The best books about black people

6 authors have picked their favorite books about black people and why they recommend each book.

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Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being

By Kevin Quashie,

Book cover of Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being

Every now and then I come across a book that I wish I had written, and Quashie’s Black Aliveness is among them. One of the motivating premises of Afro-Nostalgia is the sense that so much of black life is narrated through a trauma, oppression, and death. Black Aliveness operates from a similar premise and is centrally concerned with the “quality of aliveness” in African American poetry and literature. Here is one of my favorite passages in the book: “As necessary as ‘Black Lives Matter’ has proven to be, so efficient and beautiful a truth-claim, its necessity disorients me…I want a black world where matter of mattering matters indisputably, where black mattering is beyond expression.”

Who am I?

As a professor of African American literature and culture, I’ve spent my career writing, reading, teaching, talking and thinking about black interiority: feelings, emotions, memory, affect. My publications and lectures focus mostly on the creative and diverse ways that black people have created spaces of pleasure and possibility, even in the most dire times and under extremely difficult conditions. I’ve been told that I’m a natural optimist, so it is fitting that my most recent book and this recommendation list is all about the intentional and creative ways that people cultivate joy and a sense of possibility for themselves and others.


I wrote...

Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture

By Badia Ahad-Legardy,

Book cover of Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture

What is my book about?

Afro-Nostalgia is about returning to a black historical past in ways that de-center a traumatic narrative of blackness. Despite the fact that it was once thought that African-descended people could not experience nostalgia, Afro-Nostalgia examines how romantic recollections of the black historical past show up in popular culture as a way to inspire “good feelings.” I explore the concept of “Black historical pleasure” through a variety of art forms, specifically literature, music, visual art, performance, and culinary culture, to show that nostalgia is a functional form of memory that is crucial to our emotional health and psychological well-being.

The Groundings with My Brothers

By Walter Rodney,

Book cover of The Groundings with My Brothers

This is a series of essays that examine the importance of bringing historical knowledge to the community and also providing concise accurate information on African history and Caribbean and African American assertions for moving beyond the imposed limitations. It is preceded by a timely introduction and followed by a series of essays which reflect on the contributions of one of the most important Caribbean historians of the African experience who lived a life which manifested the Caribbean radical-intellectual tradition.


Who am I?

I am a Caribbean-American literary scholar who has spent many years studying, lecturing and writing about the interrelated fields of African Diaspora literature and culture, meaning the creative and theoretical productions of writers from Africa, the United States, Latin America, Brazil, and the Caribbean. I teach a variety of these subjects and enjoy the combinations of politics, creativity, and cultural expression that they contribute. These books provide you with a good cross-section of what is available in the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora.


I wrote...

Caribbean Spaces: Escapes from Twilight Zone

By Carole Boyce Davies,

Book cover of Caribbean Spaces: Escapes from Twilight Zone

What is my book about?

Caribbean Spaces reaches, beyond island fragmentations, small spaces, and geographic separations, for a much wider, more expansive internationalized understanding of how we see and understand the Caribbean and its impact on world cultures. Caribbean Space now broadened, incorporates contexts that come out of dance and carnival “taking space” and challenges us to see the in-between spaces as not empty spaces occupied only by water. The expanding scientific meanings of space provide us with additional opportunities to think of this space as well beyond geographical limitations. Caribbean Space has always reached for international circulations of ideas, people, political movements, cultural practices (carnival, music, dance, food), and lifestyles of freedom and joy.

So Much!

By Trish Cooke, Helen Oxenbury (illustrator),

Book cover of So Much!

Trish Cooke uses cumulative storytelling to show just how much a baby is loved when extended family members – Auntie and Uncle and Nannie and Gran-Gran and cousins – come to visit. This story is such fun to read, and was enjoyed many, many times with the young ones in my life. Young and old can bask in this baby’s utter adoration and vicariously experience so much love.


Who am I?

Several months before the Covid-19 pandemic upended the world as we knew it, my life was turned upside-down by reports of suicide rates and attempted suicides doubling for Black children. In fact, during late Fall 2019, Congress established an Emergency Task Force on Youth Suicide and Mental Health. I’d already been reading accounts of Black children ending their lives on social media, and as a writer, decided to leave a legacy of books that helped armor Black children with love as they navigated spaces that would not always welcome their brilliance and beauty. I wanted to help encourage them to embrace life’s joys and to love themselves, always.


I wrote...

Brown Sugar Babe

By Charlotte Watson Sherman, Akem (illustrator),

Book cover of Brown Sugar Babe

What is my book about?

When a little girl has doubts about the color of her skin, her mother shows her all the wonderful, beautiful things brown can be. Brown Sugar Babe is a love letter to the beauty of brown skin and a message of love, acceptance, and pride.

Open Water

By Caleb Azumah Nelson,

Book cover of Open Water

What I personally loved about Open Water was just how original it was. From the second-person narration to the poetic prose and the beautiful portrayal of a Black man, not only being on the receiving end of love but also, the giver – a depiction we don’t see enough in publishing. I also enjoyed following how two artists fell in love, organically. And yet, I didn’t feel like a fly on the wall. A key takeaway I got from the story was how freeing vulnerability can be, but also, how difficult it can be to express emotions in words. Although triggering in places, overall, I found Open Water a comforting read; there were lots of cultural references that made me smile and nod my head, such as Peckhamplex cinema and Morley’s chicken shop. 


Who am I?

Having grown up and gone to school in south London, it will always have a special place in my heart. Call me biased, but I think it’s the best place in the capital. Hands down. I love that it’s home to many Afro-Caribbean families and how its cultural presence can be felt by just walking down any street. From the bustling markets selling plantain, yams, and hard dough bread to the throng of aunties wearing brightly-coloured, patterned lace as they make their way to church. With south London being so atmospheric, I knew I had to include it as a setting in my novel. It will always be my first home.  


I wrote...

Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?

By Lizzie Damilola Blackburn,

Book cover of Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?

What is my book about?

Yinka wants to find love. Her mum wants to find it for her. But how can she find a huzband when she is surrounded by her many aunties who frequently (and loudly) pray for her delivery from singledom, has a preference for chicken and chips over traditional Nigerian food, and a bum she's sure is far too small as a result? Oh, and the fact that she's a thirty-one-year-old South Londoner who doesn't believe in sex before marriage is a bit of an obstacle too...

When her cousin gets engaged, Yinka commences 'Operation Find A Date For Rachel's Wedding.' Armed with a totally flawless (and incredibly specific) plan, will Yinka find herself a huzband? What if the thing she really needs to find... is herself?

All Because You Matter

By Bryan Collier, Tami Charles (illustrator),

Book cover of All Because You Matter

"Long before you took your place in this world, you were dreamed of, like a knapsack full of wishes, carried on the backs of your ancestors as they created empires, pyramids, legacies."

The lyrical reading gives appreciation and celebrates the importance of being acknowledged. Despite the challenges a child may face, they need to know that they matter. As a parent, we are our child's #1 fan and cheerleader. How do you let your child know that they matter? This book embodies this message and delivers it with grace. Plant these powerful words in the mind of your child.


Who am I?

As a children's book writer, I want my books to be infused with S.T.E.A.M (science, technology, engineering, art, and science), imaginative adventure, and empowering words. These 3 elements are important for cultivating their minds. Great inventions and discoveries have come from people who were curious. I believe that it's our responsibility as parents to expose them to new interests and speak empowering words to their developing minds. Parents play a key role in how their children see themselves. I hope that my books encourage unity, spark the imagination, build strong parent-child relationships, initiate dialogue, and promote learning.


I wrote...

Bryla's Amazing Imagination: Bryla Visits the Moon

By LaTasha Reynolds, Mo Raad (illustrator),

Book cover of Bryla's Amazing Imagination: Bryla Visits the Moon

What is my book about?

Bryla Visits the Moon is centered on a 6-year-old little girl named Bryla who has a natural fascination for astronomy. Each night, Bryla's fascination grows stronger for the Moon and playing games of hide-and-seek just isn't enough. Bryla desires to visit the Moon but doesn't know how to reach the galaxy from her suburban home. After explaining her desires to her mother, she teaches Bryla the importance of using her imagination to make dreams come true.

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

By James Weldon Johnson,

Book cover of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Every time someone asks me whether I, a Black woman with albinism, would have ever considered passing for white, I think of the unnamed protagonist of this book and his conflicting desires to uplift his own race while also escaping the dangers of being a Black man at the height of America’s obsession with lynching. (And let’s be honest, he also enjoys the social privilege and upward mobility that come with being mistaken for white.) Of course, the title tells us which choice he’s going to make long before we read it for ourselves, but I was still unprepared for the gutting last lines of this book. It is a master class in telling the story of the backward glance, and in what one loses by trying to save himself. 


Who am I?

Nobody’s Magic began, not as the series of novellas it became, but as a collection of stories I couldn’t stop telling. And it wasn’t just my characters’ comings and goings that enthralled me. It was the way they demanded I let them tell their own stories. I enjoy reading and writing novellas because they allow space for action, voice, and reflection, and they can tackle manifold themes and conversations in a space that is both large and small. At the same time, they demand endings that are neither predictable nor neat, but rather force the reader to speculate on what becomes of these characters they’ve come to know and love. 


I wrote...

Nobody's Magic

By Destiny O. Birdsong,

Book cover of Nobody's Magic

What is my book about?

Nobody’s Magic is a triptych novel (a group of three novellas) about Black women with albinism who live in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Though they range in age from twenty to thirty-four, each of them is facing a coming-of-age crossroads, where they have to decide how they want to live, whom they want to love, and in one case, where they want to be. There’s comedy and tragedy, plenty of intrigue (not to mention a few unsolved crimes), and a few rounds of good sex. In the end, each woman comes a little closer to finding herself, and coming to terms with her complicated—but nevertheless Black—identity.

Crick Crack, Monkey

By Merle Hodge,

Book cover of Crick Crack, Monkey

I sometimes see this book discussed as a YA novel, and it’s true that its protagonists, Tee and her younger brother Toddan, are facing some very typical kid-lit crises: the death of one parent and the departure of another, aunts and uncles with conflicting ideas about child-rearing, and the impossible choice of leaving home for what they’ve been told will be a better life, but what’s better than living on an island with everyone you already know and love? Even so, this impressive novella, penned by a Black woman who happens to be a Caribbean literary scholar, is rich with conversations about colonialism, respectability politics, and the importance of preserving one’s familial and African histories—in other words, remembering your ‘true-true name.’ Important lessons for every age. 


Who am I?

Nobody’s Magic began, not as the series of novellas it became, but as a collection of stories I couldn’t stop telling. And it wasn’t just my characters’ comings and goings that enthralled me. It was the way they demanded I let them tell their own stories. I enjoy reading and writing novellas because they allow space for action, voice, and reflection, and they can tackle manifold themes and conversations in a space that is both large and small. At the same time, they demand endings that are neither predictable nor neat, but rather force the reader to speculate on what becomes of these characters they’ve come to know and love. 


I wrote...

Nobody's Magic

By Destiny O. Birdsong,

Book cover of Nobody's Magic

What is my book about?

Nobody’s Magic is a triptych novel (a group of three novellas) about Black women with albinism who live in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Though they range in age from twenty to thirty-four, each of them is facing a coming-of-age crossroads, where they have to decide how they want to live, whom they want to love, and in one case, where they want to be. There’s comedy and tragedy, plenty of intrigue (not to mention a few unsolved crimes), and a few rounds of good sex. In the end, each woman comes a little closer to finding herself, and coming to terms with her complicated—but nevertheless Black—identity.

Slave and Citizen

By Frank Tannenbaum,

Book cover of Slave and Citizen: The Classic Comparative Study of Race Relations in the Americas

This is a comparative short study of slave societies in the Americas with an emphasis on how the Brazilian system was more legally and morally fluid than the more rigid North American system. The importance of this book lies in its originality and influence as a model for generations of historians.  Tannenbaum’s legalistic themes have been superseded by enriched data sources and social science theories and models. An additional characteristic of this comparative model was the introduction of the work of controversial Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, his thesis of miscegenation and its role in defining Brazilian national character. Tannenbaum’s optimistic closing prediction about racial harmony has not yet occurred.


Who am I?

I taught American, European, and World History at the University of British Columbia for over 30 years. I was constantly reminded of the dynamics and consequences of slavery and how a history of black America should be more prevalent in understanding the development of American culture, institutions, and identity over time. In writing two books on colonial America and the American Revolution, the roots of America’s racial divide became clearer and the logic of permanence seemed irresistible. My Shaping the New World was inspired by a course I taught for years on slavery in the Americas. Compiling the bibliography and writing the chapters on slave women and families helped to refine my understanding of the “peculiar institution” in all its both common and varied characteristics throughout the Americas.


I wrote...

Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

By Eric Nellis,

Book cover of Shaping the New World: African Slavery in the Americas, 1500-1888

What is my book about?

Between 1500 and the middle of the nineteenth century, some 12.5 million slaves were sent as bonded labour from Africa to the European settlements in the Americas. Shaping the New World introduces students to the origins, growth, and consolidation of African slavery in the Americas and race-based slavery's impact on the economic, social, and cultural development of the New World.

While the book explores the idea of the African slave as a tool in the formation of new American societies, it also acknowledges the culture, humanity, and importance of the slave as a person and highlights the role of women in slave societies.

Leon and Bob

By Simon James,

Book cover of Leon and Bob

Leon and his mom are new to town. His dad is in the army. Leon shares his new room with his imaginary friend, Bob. Their friendship is as important as it is real, to Leon. A tender and loving relationship. A boy moves in next door. Read the book to see how sweet this deceivingly simple story is. The words are sparse and well-chosen. The artwork is loose and expressive ink linework. Beautiful watercolor washes. The imaginary friend theme is treated in a fresh way. I am always touched by the portrayal of little boys’ natural sweetness - as they really are when allowed to be. 


Who am I?

I decided at the age of 5 that I wanted to write and illustrate books for children. That is exactly what I have been doing the last 40 years of my adult life. I find that I walk around seeing and hearing the world as potential stories. It’s fun! I can not imagine doing anything else for a living! I recommended the 5 books that I did because they are a little strange and curious and thought-provoking. The art, as well. Therefore, they feel like they emerged from the author/illustrator from that place within, way down deep, where only authentic expression of self can be found. 


I wrote...

Is That You, Eleanor Sue?

By Tricia Tusa,

Book cover of Is That You, Eleanor Sue?

What is my book about?

Eleanor Sue loves to play dress-up. She decides to ring her own front doorbell to try out these various characters on her mother. Is her mother fooled? Is mom playing along? Hard to know until the reader is pulled into the big surprise. The book confirms the fun of imaginative play and how far it takes us into that realm within. And how satisfying it is to share it with someone you love and trust. And finally, it was fun for me to do a book with a lot of underlying femaleness. An expressive young girl, a willing (and tireless!!) mother, and a grandmother with a dry sense of humor. It was a satisfying feeling when this idea came to me, and equally satisfying to come up with artwork to fill out the words.

The Black Atlantic

By Paul Gilroy,

Book cover of The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness

Gilroy sees in black music a democratic “ethos” embodied in features like “call and response” and improvisation. This ethical sensibility unites disparate parts of the African diaspora, but Gilroy also insists that the music is irrevocably “hybrid” and “Creole,” connecting African-derived cultures with European and other ones as well. Gilroy argues that black music’s connective ability creates an intersubjective, democratic community which he calls an “alternative public sphere.”


Who am I?

Music has always spoken to my innermost being, and coming of age in the late 1960s, I’ve been drawn to the quest for justice and equality in politics.  In my undergraduate studies at Berkeley, the late political theorist Michael Rogin, who interpreted Moby Dick as a parable of 19th Century race relations, taught me that my two interests could be combined.  As a professor of Political Science I’ve written books and articles that explore music’s ability to express ideas about politics, race, and ethnicity in sometimes unappreciated ways. 


I wrote...

Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans

By Charles Hersch,

Book cover of Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans

What is my book about?

Subversive Sounds: Race and the Birth of Jazz tells the story of jazz’s birth in the context of New Orleans’s complex racial history, drawing on oral histories, police reports, newspaper accounts, and vintage recordings. I show how jazz subverted racial segregation through the creation of mixed race venues and by the performances of musicians who drew on different ethnic traditions to entertain a variety of audiences. Out of these encounters came a music that embodies an ongoing dialogue between the African and European musical traditions and thus between America’s ethnic identities.  

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