17 books directly related to the Harlem Renaissance 📚

All 17 Harlem Renaissance books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

Why this book?

My childhood has shaped who I am and my research interests. Children have been viewed as many things across American History, from sinful creatures to a productive workforce, from coddled innocents to drivers of consumption. This book traces the adventurous, hazardous, and sometimes perilous transition from childhood to adulthood, in all its many forms, through the development of the American experiment. I like to see how broader trends impact how we think of and raise children.

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

By Steven Mintz,

Why should I read it?

2 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…


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

By Alicia Williams, Jacqueline Alcántara (illustrator),

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

Why 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”).

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

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

Why 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.

Dead Dead Girls

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…

Moses, Man of the Mountain

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Moses, Man of the Mountain

Why 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.

Moses, Man of the Mountain

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.


Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Book cover of Passing

Why this book?

Although Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are only old childhood friends, their relationship has intense sister vibes. Each woman’s mix of jealousy and curiosity about the other’s life, the latent homoerotic desire that serves as an undercurrent for so much of the rising action, a suspected affair, and the explosive ending to Clare’s ruse all illustrate the kind of sibling rivalry I love to explore in my critical as well as my creative work. Not to mention, one of my favorite literary flexes of all time occurs near the end when Irene’s plucky friend Felise has to check a white man who has the audacity to yell the word “nigger” at a house party filled with Black people. It is a moment, as is the entire book. 

Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Why should I read it?

4 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 Ways of White Folks

By Langston Hughes,

Book cover of The Ways of White Folks

Why 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)

The Ways of White Folks

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?

THE CELEBRATED SHORT STORY COLLECTION FROM THE AMERICAN POET AND WRITER OFTEN CALLED THE 'POET LAUREATE OF HARLEM'

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…


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

Why 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. 

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

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…

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

Why 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. 

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

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…


Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon

By Kelly Starling Lyons, Laura Freeman (illustrator),

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

Why this book?

Long before doors opened to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, architect Phillip Freelon was building a legacy. Inspired by his grandfather's paintings, he overcame dyslexia and went on to study architecture, start his own firm and design monumental public spaces.

Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon

By Kelly Starling Lyons, Laura Freeman (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…


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

Why 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.

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

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…

What I Saw and How I Lied

By Judy Blundell,

Book cover of What I Saw and How I Lied

Why 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.

What I Saw and How I Lied

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.

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

Why 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.

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

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…

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Book cover of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Why 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)!

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

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),…

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

Why 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.

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

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…

Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

Why 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. 

Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir

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…


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

Why 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.

Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture

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…


Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

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

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

Why 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.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

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…