a beautiful monarch butterfly and follows it through the crowd, she finds herself inside the no-man's land between the line of police and protesters. In the moments that follow, Sarah is confronted with the cruelty of those who are supposed to protect her and learns what it…


Book cover of Aberrations in Black: Toward A Queer Of Color Critique

Merrill Cole Author Of The Other Orpheus: A Poetics of Modern Homosexuality

From my list on queer theory to gain an understanding of the field.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been pondering philosophical questions and trying to understand my queer sexuality since childhood. While checking out The Portable Nietzsche in my high school library, the librarian warned me the philosopher was “a bad man.” Then I had to read the book, which not only taught me to become critical of all forms of authority, but also, perhaps paradoxically, empowered me to embrace my queerness. As a college and graduate student, I studied many of the American academic movements based in Continental philosophy grouped under the rubric, “theory.” When queer theory emerged in the early 1990s’, I found a place for myself. I'm convinced that we should never stop putting our identities under critique.

Merrill's book list on queer theory to gain an understanding of the field

Merrill Cole Why did Merrill love this book?

Aberrations in Black is not the only important early queer of color intervention in queer theory, but I find it the most rewarding.

Showing how signal works in the African-American literary tradition pose important challenges to social norms and to the sociological discourse of their times, Ferguson advances an intersectional critique that forefronts race and also attends to gender, sexuality, and class.

The book’s brilliant close readings, such as the reading Toni Morrison’s Sula in the context of The Moynihan Report particularly stand out. The book is a corrective to the apparent colorblindness of much of early queer theory.

By Roderick A. Ferguson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A hard-hitting look at the regulation of sexual difference and its role in circumscribing African American culture

The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is missing from the picture-sexual difference-can be as instructive as what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial difference in the field of sociology. He shows how canonical sociology-Gunnar Myrdal, Ernest Burgess, Robert Park, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and William Julius Wilson-has measured African Americans's unsuitability for a liberal capitalist…


The Birthright of Sons: Stories

By Jefferey Spivey,

Book cover of The Birthright of Sons: Stories

Jefferey Spivey Author Of The Birthright of Sons: Stories

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an avid reader of queer literary fiction not only because I write it but because I’m looking to see my life experience captured on the page. As a gay man, a father of two young boys, and one-half of an interracial married couple, I know the complexity of modern queer living firsthand. In recent years, I’ve been astounded by the breadth of great LGBTQ+ books that examine queerness fully and empathetically. I seek out these books, I read them feverishly, and I become a champion for the best ones. In an era of intense book banning, it’s so important to me to elevate these books and their authors.

Jefferey's book list on capturing the complexity of the queer experience

What is my book about?

The Birthright of Sons is a collection of stories centered around the experiences of marginalized people, namely Black and LGBTQ+ men. Although the stories borrow elements from various genres (horror, suspense, romance, magical realism, etc.), they are linked by an exploration of identity and the ways personhood is shaped through interactions with the people, places, and belief systems around us.

In each of these stories, the protagonists grapple with their understanding of who they are, who and how they love, and what is ultimately most important to them. In almost every case, however, the quest to know or protect oneself is challenged by an external force, resulting in violence, crisis, or confusion, among other outcomes.

The Birthright of Sons: Stories

By Jefferey Spivey,

What is this book about?

The Birthright of Sons is a collection of stories centered around the experiences of marginalized people, namely Black and LGBTQ+ men. Though the stories borrow elements from various genres (horror, suspense, romance, magical realism, etc.), they're linked by an exploration of identity and the ways personhood is shaped through interactions with the people, places, and belief systems around us.

Underpinning the project is a core belief - self-definition is fluid, but conflict arises because society often fails to keep pace with personal evolution. In each of these stories, the protagonists grapple with their understanding of who they are, who and…


Book cover of The Monsters We Defy

Jody Bower Author Of Jane Eyre's Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine's Story

From Jody's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Cultural mythologist Fantasy & sci-fi lover Writer Singer Hiker

Jody's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jody Bower Why did Jody love this book?

Engaging work of historical fiction with a supernatural element, featuring a strong black heroine living in Washington DC during the 30s.

Clara was born with the ability to see spirits and speak to them, and the main plot is about her quest – accompanied by other Gifted people to fight a major threat from “the Over There.” The author brings in West African diaspora religions as well as historical persons, places, and events (I spent a lot of time Googling to find out more!). She deftly handles the constant fear that a person of color lives with as a fact of life, and the love story is believable and satisfying.

By Leslye Penelope,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Monsters We Defy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[P]itch perfect, with wit, romance, and a lovable found family." ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This smart and entertaining, magical heist novel hits all the right notes!" ―T.L. Huchu

NPR Best Book of 2022! Paste Best Fantasy Book of 2022!

"Never make a deal with shadows at night, especially ones that know your name.”

Washington D. C., 1925: Clara Johnson can talk to spirits—a gift that saved her during her darkest moments, now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So when a powerful spirit offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, Clara seizes the chance,…


Book cover of Redwood and Wildfire

Caroline Stevermer Author Of The Glass Magician

From my list on historical fantasy for armchair travel.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write fantasy novels, including A College of Magics, River Rats, and When the King Comes Home. With Patricia C. Wrede, I wrote half of the Kate and Cecy series: Sorcery and Cecelia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician.

Caroline's book list on historical fantasy for armchair travel

Caroline Stevermer Why did Caroline love this book?

As brilliantly written as it is sometimes difficult to read, this fantasy novel set in the early 20th century travels from rural Georgia to Chicago, part of the Great Migration. Hairston says "I wrote Redwood and Wildfire to celebrate folks like my great-aunt and grandfather who faced impossible choices." In so doing, she has told stories history has all but forgotten. I began to read this book because I knew it contained a passage involving a visit to the 1893 Columbian Exposition—The White City—but my favorite parts of this novel involve the show folk and the Black film industry in Chicago. Hairston's characters don't just do magic. They are magic.

By Andrea Hairston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At the turn of the 20th century, minstrel shows transform into vaudeville, which slides into moving pictures. Hunkering together in dark theatres, diverse audiences marvel at flickering images. This 'dreaming in public' becomes common culture and part of what transforms immigrants and 'native' born into Americans.

Redwood, an African American woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, journey from Georgia to Chicago, from haunted swampland to a 'city of the future.' They are gifted performers and hoodoo conjurors, struggling to call up the wondrous world they imagine, not just on stage and screen, but on city streets, in front parlors,…


Book cover of Jubilee

Faye Snowden Author Of A Killing Rain

From my list on making you fall in love with reading.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer who loves to read. In fact when aspiring writers ask me for advice about getting started, I tell them to read widely, and more importantly, to fall in love with reading. So much about craft can be learned from deconstructing good books to see how they work. Each of the five books I’ve selected have influenced the way I tell my stories. They have taught me to examine past works for inspiration and compelling beginnings.

Faye's book list on making you fall in love with reading

Faye Snowden Why did Faye love this book?

Walker’s Jubilee extends the slave narrative, a popular weapon used by abolitionists to fight slavery. Instead of ending when the main character escapes their cruel master, Walker tells the story of a woman’s journey from emancipation to reconstruction and beyond.

I included this book not only because of a great beginning, but also because I wanted to give an example of how important story is to the success of a book, and in some cases more important than the language.

Besides, how can you not read on after a first chapter with the title, “Death is a mystery that only the squinch owl knows”? 

By Margaret Walker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jubilee tells the true story of Vyry, the child of a white plantation owner and his black mistress. Vyry bears witness to the South's antebellum opulence and to its brutality, its wartime ruin, and the promises of Reconstruction. Weaving her own family's oral history with thirty years of research, Margaret Walker's novel brings the everyday experiences of slaves to light. Jubilee churns with the hunger, the hymns, the struggles, and the very breath of American history.


Book cover of The Snowy Day

Leslie Patricelli Author Of Snow!

From my list on snowy-days for tots.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am someone who has made major decisions in my life based solely on the desire to ski powder! That’s why I live in Sun Valley, Idaho and get to enjoy the snow and winter fun all season long. And because I love children’s books and specialize in writing for the youngest children, I have educated and experiential opinions as to what makes a great children’s book work. So, there you have it: Snow and Kids’ Books; two of my favorite things!

Leslie's book list on snowy-days for tots

Leslie Patricelli Why did Leslie love this book?

The Snowy Day is, at its heart, a beautiful book about playing alone.

When I was reading this book to my kids, we had just moved to the mountains of Ketchum, Idaho and my son had started third grade at a new school. He spent a lot of time playing alone in the snow and could relate to Peter’s solo adventures in the book.

The bright, graphic collage illustrations add a liveliness that reflects the joy of discovery, while the cool snow tones bring a silent reflectiveness. The book’s history is rich as well: It was published in 1963 and was the first color picture book to feature a black character.

As the book gently led readers into Jack’s quiet and joyful world, it was also a message of inclusiveness that broke through a wall in children’s publishing.

By Ezra Jack Keats,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Snowy Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

The magic and wonder of winter's first snowfall is perfectly captured in Ezra Jack Keat's Caldecott Medal-winning picture book. This celebrated classic has been shared by generations of readers and listeners, a must-have for every child's bookshelf and a perfect gift for the holiday season.

New York Public Library's #1 book on the list of "Top Check Outs of All Time"

In 1962, a little boy named Peter put on his snowsuit and stepped out of his house and into the hearts of millions of readers. Universal in its appeal, this story beautifully depicts a child's wonder at a new…


Book cover of Legacy: A Black Physician Reckons with Racism in Medicine

David Sterling Brown Author Of Shakespeare's White Others

From my list on color your thinking about race.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer and a Shakespeare and critical race studies scholar who’s always been intrigued by the invisible, artificial race-based boundaries in our world. I love analyzing the lives of literary characters and seeing how they can serve as mirrors for us along lines of gender, mental health, and more. My critical interests are informed by the fact that I grew up in a predominantly Black/Latino low-income neighborhood and attended an affluent, predominantly white private school from the sixth to twelfth grade. My adolescent experiences with inclusion/exclusion dynamics required me to reflect on race, for example, so I could understand and navigate the kinds of socio-cultural dynamics that affect us all.

David's book list on color your thinking about race

David Sterling Brown Why did David love this book?

Beyond appreciating this memoir’s important content and the masterful way Dr. Blackstock raises awareness about a public health crisis that needs prioritization, I love this book because the author reaches into the depths of her own family history in a very vulnerable way that discloses the personal in order to deliver a message that everyone needs to hear.

The implications of Blackstock’s argument about healthcare and medical racism should matter to every human body, thus making this book urgent reading material for all—from doctors to patients and their loved ones.

Blackstock unearths and examines a harsh truth for readers: inequities perpetuated by the racial hierarchy do serious damage to the human body, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And it won’t be that way forever if people become more aware and concerned and then work relentlessly to change the system.

By Uche Blackstock,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“This book is more than a memoir—it also serves as a call to action to create a more equitable healthcare system for patients of color, particularly Black women.” —Essence

One of NPR’s 11 Books to Look Forward to in 2024

One of Good Morning America’s 15 New Books to Read for the New Year

“Legacy is both a compelling memoir and an edifying analysis of the inequities in the way we deliver healthcare in America. Uché Blackstock is a force of nature.” —Abraham Verghese, MD, New York Times bestselling author of The Covenant of…


Book cover of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome

Karen Levy Author Of Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

From my list on human stories about technology.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist, and I study how technology shapes and is shaped by people. I love my job because I am endlessly fascinated by why people do the things they do, and how our cultures, traditions, and knowledge affect how we interact with technology in our daily lives. I picked these books because they all tell fascinating stories about how different communities of people have designed, used, or been affected by technological tools.

Karen's book list on human stories about technology

Karen Levy Why did Karen love this book?

This is one of those books that you have to read either alone or among tolerant friends, because every few pages you’ll be moved to read some bit of it aloud to everyone around you. Alondra Nelson is a brilliant sociologist of science and technology, and this book tells the story of how genetic science and racial politics intersect, sometimes in surprising ways. I love how this book intertwines cultural and political history with clear-eyed analysis of genomics, genealogy, and the life sciences—it’s a great example of how to write about the human stakes of scientific research and innovation.

By Alondra Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Social Life of DNA as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A Favorite Book of 2016, Wall Street Journal
2017 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction (Finalist)
2017 Day of Common Learning Selection, Seattle Pacific University
2020 Diana Forsythe Prize (Honorable Mention)
2020 Best Books of the Year, Writers' Trust of Canada

The unexpected story of how genetic testing is affecting race in America
We know DNA is a master key that unlocks medical and forensic secrets, but its genealogical life is both revelatory and endlessly fascinating. Tracing genealogy is now the second-most popular hobby amongst Americans, as well as the second-most visited online category. This billion-dollar industry has spawned popular television…


Book cover of Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840

Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Andrew Curran Author Of Who's Black and Why? A Forgotten Chapter in the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race

From my list on race and the enlightenment.

Why are we passionate about this?

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is an award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, and has authored or co-authored twenty-two books; he's also the host of PBS’s Finding Your Roots. Andrew Curran is a writer and the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities at Wesleyan University. His writing on the Enlightenment and race has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, and more. Curran is also the author of the award-winning Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely and The Anatomy of Blackness.

Henry's book list on race and the enlightenment

Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Andrew Curran Why did Henry love this book?

This groundbreaking book takes the reader into the forgotten world of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century medicine, especially as it relates to the enslaved peoples of the New World (from the Southern United States to the wider Caribbean). One cannot help but hear the first examples of “race norming” or “adjusting” in Hogarth’s study of how white doctors saw pathology, treatment, and various diseases themselves as affecting different categories of people in different ways. Medicalizing Blackness allows us to see how doctors transformed the New World into an enormous laboratory that not only generated new knowledge, but created structures of surveillance and control that became part and parcel of medical literature and practice.

By Rana A. Hogarth,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1748, as yellow fever raged in Charleston, South Carolina, doctor John Lining remarked, ""There is something very singular in the constitution of the Negroes, which renders them not liable to this fever."" Lining's comments presaged ideas about blackness that would endure in medical discourses and beyond. In this fascinating medical history, Rana A. Hogarth examines the creation and circulation of medical ideas about blackness in the Atlantic World during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She shows how white physicians deployed blackness as a medically significant marker of difference and used medical knowledge about black bodies to improve…