The best books about Harlem

Who picked these books? Meet our 48 experts.

48 authors created a book list connected to Harlem, and here are their favorite Harlem books.
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What type of Harlem book?


Book cover of The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Laurel Decher Author Of Trouble With Parsnips: About the Magic of Speaking Up

From the list on luring your kids into trying new things.

Who am I?

The heroes and heroines in the Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tales face challenges inspired by my own fears, like giving a presentation in the front of the class, getting lost in an unfamiliar place, finding my place in a new school, or working out how to be fair to my friends when we disagree about the rules. Fears tell us a boring life is “safe.” They hide our extraordinary life behind their backs. I write books for and about kids attempting things that are absolutely positively “not for them”. Because kids are the bravest people around. That’s why they’re so magical.

Laurel's book list on luring your kids into trying new things

Discover why each book is one of Laurel's favorite books.

Why did Laurel love this book?

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is about the magic of standing up for something you believe in, and discovering unexpected supporters.

With echoes of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. In the Vanderbeeker family, everyone might have different goals, talents, opinions, and personalities, but they all stick together when it counts. (Similar to Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, and Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks).

These series are perfect to read alone or as a family read-aloud, because everyone will find a character to relate to.

By Karina Yan Glaser,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

But when catastrophe strikes their beloved upstairs neighbor, their sleepy summer transforms in an instant as the Vanderbeeker children band together to do what they do best: make a plan. They will create the most magical healing garden in all of Harlem.

In this companion to The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, experience the warmth of a family and their community as they work together to bring a little more beauty and kindness to the world, one thwarted plan at a time.

Book cover of The Magic in Changing Your Stars

Nancy McCabe Author Of Vaulting Through Time

From the list on contemporary young adult on time traveling teens.

Who am I?

I've always been obsessed with time travel, which transcends science fiction and offers ways to experience and reinterpret history, explore philosophical ideas, comment on the past, and imagine the future. I love the possibilities for humor and character development and plot twists across every genre and audience. One feature of all of the books I’ve chosen for this list is that they’re about contemporary young people and grounded in real lives, and time travel happens in all sorts of ways: through magical, mysterious forces, an app, tap shoes, a diary, a rideshare vehicle. I’m less interested in imaginary worlds and more fascinated by the way time travel can shed light on our own times.

Nancy's book list on contemporary young adult on time traveling teens

Discover why each book is one of Nancy's favorite books.

Why did Nancy love this book?

I’m cheating a little here, since protagonist Ailey Benjamin Lane is not quite a teenager—he’s only eleven.

But I love how this book celebrates dance—Ailey is a tap dancer with big dreams whose grandfather had similar, though thwarted, talents and dreams. And I love the window into Black history in 1930s Harlem when, feeling discouraged, Ailey puts on what turn out to be a pair of magical shoes and is transported to the past, where he meets his twelve-year-old grandfather.

Ailey is faced with the classic time traveler dilemma of wanting to help his grandfather overcome his fears while avoiding changing the past so much that it will affect Ailey’s own future.

I learned from this book—and since I was writing about gymnastics, time travel, and the fraught history of adoption politics, I found this book a wonderful model for evoking a passion, a culture, and a history.

By Leah Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Magic in Changing Your Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journey back to 1939 Harlem in this time-travel adventure with an empowering message about believing in yourself and persevering. Eleven-year-old Ailey Benjamin Lane, a gifted dancer, is certain that he'll land the role of the Scarecrow in his school s production of The Wiz. But when a classmate overshadows him at auditions, a deflated Ailey confides in his Grampa that he is going to give up dancing. Not ready to give up on Ailey, Grampa shares a story from his past. As a young boy, Grampa gave up his dreams of tap dancing even after the unofficial Mayor of Harlem,…

Book cover of Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance

Randy Kraft Author Of Rational Women

From the list on short stories for smart women.

Who am I?

I’ve loved short stories since I was a young girl introduced to Edgar Allen Poe. There’s something especially exciting about a complete story in few words, and once I had to balance work, children, and personal relationships, stories became all the more cherished for short takes. I especially like tales about and by women, relating to our real challenges, and I review them often so other busy women discover better writers and interesting tales. There is nothing like a short story any time of day, especially in the evening, to soothe the soul. 

Randy's book list on short stories for smart women

Discover why each book is one of Randy's favorite books.

Why did Randy love this book?

Everyone recognizes ZNH’s iconic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, but Hurston is a master short story writer. She reminds me of the artist Van Gogh, who devoted his work to the common man as Hurston centers her stories on simple folk whose experiences exemplify the human struggle. Profound and pleasing to read, you will smell the flowers, hear the bees buzzing, and occasionally laugh out loud at these beautifully told stories of real life. Although your life may be different from these, you will be reminded of what bonds us more than what divides us. No better time to think about that. 

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From 'one of the greatest writers of our time' (Toni Morrison) - the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God and Barracoon - a collection of remarkable short stories from the Harlem Renaissance With a foreword by Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

'Genius' Alice Walker

'Rigorous, convincing, dazzling' Zadie Smith on Their Eyes Were Watching God

In 1925, college student Zora Neale Hurston - the sole black student at Barnard College, New York - was living in the city, 'desperately striving for a toe-hold on the world.'

During this period, she began writing short works that captured the…

Mumbo Jumbo

By Ishmael Reed,

Book cover of Mumbo Jumbo

Daniel Torday Author Of The 12th Commandment

From the list on prophetic American stories.

Who am I?

If there's a throughline in all my books, it occurs to me I've always been writing about the dangers of extremism, the times when we get sucked too deeply into ideologies that lead to dangerous action. So this most recent novel felt like an ideal time to take that head-on: to see what would happen within a sect of Kabbalists, led by a self-proclaimed prophet, when things went bad. With that in mind... here's a bunch of books focused around prophecy!

Daniel's book list on prophetic American stories

Discover why each book is one of Daniel's favorite books.

Why did Daniel love this book?

This novel may be my favorite book of the 1970s and a woefully underappreciated deep satire not just of its moment, but of ours as well. I think about the mere fact of museums being renamed "centers of art detention" once a day or so, and I haven't reread the book in a decade.

By Ishmael Reed,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New in 2023, the 50th anniversary edition of the classic, freewheeling novel by one of the most iconic satirists of our time—now with a new introduction by the author.

“Part vision, part satire, part farce… A wholly original, unholy cross between the craft of fiction and witchcraft.” —The New York Times

It is the 1920s in New York City and an epidemic known as Jes Grew is sweeping the nation—a dancing plague, irresistible, joyful, and undeniably Black. Naturally, the powers-that-be are having none of it. A repressive conspiracy is operating in the shadows, and it is dead set on squelching…

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

Discover why each book is one of Kip's favorite books.

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.

Jazz Day

By Roxane Orgill, Francis Vallejo (illustrator),

Book cover of Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph

Gary Golio Author Of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

From the list on picture books that sing!.

Who am I?

My prime credential for writing these books is my own humanity, as someone who's felt the deep power of music on the human spirit since childhood. The stories I tell in these books are about musicians and artists, people who had a passion for creating something out of thin air with patience and many years of hard work. I highlight their lives to give kids (and adults) examples of passion coupled with persistence because Life is often very challenging.

Gary's book list on picture books that sing!

Discover why each book is one of Gary's favorite books.

Why did Gary love this book?

Deservedly, this book received 6 starred reviews for a superb pairing of text and artwork recounting the story of a historic photograph. Taken in 1958 for Esquire Magazine, A Great Day in Harlem captured the gathering of outstanding jazz musicians on a city street, and Orgill's book brings the magic of that summer day to life for young readers. How I wish this idea had been mine! ;]

By Roxane Orgill, Francis Vallejo (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What happens when you invite as many jazz musicians as you can to pose for a photo in 1950s Harlem? Playful verse and glorious artwork capture an iconic moment for American jazz.

When Esquire magazine planned an issue to salute the American jazz scene in 1958, graphic designer Art Kane pitched a crazy idea: how about gathering a group of beloved jazz musicians and photographing them? He didn’t own a good camera, didn’t know if any musicians would show up, and insisted on setting up the shoot in front of a Harlem brownstone. Could he pull it off? In a…

Book cover of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

Taylor Tyng Author Of Clara Poole and the Long Way Round

From the list on middle grade series to laugh out-loud.

Who am I?

While one-off stories are fantastic, I love that children's series lets readers return to trusted characters. Series allow children to see a wider arc of character development and decision-making—often imperfect and in transition—when they are trying to figure out how to identify and connect with the world themselves. That shared experience over time is why I only write series myself—to let kids evolve alongside their favorite characters.

Taylor's book list on middle grade series to laugh out-loud

Discover why each book is one of Taylor's favorite books.

Why did Taylor love this book?

Five siblings work and grow together to confront one catastrophe after another and keep their way family and community together.

The siblings—Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney—are written with winning characterization that makes readers feel like they are one of the family. The heart is enormous in this one!

By Karina Yan Glaser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It's practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home.

Book cover of Down These Mean Streets

J.L. Torres Author Of Migrations

From the list on by writers of the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Who am I?

I’m a child of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Born in the island, raised in the South Bronx—with an interval period in the homeland “to find roots”—I now reside in upstate New York. My life is representative of the vaivén—the “coming and going”—that is a constant in Puerto Rican modern history. Like many Diasporicans, I grew up disconnected from my history, culture, and heritage. These books did not recover what I lost. It is difficult to reclaim culture and national identity secondhand. But these writers shared an experience I readily recognized. Reading them, I embrace my tribe and don’t feel alone. They inspire me to write and tell my own stories.

J.L.'s book list on by writers of the Puerto Rican diaspora

Discover why each book is one of J.L.'s favorite books.

Why did J.L. love this book?

Thomas’s memoir is a seminal text of Nuyorican Literature (a sub-genre of Diasporican Literature) and the Latinx canon. It also belongs to the urban literature genre that emerged in the 1960s. His, however, was the first Latinx version of a narrative that depicts, some would say sensationalizes and exploits, the gritty, raw life of the inner city. As such, it had a tremendous impact on developing Latinx writers who had few role models at the time. His work, along with others of that genre, still holds influence stylistically and thematically with some Latinx authors. Written in the traditional Augustinian autobiographical model, Mean Streets tracks Piri’s fall into crime and drugs and final transformation and redemption. More significantly, this memoir introduces the issue of Latinx black identity and the complication of it within the American black-white paradigm. 

By Piri Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Down These Mean Streets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A modern classic of manhood, marginalization, survival, and transcendence—and a lyrical memoir of coming of age on the streets of Spanish Harlem. 

"A report from the guts and heart of a submerged population group ... It claims our attention and emotional response." —The New York Times Book Review

Thirty years ago Piri Thomas made literary history with this lacerating memoir. Here was the testament of a born outsider: a Puerto Rican in English-speaking America; a dark-skinned morenito in a family that refused to acknowledge its African blood. Here was an unsparing document of Thomas's plunge into the deadly consolations of…

In the Cause of Freedom

By Minkah Makalani,

Book cover of In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939

Oleksa Drachewych Author Of Left Transnationalism

From the list on international communist movement between World Wars.

Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the topic of international relations and when I started graduate studies, I focused on Russian and Soviet foreign policy between the World Wars. When I began my research, I learned of the existence of the Comintern and was fascinated both by this attempt to develop a worldwide movement and its connection to Soviet foreign policy. Since then, I have focused on trying to understand the individuals who populated the parties and the organization and unearthing a legacy that still resonates today. One cannot fully understand the history of decolonization or of human and civil rights movements without considering the influence of the Comintern. 

Oleksa's book list on international communist movement between World Wars

Discover why each book is one of Oleksa's favorite books.

Why did Oleksa love this book?

Why did some Black Americans turn to the communist movement during the interwar period? This is one of the key questions Makalani seeks to answer in his book. He understands the limits of the movement, particularly its doctrinaire approach and the left’s limited engagement with race heading into the 1920s. He focuses on how Black Americans played a role in turning communism’s attention to racial issues while reconsidering certain theories of communism within their own radical networks. Makalani also emphasizes how many Black sojourners accepted communist tactics while maintaining their hesitancy towards the broader movement. Makalani provides a critical look at the Comintern and its efforts, while stressing the development of a unique Black radical movement. 

By Minkah Makalani,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this intellectual history, Minkah Makalani reveals how early-twentieth-century black radicals organized an international movement centered on ending racial oppression, colonialism, class exploitation, and global white supremacy. Focused primarily on two organizations, the Harlem-based African Blood Brotherhood, whose members became the first black Communists in the United States, and the International African Service Bureau, the major black anticolonial group in 1930s London, In the Cause of Freedom examines the ideas, initiatives, and networks of interwar black radicals, as well as how they communicated across continents.

Through a detailed analysis of black radical periodicals and extensive research in U.S., English, Dutch,…


By Sapphire,

Book cover of Push

Stephane Dunn Author Of Snitchers

From the list on Black girl coming of age everybody should read.

Who am I?

I was a book-loving Black Girl and am now a Black woman, professor-writer, and lifelong books and popular culture junkie. As a young reader, I marveled at the storytelling in books that took us into the diverse lives and deep interior of teen girls - from Are You There God It’s Me Margaret to especially ones like the five books I name which place Black girls and women at the center of the narrative. In most of the films and writings that I teach and my own book Snitchers, there’s some tragedy and pain, some blues, and perspectives that add to the truth and richness of our human and American story. 

Stephane's book list on Black girl coming of age everybody should read

Discover why each book is one of Stephane's favorite books.

Why did Stephane love this book?

Yes, the film adaptation of Push by Lee Daniels garnered Oscar attention, including a best supporting actress win for actress - comedian Monique but Sapphire’s contemporary Harlem set coming-of-age story about the difficult life of teen protagonist Precious is best told in Sapphire’s novel Push.

It is a devastating, exhilarating read that I couldn’t put down until the last page so shocked was I about the level of challenges Precious endures from her home life to social services and school experiences.

However, then there’s this amazing grace present that doesn’t seem likely, which just makes the name Precious and the title word “push” that much more revelatory. It’s another story that reminded me why I should keep writing and why books and the words we write can be important beyond our expectations. 

By Sapphire,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'I'm alive inside. A bird is my heart. Mama and Daddy is not win. I'm winning.'

This is the story of Precious, a sixteen-year-old illiterate Black girl who has never been out of Harlem. Pregnant by her own father for the second time, she is kicked out of school and placed in an alternative teaching programme. Through learning to read and write, Precious begins to find her voice, and fight back.

Push is the unflinching diary of a girl whose strength and kindness shines amidst extraordinary adversity.

Meet ten of literature's most iconic heroines, featuring bold portraits by female photographers…

My Monticello

By Jocelyn Nicole Johnson,

Book cover of My Monticello: Fiction

Marilyn K. Easter Author Of Resilience: Bravery in the Face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the halls of Academia

From the list on empowerment and hope.

Who am I?

As with many people, my life has been full of twists and turns. I know what it means to be an outsider and to be cast aside as though my voice and presence doesn’t matter. But, with grit and determination, I battled systemic racism head-on, and with my good L.U.C.K (labor under correct knowledge), encouragement, and faith, I am thriving in an environment that was designed to be non-inclusive for People of Color. Currently, I am the only Black female professor in the 94-year history in the college where I am employed.

Marilyn's book list on empowerment and hope

Discover why each book is one of Marilyn's favorite books.

Why did Marilyn love this book?

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s My Monticello is a title to be treasured. Through a series of masterfully woven stories, Johnson brings forth and highlights the deep-rooted racial inequalities in our country. Having my debut novel published later in life, I feel a special connection because Johnson’s recent release is about resilience and passion for the arts – and it proves that ageism has no place in the art world. This is another fiction title I would highly recommend. There’s a lesson to be learned from every character and every story penned in My Monticello.  

By Jocelyn Nicole Johnson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A badass debut by any measure―nimble, knowing, and electrifying.” ―Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Nickel Boys and Harlem Shuffle

"...'My Monticello' is, quite simply, an extraordinary debut from a gifted writer with an unflinching view of history and what may come of it." ― The Washington Post

Winner of the Weatherford Award in Fiction
A winner of 2022 Lillian Smith Book Awards

A young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings driven from her neighborhood by a white militia. A university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son. A single mother…


By Dindga McCannon,

Book cover of Peaches

Deborah L. King Author Of Glory Bishop

From the list on Black women by Black women.

Who am I?

I’ve been a Black woman for almost 40 years, and I’ve been writing about Black women almost as long. I grew up reading children’s books with brown faces and great stories, but the authors never interested me. Until I read Peaches, I had no idea that wholly relatable authors and stories existed. I began seeking them out. From authors like Virginia Hamilton and James Baldwin to Langston Hughes and even Donald Goines, I found stories of people with lives I recognized. I am far from an expert on Black literature. I am just grateful that during my formative years, I was exposed to some great Black authors. 

Deborah's book list on Black women by Black women

Discover why each book is one of Deborah's favorite books.

Why did Deborah love this book?

Millicent Johnson (Peaches) has a whimsical imagination and dreams of becoming an artist.

Being raised by her grandmother along with her cousins in 1970s Harlem, their summers are filled with the freedom to wander the neighborhood and get into all sorts of trouble.

Yes, it’s a middle-grade book. I first read this book in seventh grade. I’ve no idea how many books I’d read up until that point but it was literally in the hundreds. This was the first book I’d read that I didn’t have to fully engage my whole imagination.

It realistically reflected my actual life… from the corner store to playing the numbers to even the boys she liked. I loved Peaches’ life. She was me. This is the book that began my writing life…for real.

By Dindga McCannon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A young black girl growing up in Harlem tells about her life with her family and her ambition to be an artist.


By Toni Morrison,

Book cover of Jazz

Louise Hare Author Of Harlem After Midnight

From the list on capturing the magic of jazz.

Who am I?

I’ve loved jazz ever since I learned to play the clarinet as a child. My two great loves in life have been music and books, so it made sense to combine the two things and write novels with a link to jazz. These books are some of my favourites with a jazz theme. I promise that even if you’re not a jazz fan, these are all excellent novels, to be enjoyed with or without music playing in the background!

Louise's book list on capturing the magic of jazz

Discover why each book is one of Louise's favorite books.

Why did Louise love this book?

Set in 1920s Harlem, this book opens with a shock. A teenaged girl is dead, shot by the middle-aged man she was having an affair with.

The man’s wife takes a knife to the funeral, intending to cut the face of her dead rival. So how did it come to this? Morrison paints a picture of Jazz age Harlem, hopping between past and present to show not only the history of this ill-fated couple, but that of Black Harlem. 

By Toni Morrison,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Jazz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed Nobel Prize winner, a passionate, profound story of love and obsession that brings us back and forth in time, as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of Black urban life. With a foreword by the author.

“As rich in themes and poetic images as her Pulitzer Prize–winning Beloved.... Morrison conjures up the hand of slavery on Harlem’s jazz generation. The more you listen, the more you crave to hear.” —Glamour

In the winter of 1926, when everybody everywhere sees nothing but good things ahead, Joe Trace, middle-aged door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra…

Praisesong for the Widow

By Paule Marshall,

Book cover of Praisesong for the Widow

Jerome A. Miller Author Of Sobering Wisdom: Philosophical Explorations of Twelve Step Spirituality

From the list on spiritual breakthrough.

Who am I?

During my 37 years of teaching philosophy to undergraduate students, most of whom had no prior exposure to it, my purpose was to promote self-examination of the sort practiced and encouraged by Socrates. Such self-examination is upsetting, unsettling. It leads one to insights and realizations one would prefer not to have. But by undermining one’s assumptions, these insights break one open to a whole universe of which one had been oblivious. Breakdowns make possible breakthroughs. My students didn’t realize that, just as I was trying to provoke this kind of spiritual transformation in them, their questions, criticisms, challenges, and insights provoked it in me. 

Jerome's book list on spiritual breakthrough

Discover why each book is one of Jerome's favorite books.

Why did Jerome love this book?

A cruise ship is, perhaps, the least likely of all possible venues for the beginning of a spiritual breakthrough. But this is where spiritual transformation starts for Avey Johnson, the 64-year-old African American woman who is the central character in this Marshall novel. Breakthroughs are often set in motion deep down inside us, below the surface of our ordinary awareness. In fact, a real breakthrough can’t happen unless it goes all the way down in us. I know of no book that conveys this truth more effectively.

By Paule Marshall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of Daughters and Brown Girl, Brownstones comes a "work of exceptional wisdom, maturity, and generosity, one in which the palpable humanity of its characters transcends any considerations of race or sex"(Washington Post Book World).

Avey Johnson-a black, middle-aged, middle-class widow given to hats, gloves, and pearls-has long since put behind her the Harlem of her childhood. Then on a cruise to the Caribbean with two friends, inspired by a troubling dream, she senses her life beginning to unravel-and in a panic packs her bag in the middle of the night and abandons her friends at the…

The Street

By Ann Petry,

Book cover of The Street

Faye Snowden Author Of A Killing Rain

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

Who am I?

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

Discover why each book is one of Faye's favorite books.

Why did Faye love this book?

This book demonstrates that prose doesn’t have to be lyrical to leave an indelible impact on readers.

Lutie Johnson is a single mother living in a rundown building on the street. Her desires are simply articulated as are the barriers keeping her from achieving them. Lutie spends most of the novel dodging the clutches of men who think they deserve her just because they desire her, and a neighborhood snake-eyed madam who wants to exploit Lutie’s beauty.

Petry begins the book describing a cold November wind and continues with an icy precision that will entrance the reader until the very last page.  

By Ann Petry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With a new introduction by TAYARI JONES, author of An American Marriage

'This is a wonderful novel - the prose is clear, the plot is page-turning, the characters are utterly believable' CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE

'Ann Petry's first novel, The Street, was a literary event in 1946, praised and translated around the world - the first book by a black woman to sell more than a million copies . . . Her work endures not merely because of the strength of its message but its artistry' NEW YORK TIMES

'My favorite type of novel, literary with an astonishing plot . .…

Book cover of Some Places More Than Others

Sally Engelfried Author Of Learning to Fall

From the list on middle grade about father-daughter relationships.

Who am I?

Father-daughter relationships have always fascinated me. I wrote my first book to explore what it might be like for a girl to have a father with whom communication is, if not easy, possible. Although my own father was around when I was growing up, he was a distant figure. A mechanical engineer, he lost himself in ruminations on machines and mathematics and was made still more distant by his alcoholism. As a kid, I tried to glean from books what having a “regular” father might be like. I still haven’t figured it out, but I love seeing other authors capture the formative effects of this particular parental relationship. 

Sally's book list on middle grade about father-daughter relationships

Discover why each book is one of Sally's favorite books.

Why did Sally love this book?

It can be difficult for kids to see their parents as real people, and that’s why I love Some Places More Than Others. When Amara finally convinces her parents she should get to go on a trip with her dad to New York City’s Harlem to meet the grandfather she’s only spoken to on the phone, she uncovers the fact that her dad and her grandfather haven’t spoken in twelve years. I love the depiction of Amara’s father as a person in his own right, someone with a history and his own problems and how, as Amara slowly unravels the mysteries of her father’s past, she begins to understand herself better too.

By Renée Watson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Some Places More Than Others as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Newbery Honor- and Coretta Scott King Author Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Renée Watson comes a heartwarming and inspiring novel for middle schoolers about finding deep roots and exploring the past, the present, and the places that make us who we are.

All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father's family in New York City--Harlem, to be exact. She can't wait to finally meet her Grandpa Earl and cousins in person, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. Maybe this will help her understand her family--and herself--in new way.

But New…

Invisible Man

By Ralph Ellison,

Book cover of Invisible Man

Daryl Cumber Dance Author Of From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore

From the list on African American folklore.

Who am I?

I'm a devotee of the Word. I collect folklore. I teach literature. Generally I deal with everything from the Greek epics to Jamaican dub poetry, but my focus has been on African American folklore and culture. You might say that I'm something of a proselytizer, dedicated to seeking the Word, collecting and preserving the Word, interpreting the Word, spreading the Word. To paraphrase an old folk saying, "I've got the Word in me, and I can preach it, you know." My numerous collections of folklore have won awards and citations and enthusiastic praise from some impressive personalities and journals, but my greatest reward is witnessing the impact my collections have on ordinary, just plainlongso folk.

Daryl's book list on African American folklore

Discover why each book is one of Daryl's favorite books.

Why did Daryl love this book?

One of America’s greatest novels, Invisible Man is a veritable potpourri of African American Folklore. 

I, and most other professors, always have this novel at the head of our list of readings for courses in African American literature, culture, and/or folklore. There are probably more studies of this novel than of any other African American novel. 

By Ralph Ellison,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Invisible Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In this deeply compelling novel and epic milestone of American literature, a nameless narrator tells his story from the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. 

He describes growing up in a Black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood," before retreating amid violence and confusion.

Originally published in 1952 as the first novel by a then unknown author, it remained on the bestseller list for…

Book cover of Manchild in the Promised Land

Gary Taylor Author Of Luggage by Kroger: A True Crime Memoir

From the list on true crime memoirs written by actual participants in the story.

Who am I?

During my 45-year career as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I covered a wide range of events on a daily basis. As a police and courts reporter for two daily newspapers, I spent many hours researching and writing about crime and legal affairs. As a reader, I’ve enjoyed true crime. As the target of a true-crime myself in 1980, however, I became more fascinated with the sub-genre of the true-crime memoir in which a participant in a true-crime shares insider details of the story without seeking pity or glorification from the reader through objectivity and self-deprecating humor. It’s a fine line. When an author manages to walk it, however, the result proves inspirational.

Gary's book list on true crime memoirs written by actual participants in the story

Discover why each book is one of Gary's favorite books.

Why did Gary love this book?

In this 1965 memoir, the late Claude Brown recounts his experiences coming of age on the mean streets of Harlem just after World War II as part of that first generation of black refugees from the south to resettle in New York. Besides ranking as a classic of black literature, Manchild provides plenty of adventure for fans of true crime with an inside look at juvenile gangs, incarceration, and, ultimately, the redemption Brown enjoyed, reflecting themes that remain relevant into the current century.

By Claude Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This thinly fictionalized account of Claude Brown's childhood as a streetwise criminal trying to survive the toughest streets of Harlem of everyday life for the first generation African American raised in the Northern ghettos of the 1940s and 1950s.

Tar Beach

By Faith Ringgold,

Book cover of Tar Beach

Annie Sieg Author Of Mama Mable's All-Gal Big Band Jazz Extravaganza!

From the list on tackling complicated subjects.

Who am I?

I am a creator and lover of stories. I think storytelling is the most powerful force in the universe. Lately, the world has felt scary and divided and overwhelming for adults, I cannot fathom how confusing it must be for kids. Stories like these can help them process traumas, learn kindness and compassion, and see the world from new perspectives. 

Annie's book list on tackling complicated subjects

Discover why each book is one of Annie's favorite books.

Why did Annie love this book?

Tar Beach is a classic and for good reason! This book addresses heavy subjects like racism and poverty but is threaded through with an overall message of hope and love. The main character flies above her life in 1930s Harlem, soaring over buildings and bridges -- claiming them as her own. The dreamy illustrations and surreal storyline acknowledge the hard realities of life, but leave the reader with a sense of optimism for the future.

By Faith Ringgold,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


Acclaimed artist Faith Ringgold seamless weaves fiction, autobiography, and African American history into a magical story that resonates with the universal wish for freedom, and will be cherished for generations.

Cassie Louise Lightfoot has a dream: to be free to go wherever she wants for the rest of her life. One night, up on “tar beach,” the rooftop of her family’s Harlem apartment building, her dreams come true. The stars lift her up, and she flies over the city, claiming the buildings and…

The Conjure-Man Dies

By Rudolph Fisher,

Book cover of The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem

Mo Moulton Author Of The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women

From the list on fans of Dorothy L. Sayers.

Who am I?

I got hooked on mystery novels as a kid reading the Encyclopedia Brown stories. Something about the combination of a great story and a puzzle to solve is irresistible to me.  As a historian, I’m interested in communities, and especially how people understood themselves as being part of the new kinds of economic, political, and cultural communities that emerged in the first half of the twentieth century. When I learned about Dorothy L. Sayers’ lifelong writing group, the wryly named ‘Mutual Admiration Society’, I was thrilled at the chance to combine my professional interests with my personal passion for detective fiction. 

Mo's book list on fans of Dorothy L. Sayers

Discover why each book is one of Mo's favorite books.

Why did Mo love this book?

Rudolph Fisher was a contemporary of Sayers, but working in a very different context: the Harlem Renaissance.

This novel, reputed to be the first detective novel written by a Black American, opens with the mysterious, apparently impossible murder of a Harvard-educated fortune-teller, N’Gana Frimbo, the ‘conjure-man’ of the title. Then the body disappears, and Frimbo (apparently) reappears – throwing medical and police investigations into chaos.

There’s a surfeit of suspects and lots of talking; what I really love about this novel is the sense of being plunged into a vivid, fully-populated world. This book wins my vote for most overlooked mystery novel from the Golden Age.

By Rudolph Fisher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Conjure-Man Dies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first known mystery written by an African-American, set in 1930s Harlem.