The most recommended Harlem Renaissance books

Who picked these books? Meet our 50 experts.

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


Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Ginger Pinholster Author Of Snakes of St. Augustine

From the list on featuring Florida in a big way.

Who am I?

My second novel, Snakes of St. Augustine, describes an unconventional love story served up with a large side of Florida weirdness. My first novel, City in a Forest, received a Gold Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association in 2020. My short fiction and essays have appeared in Pangyrus, Eckerd Review, Northern Virginia Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. I earned my bachelor’s degree in English from Eckerd College and the M.F.A. in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte. Currently, I’m a writer for a university in Daytona Beach, Florida. A resident of Ponce Inlet, I began volunteering with the Volusia-Flagler Sea Turtle Patrol in 2018.

Ginger's book list on featuring Florida in a big way

Why did Ginger love this book?

Anyone interested in literature featuring Florida must read Hurston’s enduring master work.

The novel describes Janie Crawford’s coming-of-age journey, especially in Eatonville, Florida, which became one of the nation’s first all-black cities, incorporated in 1887. Janie, a child of slavery and rape, flees an oppressive arranged marriage, and later, she survives abusive lovers. Originally published in 1937, Their Eyes Were Watching God challenged gender stereotypes and presented a strong black female protagonist.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is Hurston’s use of the Florida setting to both set the mood and drive plot choices. When protagonist Janie escapes violence, she flees the Panhandle for the more secluded, dense wilderness of Central Florida. There, complex waterways follow the characters’ various movements.

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Their Eyes Were Watching God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cover design by Harlem renaissance artist Lois Mailou Jones

When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds ...

'For me, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece…

Dust Tracks on a Road

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

Linda Lawrence Hunt Author Of Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

From the list on innovative women who overcame silencing.

Who am I?

While a history student at the University of Washington I became aware that courses never included more than a paragraph on the important contributions of women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt or Jane Addams. I longed to know more. What gave some women motivation to defy conventions and use their talents?  When I first learned that Helga Estby’s audacious achievement was silenced for over 100 years, it launched me into over 15 years of research trying to recover this forgotten woman’s story.  As a writing professor for twenty years, I saw how assigning papers that led to exploring and understanding the women in one’s family background deeply enriched college students' lives.

Linda's book list on innovative women who overcame silencing

Why did Linda love this book?

Hurston, a prominent novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist during the Harlem Renaissance time, she finds her greatest recognition in her fictional book Their Eyes Were Watching God. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black town in America.  A graduate of Barnard College, she attended graduate classes at Columbia University and receives several honors for her ethnographic research as a pioneer writer of “folk fiction’ about the black South.

Although she gained considerable fame for a brief time, she dies in near obscurity and poverty although a resurgence of her writings influenced a new group of black women writers. I especially valued reading Dust Tracks on the Road, her poignant autobiographical memoir first published in 1942 after reading Alice Walker’s essay of her search to find Hurston’s unmarked grave. 

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dust Tracks on a Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a new introduction by JESMYN WARD

'Zora Neale Hurston was a knockout in her life, a wonderful writer and a fabulous person. Devilishly funny and academically solid: delicious mixture' MAYA ANGELOU

First published in 1942 at the height of her popularity, Dust Tracks on a Road is Zora Neale Hurston's candid, exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. As compelling as her acclaimed fiction, Hurston's literary self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life - public and private…

Black Culture and the New Deal

By Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff,

Book cover of Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era

Jill Watts Author Of The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics During the Age of Roosevelt

From the list on Black Americans and the Roosevelt era.

Who am I?

I am a Professor of History at California State University San Marcos where I teach United States Social and Cultural History, African American History, Film History, and Digital History. In addition to The Black Cabinet, I am also the author of three other books. Two of my books have been optioned for film and I have consulted on PBS documentaries. I believe that knowing history is necessary and practical, especially in these times. At this critical point, we can draw much wisdom from the lessons of Black history and the history of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Jill's book list on Black Americans and the Roosevelt era

Why did Jill love this book?

Sandwiched between the creative outpourings of the Harlem Renaissance and the Cold War, Black cultural expression during the Roosevelt years is often overlooked. Lauren Skalroff corrects this by exploring the various venues where Black artists contributed during the New Deal era. Black cultural workers encountered overwhelming discrimination as they navigated the world of art, theater, music, writing, radio, film, and other cultural outlets that were controlled by white Americans. But the New Deal’s arts programs did offer some opportunities for Black artistic autonomy and genuine expression. In some cases, Black artists were able, to a degree, to challenge negative stereotypes. Sklaroff builds the story chronologically and takes the reader through WWII showing how culture and political activism were intricately linked during two of the nation’s most historically challenging times.

By Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration - unwilling to antagonize a powerful southern congressional bloc - refused to endorse legislation that openly sought to improve political, economic, and social conditions for African Americans. Instead, as historian Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff shows, the administration recognized and celebrated African Americans by offering federal support to notable black intellectuals, celebrities, and artists.

Sklaroff illustrates how programs within the Federal Arts Projects and several war agencies gave voice to such notable African Americans as Lena Horne, Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, and Richard Wright, as well as lesser-known figures. She argues that these New Deal programs…

What I Saw and How I Lied

By Judy Blundell,

Book cover of What I Saw and How I Lied

Tam Francis Author Of The Flapper Affair: A 1920s Time Travel Murder Mystery Paranormal Romance

From the list on vintage fashion, passion and dance reads.

Who am I?

I write cross-genre fiction with a pen in one hand and a vintage cocktail in the other, filling the romantic void, writing novels when my husband deployed. When in port, we taught swing dancing and have been avid collectors of vintage sewing patterns, retro clothing, and antiques. All of which make appearances in my stories. I’ve always been fascinated with the paranormal and have had some unexplained experiences, some of those made their way into my stories as well. I live in a 1908 home in Texas that may or may not be haunted. I have book reviews, vintage lifestyle tips, recipes, interviews, giveaways, and games on my site!

Tam's book list on vintage fashion, passion and dance reads

Why did Tam love this book?

Set in post-WWII with wartime flashbacks to an earlier time, Blundell uses music, dance, and fashion to capture the mood and atmosphere of the era. Her descriptions of the fashions had me drooling and wanting to run to the nearest vintage shop to buy a new dress. Blundell’s use of language, imagery, and metaphor worked well and often flirted with brilliance. She captured the dichotomy of having one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood with compelling plot twists, intertwining the complex mother and the daughter relationship from the perspective of a young woman. The romance aspect was realistic and dangerous with the character of Peter exactly what every parent fears for their budding daughter and what so many naive girls think they want.

By Judy Blundell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What I Saw and How I Lied as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Evie's father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe's company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

Jump at the Sun

By Alicia Williams, Jacqueline Alcántara (illustrator),

Book cover of Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston

Nina Nolan Author Of Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens

From the list on women who shaped history.

Who am I?

I’m a picture-book author who wrote about Mahalia Jackson so more people would feel the sense of awe about her that I do. When I first read how she was treated by our own country, I was furious. But her amazing grace allowed me to focus on the positive aspects of her life, like she did.

Nina's book list on women who shaped history

Why did Nina love this book?

The life of Zora Neale Hurston, the extraordinary novelist and first female African-American anthropologist, was bigger than words. But this picture book catches the uncatchable. The words are gorgeous. And the illustrations further illuminate the portrait, including delightful hats on the endpapers (a hat-tip to Ms. Hurston’s “HATitude”).

By Alicia Williams, Jacqueline Alcántara (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Jump at the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Newbery Honor-winning author of Genesis Begins Again comes a shimmering picture book that shines the light on Zora Neale Hurston, the extraordinary writer and storycatcher extraordinaire who changed the face of American literature.

Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, "to jump at de sun", because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you'd get off the ground. So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to…

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…


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

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…

Creating Their Own Image

By Lisa E. Farrington,

Book cover of Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists

Celia Stahr Author Of Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist

From the list on overviews and individual lives of women artists.

Who am I?

As a teenager, I found the layered poetry of Sylvia Plath as riveting as an impasto-layered canvas by Vincent Van Gogh. A love for the rhythm of words and paint, as well as the power of art to tell stories and critique history led me to study art history. Influential college professors opened my eyes to the systematic exclusion of women from art and history. Today, I’m a professor at the University of San Francisco, where I specialize in modern, contemporary, and African art, with an emphasis upon issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and class. I’m particularly interested in women artists and artists who cross cultural boundaries. 

Celia's book list on overviews and individual lives of women artists

Why did Celia love this book?

If you want to learn about the history of African American women artists from the era of slavery to the 21st century, this is the book to read. Lisa E. Farrington astutely analyzes this fraught history with a style of writing that’s available to both scholars and non-scholars alike. It’s for anyone who has an interest in how images of Black women have evolved over time from racist stereotypes in art and popular culture to empowering images created by Black women artists who “contested society’s insistence on their subservience and vulgarity.” Farrington’s groundbreaking book, which was published in 2005, makes it clear that when Black women artists control their own images, it changes the trajectory of both art history and popular culture. 

By Lisa E. Farrington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Creating Their Own Image as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed as "a captivating and thorough study of a long-ignored aspect of America's art history" (CHOICE), Creating Their Own Image offers the first comprehensive history of African-American women artists, spanning from slavery to the Harlem Renaissance and the tumultuous civil rights era, right up to the present day. Lavishly illustrated throughout with color illustrations, this magnificent volume richly details hundreds of important works-including
some images never before published-to present a portrait of artistic creativity unprecedented in its scope and ambition. Weaving together an expansive collection of artists, styles, and periods, Lisa Farrington argues that for centuries African-American women artists have…

Dream Builder

By Kelly Starling Lyons, Laura Freeman (illustrator),

Book cover of Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon

Pierce Freelon Author Of Daddy & Me, Side by Side

From the list on children's reads by Black women from North Carolina.

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina where I was loved, nurtured, and mentored by several brilliant, creative, and powerful Black women. One of those women was Dr. Maya Angelou, who was close with my Grandmother, Queen Mother Frances Pierce, and was my mom's God-Mother. She and the other authors on this list are all women who I respect professionally and love dearly. I am a picture book author, a Grammy-nominated children's musician, and a father of two. I have read these stories to my children and am so proud to live in the great state of North Carolina with so many talented, genuine, and inspirational Black women.

Pierce's book list on children's reads by Black women from North Carolina

Why did Pierce love this book?

Kelly Starling Lyons is a brilliant author of several books for children and young adults.

A personal favorite is her book about my father, Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon. This tells my Dad's story, from struggling to read letters and numbers as a child, to becoming a world renowned architect of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.

By Kelly Starling Lyons, Laura Freeman (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

You've seen the building. Now meet the man whose life went into it.

Philip Freelon's grandfather was an acclaimed painter of the Harlem Renaissance. His father was a successful businessman who attended the 1963 March on Washington. When Phil decided to attend architecture school, he created his own focus on African American and Islamic designers. He later chose not to build casinos or prisons, instead concentrating on schools, libraries, and museums--buildings that connect people with heritage and fill hearts with joy. And in 2009, Phil's team won a commission that let him use his personal history in service to the…

Moses, Man of the Mountain

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Moses, Man of the Mountain

Rebecca Gomez Farrell Author Of Wings Unfurled

From the list on speculative fiction with lyrical prose.

Who am I?

Born to three generations of poets, I’ve always appreciated a certain quality in the prose I read: lyricism. I want to catch my breath at a beautiful turn of phrase or gasp when I figure out a metaphor’s double meaning. My own writing seeks to reproduce that joy of discovery while preserving the plot-forward conventions of good speculative fiction. The books in this list balance literary style and genre expectations. Snatches of song, poetic prophesies, the perfect comparison—I hope these jewels delight my readers as much as they’ve delighted me in these works.

Rebecca's book list on speculative fiction with lyrical prose

Why did Rebecca love this book?

I studied the literature of the Harlem Renaissance in college, and the rhythmic power and cadence of so many great works of that time still influence me: the deep bass throughline of Claude McKay’s Banjo; the fiery, relentless push of truth in James Baldwin’s essays and novels. Zora Neale Hurston imbued her allegories and anthropological studies of the era with literary devices that made them smooth to read and easy to slide under your skin. Just the repetition of mountain in Moses, Man of the Mountain, is enough to reveal the power of the simplest literary devices. And her expert use of alliteration makes this a beautiful, boisterous, and emboldening read.

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A narrative of great power. Warm with friendly personality and pulsating with . . . profound eloquence and religious fervor.” —New York Times

In this novel based on the familiar story of the Exodus, Zora Neale Hurston blends the Moses of the Old Testament with the Moses of black folklore and song to create a compelling allegory of power, redemption, and faith.


By Suzanne Slade, Cozbi A. Cabrera (illustrator),

Book cover of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Jasmine A. Stirling Author Of A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

From the list on women writers and artists.

Who am I?

I am an award-winning author who grew up in a family of painters, poets, sculptors, and novelists; people who designed their lives around, and dedicated their lives to, artistic expression. I knew I wanted to be a writer at age three when I began dictating a poem every day to my mom. I first fell in love with Jane Austen as a student at Oxford, where I read my favorite of her novels, Persuasion.

Jasmine's book list on women writers and artists

Why did Jasmine love this book?

This book inspired my family to start reading poetry together, to create playlists of poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and even to have a Calico Critters poetry reading with tiny dollhouse books (the elephants and hedgehogs are especially good poets). 

Exquisite’s extraordinary illustrations and playful prose, which honors Gwendolyn’s rhythms, take us through the poet’s childhood love of poetry—she begins writing as early as 7. Poetry is Gwendolyn’s world. Eventually, her poems are published—first in her neighborhood, then in her city and beyond—but they don’t pay the bills. Then one day a phone call delivers the news: She is the first Black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize! I adored this book, about how art can elevate and bring joy to everyday life—with all its limitations—and gifted it to several families this year.

By Suzanne Slade, Cozbi A. Cabrera (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A picture-book biography of celebrated poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is known for her poems about "real life." She wrote about love, loneliness, family, and poverty-showing readers how just about anything could become a beautiful poem. Exquisite follows Gwendolyn from early girlhood into her adult life, showcasing her desire to write poetry from a very young age. This picture-book biography explores the intersections of race, gender, and the ubiquitous poverty of the Great Depression-all with a lyrical touch worthy of the subject. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first Black person to…


By Nella Larsen,

Book cover of Passing

Pamela Holmes Author Of The Curious Life of Elizabeth Blackwell

From the list on extraordinary women.

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by singular women who have found ways to express themselves and to flourish in the face of doubt. My experience of moving country as a child, family breakdown, losing a parent as a teenager, and dropping out has left me intrigued by other women with the drive to survive on their own terms. Of course, the social constraints a woman must overcome will vary according to when she lived, but common characteristics will be bravery and obstinacy. I’ve now written three novels about women who have succeeded against the odds. I hope the books I’ve recommended captivate you as much as they do me.

Pamela's book list on extraordinary women

Why did Pamela love this book?

Both Irene and Clare are married to successful men. But that aside, these mixed-race friends from childhood deal with the racism of early 20th century New York differently.

While both can ‘pass’ as white, Irene lives within her Harlem community while Clare wants to straddle both worlds. She coerces Irene into facilitating a double life.

I’ve no personal experience of ‘passing’ so learnt a lot about the issues the women grappled with; opportunity verses deception, the quest for self-identify and self-worth in a racist rule-bound society, the need to belong, and how that’s negotiated.

In the shocking final scene, we are left to reach our own conclusion of what it takes to survive. 

By Nella Larsen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A classic, brilliant and layered novel that has been at the heart of racial identity discourse in America for almost a century.

Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African American heritage and has severed all ties to her past. Clare's childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, but refuses to acknowledge the racism that continues to constrict her family's happiness. A chance encounter forces both women to confront the lies they have told others - and the…

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

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.

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

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…

The Ways of White Folks

By Langston Hughes,

Book cover of The Ways of White Folks

Brianne Moore Author Of A Bright Young Thing

From the list on 1930s books featuring women who did it their way.

Who am I?

All of my books and stories have at least one thing in common: strong women. I’ve always been fascinated by women who are fighters and who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Astra, the main character in A Bright Young Thing, is definitely not alone in pushing back against society’s expectations: the women in these books (and many in real life in the 1930s) also find the strength to say no, to stand in their power, and truly live life their way.

Brianne's book list on 1930s books featuring women who did it their way

Why did Brianne love this book?

The most famous short story in this collection is about Cora, whose whole life is spent in drudgery first to her own family, and then to the locally prominent Studevants. In her own life, Cora is somewhat unconventional—she feels no shame for having an illegitimate child at a time when that was frowned upon, to say the least—but she’s quietly obedient to her difficult employers. Until, that is, one of them causes a tragedy, and Cora feels compelled to speak up very publicly. And, oh, when she does it is immensely satisfying! (TW: racially charged language and abortion)

By Langston Hughes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ways of White Folks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A black maid forms a close bond with the daughter of the cruel white couple for whom she works. Two rich, white artists hire a black model to pose as a slave. A white-passing boy ignores his mother when they cross each other on the street.

Written with sardonic wit and a keen eye for the absurdly unjust, these fourteen stories about racial tensions are as relevant today as the day they were penned, and linger in the mind long after the…


By Emma Dabiri,

Book cover of Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture

St. Clair Detrick-Jules Author Of My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood

From the list on celebrating Black hair.

Who am I?

I’m an Afro-Caribbean-American filmmaker, photographer, author, and activist from Washington, DC. After graduating from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts in French and Francophone Studies, I began pursuing a completely different career path: social activism through art and storytelling. I capture personal stories and intimate moments centering on Black liberation, immigrant justice, and women’s rights. My work is grounded in radical love, joy, and the knowledge that a more just world is possible. My award-winning documentary DACAmented has been internationally recognized, and my book My Beautiful Black Hair has been featured in The Washington Post, Buzzfeed News, and NPR’s Strange Fruit, among others.

St.'s book list on celebrating Black hair

Why did St. love this book?

Dabiri’s use of history and personal storytelling to deconstruct and illuminate the long story of Black hair is crucial in that it allows readers to understand that our Black hair has history. The movement against natural Black hair is rooted in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and our own structures of government have always backed the anti-blackness that criminalized, scapegoated, or invisibilized our hair; this book celebrates our natural hair but also serves as historical education, which is so important if we’re to see natural Black hair not as a stylish trend but as a necessary part of our liberation. Dabiri reminds us that, while our hair is so often used as a weapon against us, it also has the power to liberate us.

By Emma Dabiri,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Kirkus Best Book of the Year

Stamped from the Beginning meets You Can't Touch My Hair in this timely and resonant essay collection from Guardian contributor and prominent BBC race correspondent Emma Dabiri, exploring the ways in which black hair has been appropriated and stigmatized throughout history, with ruminations on body politics, race, pop culture, and Dabiri’s own journey to loving her hair.

Emma Dabiri can tell you the first time she chemically straightened her hair. She can describe the smell, the atmosphere of the salon, and her mix of emotions when she saw her normally kinky tresses fall…


By Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Book cover of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Viviane Elbee Author Of I Want My Book Back

From the list on the magic of libraries.

Who am I?

I've loved books and reading from an early age. My family and I go to the library nearly every week to check out books, do research, or attend library programs like storytime. My interest in libraries led me to read books about libraries and write one of my own. I’m a children’s book author living in North Carolina with my husband and two book-devouring kids. I Want My Book Back is my second book, following my debut, Teach Your Giraffe to Ski. When I’m not reading or writing, I like hanging out with my family, being outdoors, and going on everyday adventures.

Viviane's book list on the magic of libraries

Why did Viviane love this book?

As my kids are getting older, I keep my eyes open for longer, more complex picture books – and this book attracted my attention. It’s a great non-fiction biography for kids who like learning about notable historical personalities. It took roughly 45 minutes to read this book with the kids, and we all learned so much about Schomburg and his quest to collect literature by and about people of African descent worldwide. One thing that really impressed the kids and me was how he managed to keep this humongous collection in his home. (The kids and I were wondering if the whole family was sleeping on books instead of beds)!

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In luminous paintings and arresting poems, two of children’s literature’s top African-American scholars track Arturo Schomburg’s quest to correct history.

Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked.

Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny),…

If You Were Only White

By Donald Spivey,

Book cover of If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy Satchel Paige

David Vaught Author Of Spitter: Baseball's Notorious Gaylord Perry

From the list on deep-dive baseball biographies.

Who am I?

Writing this book brought back memories from my childhood—of watching Perry pitch in the late 1960s and, more deeply, of relations with my parents. My father (a math prof at UC Berkeley) and mother cared little for sports, but by the time I turned seven, an identity uniquely my own emerged from my infatuation with the San Francisco Giants. By age ten, I regularly sneaked off to Candlestick Park, which required two long bus rides and a hike through one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. I knew exactly when I had to leave to retrace my journey to get home in time for dinner. Baseball was, and remains, in my blood.

David's book list on deep-dive baseball biographies

Why did David love this book?

Spivey and I share the same goal—to reach a broad audience, both scholarly and general. His book is for readers who love baseball and love history—those with a passion for the game who are not scared off by complex arguments or endnotes. Baseball intellectuals—the huge group of readers embodied by George Will, Ken Burns, and Doris Kearns Goodwin—constitute the central audience. But baseball buffs also care about the history of the game and will want to read this book. Spivey, a history professor, writes accessibly and avoids “insider history”—even in the sections and chapters focused primarily on the sordid past of American race relations. It is a deftly-executed, balanced treatment of Paige and one of the most meticulously researched biographies ever written about an athlete.

By Donald Spivey,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked If You Were Only White as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"If You Were Only White" explores the legacy of one of the most exceptional athletes ever-an entertainer extraordinaire, a daring showman and crowd-pleaser, a wizard with a baseball whose artistry and antics on the mound brought fans out in the thousands to ballparks across the country. Leroy "Satchel" Paige was arguably one of the world's greatest pitchers and a premier star of Negro Leagues Baseball. But in this biography Donald Spivey reveals Paige to have been much more than just a blazing fastball pitcher.

Spivey follows Paige from his birth in Alabama in 1906 to his death in Kansas City…

Huck's Raft

By Steven Mintz,

Book cover of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Paula S. Fass Author Of The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child

From the list on understanding American parenting.

Who am I?

As a social historian, I have helped to direct scholarly attention to the history of family life and helped to create the field of history of children. I'm the editor of a pioneering three-volume encyclopedia on the history of children and the author of six books and editor of three others based on extensive research about children’s experiences in the United States and the Western world. I've also been widely interviewed on the subject. The End of American Childhood brings this research experience and broad expertise in the field to a subject of urgent interest to today’s parents who want to understand how their own views about children and their child-rearing perspectives are grounded historically. 

Paula's book list on understanding American parenting

Why did Paula love this book?

Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood is a comprehensive and important history of American children and their varied experiences.

By synthesizing a large literature in engaging prose, Mintz introduces readers to children’s lives across four centuries of the American past, starting in the seventeenth century and reaching into the present. Mintz strives to encompass different racial, class, and gender experiences. 

This is the best book to begin exploring the new field of children’s studies.

By Steven Mintz,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Huck's Raft as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Like Huck's raft, the experience of American childhood has been both adventurous and terrifying. For more than three centuries, adults have agonized over raising children while children have followed their own paths to development and expression. Now, Steven Mintz gives us the first comprehensive history of American childhood encompassing both the child's and the adult's tumultuous early years of life.

Underscoring diversity through time and across regions, Mintz traces the transformation of children from the sinful creatures perceived by Puritans to the productive workers of nineteenth-century farms and factories, from the cosseted cherubs of the Victorian era to the confident…

Book cover of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song: A Library of America Anthology

Hollis Robbins Author Of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

From the list on Black poetry.

Who am I?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.

Hollis' book list on Black poetry

Why did Hollis love this book?

Kevin Young’s anthology is the latest in a long line of Black poetry anthologies; the first was James Weldon Johnson’s Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), which Young duly acknowledges. Most of Young’s choices I agree with; some I don’t (at least one of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s great sonnets should have been included); but in the main it is a terrific anthology of poets historical up to the present day. I counted almost 40 sonnets among the poems included. Readers who are interested in the dates the poems were published can turn to an extensive set of notes in the back, which are really helpful.

By Kevin Young,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A literary landmark: the biggest, most ambitious anthology of Black poetry ever published, gathering 250 poets from the colonial period to the present

Across a turbulent history, from such vital centers as Harlem, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, Black poets created a rich and multifaceted tradition that has been both a reckoning with American realities and an imaginative response to them. Capturing the power and beauty of this diverse tradition in a single indispensable volume, African American Poetry reveals as never before its centrality and its challenge to American poetry and culture.

One of the great…