The most recommended books on sharecropping

Who picked these books? Meet our 16 experts.

16 authors created a book list connected to sharecropping, and here are their favorite sharecropping books.
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Book cover of It Jes' Happened

Nancy Churnin Author Of Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

From my list on children’s books about art.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an award-winning children’s book author who writes stories about ordinary people, like you and me, that discovered their unique gifts and used those gifts, plus perseverance, to make the world a better place. All my books come with free teacher guides, resources, and projects on my website where kids can share photos of the great things they do.

Nancy's book list on children’s books about art

Nancy Churnin Why did Nancy love this book?

My favorite books are the ones with heroes and heroines you don’t expect – the ones that remind you that we can all be heroes and heroines if we find our gifts and persevere until others see and benefit from them, too. That’s what It Jes’ Happened does with this story of Bill Traylor, a formerly enslaved man who began to draw pictures based on his memories of rural and urban life in Alabama. Adding to the wonder of his story, this self-taught artist didn’t start painting until he was 85, reminding us it’s never too late to do what you love. Author Don Tate is best known as an award-winning illustrator, but here he reminds us that he paints with words, too. Meanwhile, R. Gregory Christie’s warm, wistful art helps us see the world through Traylor’s eyes and heart.

By Don Tate, R. Gregory Christie (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked It Jes' Happened as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

New Voices Award Honor, Lee & Low Books
Ezra Jack Book Award Honor, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Editor's Choice, Booklist
Best Children's Books of the Year: Outstanding Merit, Bank Street College of Education
100 Magnificent Children's Books, Fuse #8 Production, SLJ
Choices, Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC)
Original Art Show, Society of Illustrators

The inspiring biography of self-taught (outsider) artist Bill Traylor, a former slave who at the age of eighty-five began to draw pictures based on his memories and observations of rural and urban life in Alabama.

Growing up as an enslaved boy on an Alabama cotton farm, Bill…


Book cover of The Seed Is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, A South African Sharecropper

Lewis DeSoto Author Of A Blade of Grass

From my list on about life, literature and South Africa.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up during the apartheid era of racial segregation and oppression. A Blade of Grass was written with a sense of exile and regret, but also with love. It is not overtly about South Africa and apartheid. It asks a fundamental question: Where is home, and how shall we live there?

Lewis' book list on about life, literature and South Africa

Lewis DeSoto Why did Lewis love this book?

"The seed is mine. The ploughshares are mine. The span of oxen is mine. Only the land is theirs."

Not a novel, but a biography of an illiterate sharecropper, invisible to history except in this book, who lived for almost 100 years farming land that was always owned by others. 

As a child, I passed many farm labourers without much thought about their lives, their history, their identities. This dense social history was a revelation and a corrective to my ignorance.

Kas Maine’s story is a potent reminder of the need for justice, kindness, and respect toward every human being.

By Charles Van Onselen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A bold and innovative social history, The Seed is Mine concerns disenfranchised black people who did so much to shape the destiny of South Africa. After years of interviews with Kas Maine and his neighbours, employers, friends, and family - a rare triumph of collaborative courage and dedication - Charles van Onselen has recreated the entire life of a man who struggled to maintain his family in a world dedicated to enriching whites and impoverishing blacks, while South Africa was tearing them apart.


Book cover of The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket

Don Steinberg Author Of The Kickstarter Handbook: Real-Life Crowdfunding Success Stories

From my list on how the world really works.

Why am I passionate about this?

Sometimes I feel like we know more about the anthropologies of ancient civilizations and remote tribes than about the business most people do every day. There's mystery behind the curtain. To me, good nonfiction that goes deep inside a business is about our culture and how our world works. It's a way to understand everything we interact with and how it got there. I have enjoyed telling specific business creation stories as a business journalist, but understanding what truly turns the gears has informed writing I have done on every subject, including my humor.

Don's book list on how the world really works

Don Steinberg Why did Don love this book?

Sorry, it's another behind-the-scenes food book on my list. But food is something we all like to eat, and we ought to know how it happens. Lorr rips into the way supermarkets choose foods based on profit margins, shelf appeal, and turnover rather than necessarily tasting great, or being healthful. And also on lucrative "slotting fees" -- manufacturers paying to have products on the shelves. Lorr saves special spite for the way the trucking industry exploits drivers. His histories of grocery chains like Trader Joe's and ALDI are fascinating, and he gets a job at Whole Foods, where he learns the magic phrase employees are trained to say to cranky or bothersome customers: "Sounds important!"

By Benjamin Lorr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Life of Groceries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A deeply curious and evenhanded report on our national appetites." --The New York Times

In the tradition of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, an extraordinary investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store

The miracle of the supermarket has never been more apparent. Like the doctors and nurses who care for the sick, suddenly the men and women who stock our shelves and operate our warehouses are understood as 'essential' workers, providing a quality of life we all too easily take for granted. But the sad truth is that the grocery industry has…


Book cover of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families

Roland Merullo Author Of Dessert with Buddha

From my list on thoughtful works of fiction and non-fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

My twenty novels tend to focus on characters who face great challenges, and I have a particular appreciation for beautiful prose. I don’t read for distraction or entertainment, but to be enlightened, moved, and made more compassionate about different kinds of people in different environments.

Roland's book list on thoughtful works of fiction and non-fiction

Roland Merullo Why did Roland love this book?

This is the story of a highly educated writer living with the poorest of the poor in the U.S. Agee was sent to live with Alabama sharecroppers during the Depression. His assignment was to write about them for a magazine, but he ended up making it into a magnificent memoir (Jimmy Carter’s favorite memoir) that is often paired with Walker Evans’ photos. They lived and worked as a team.

Agee is a well-educated, well-off writer, but manages to describe the lives of the poorest of the poor with great respect, artistic originality, and sincerity, and to give us a full, if painful, understanding of the lives of people who could not afford shoes and were worked to the bone by the landowners.

It’s a deeply spiritual work, artistically original in structure and language, a long, slow, magnificent read that has touched me deeply each time I’ve read it.

By James Agee, Walker Evans,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Let Us Now Praise Famous Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1936, Agee and Evans set out on assignement for Fortune magazine to explore the daily lives of sharecroppers in the South. Their journey would prove an extraordinary collaboration and a watershed literary event when in 1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was first published to enourmous critical acclaim. This unspairing record of place, of the people who shaped the land, and of the rhythm of their lives today stands as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.


Book cover of All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

Jennifer Horne Author Of Odyssey of a Wandering Mind: The Strange Tale of Sara Mayfield, Author

From my list on nonfiction books on lesser-known but fascinating figures.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always loved reading biographies: we only get one life, but through stories of others’ lives we get to absorb into our own imagination their experiences and what they learned, or didn’t, from them. Having written poetry since childhood, I have long been an observer of myself and those around me, with a great curiosity about how people live and what motivates them. I’ve come to see that, no matter what genre I’m writing in, I’m driven to understand the connection between identity and place–for me, in particular, women in the southern U.S., and how each of us makes meaning out of the materials at hand.

Jennifer's book list on nonfiction books on lesser-known but fascinating figures

Jennifer Horne Why did Jennifer love this book?

I moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for graduate school in 1986, eleven years after this book was published, thirteen years after Nate Shaw’s death.

Reading the life of a man whose parents had been enslaved, a cotton farmer and sharecropper who bravely joined a union and stood up for other Black farmers, opened my eyes to the reality of life in the twentieth century for Black farmers in the state I now called home.

Told in expert storyteller Nate Shaw’s (a pseudonym for Ned Cobb) voice, based on interview transcripts, the book introduced me to a person and a way of life unlike anything I had encountered growing up in the city of Little Rock, Arkansas.

By Theodore Rosengarten,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All God's Dangers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nate Shaw's father was born under slavery. Nate Shaw was born into a bondage that was only a little gentler. At the age of nine, he was picking cotton for thirty-five cents an hour. At the age of forty-seven, he faced down a crowd of white deputies who had come to confiscate a neighbor's crop. His defiance cost him twelve years in prison. This triumphant autobiography, assembled from the eighty-four-year-old Shaw's oral reminiscences, is the plain-spoken story of an “over-average” man who witnessed wrenching changes in the lives of Southern black people—and whose unassuming courage helped bring those changes about.


Book cover of The Girls in the Stilt House

Katie Munday Williams Author Of Poet, Pilgrim, Rebel: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America's First Published Poet

From Katie's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Playful Bookworm Mom Dreamer Adventurous

Katie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Katie's 8-year-old's favorite books.

Katie Munday Williams Why did Katie love this book?

This novel was so packed with raw emotion it was overwhelming at times. There were many layers and themes, including gender, racism, and poverty.

I felt a personal connection to the two main characters, drawn in by their loneliness and the undefined and often unrecognized strength they both possessed. The plot was gripping in its intensity, and I found myself cheering for the two girls as they navigated the incredible obstacles in their way.

I usually read for a few minutes before bed, but this book had me staying up late, unwilling (and unable) to put it down. The ending achieved what so many don’t. A clear resolution and a satisfying conclusion to the storm of events we had weathered together. 

By Kelly Mustian,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Girls in the Stilt House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE USA TODAY BESTSELLER!
"Remarkable debut.... [a] nearly flawless tale of loss, perseverance and redemption."-Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
Set in 1920s Mississippi, this debut Southern novel weaves a beautiful and harrowing story of two teenage girls cast in an unlikely partnership through murder-perfect for readers of Where the Crawdads Sing and If the Creek Don't Rise.
Ada promised herself she would never go back to the Trace, to her hard life on the swamp and her harsh father. But now, after running away to Baton Rouge and briefly knowing a different kind of life, she finds herself with nowhere to…


Book cover of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

David Amadio Author Of Rug Man

From my list on working life.

Why am I passionate about this?

The blue-collar everyman lives on the periphery, coming and going with little fanfare. But what does he think and feel? How does he view the world? I became interested in these questions while working for my father’s rug business. I started as a part-timer in the early 90s, straddling the line between academe and the homes of the rich. He employed me for the next twenty years, supplementing my income as I found my way as a university professor. The books listed led me to a deeper appreciation of my father’s vocation, but only in writing Rug Man did I come to understand the true meaning of work. 

David's book list on working life

David Amadio Why did David love this book?

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, published in 1941 to great critical acclaim, centers on three tenant families living in Alabama’s Cotton Belt during the Great Depression.

Through Agee’s Elizabethan, “night-permeated” prose and Evans’s unflinching B & W photographs, the reader experiences every aspect of these sharecroppers’ lives—their shelter, their customs, and, most pointedly, their work.

The university where I teach sits across the road from an Amish farm, and I often wonder how these good people carry on. They possess a dignity and a grace, but, like Agee’s subjects, they perform “simple and terrible work,” so routine and so repetitive that it becomes “the very essence of their lives.”

And yet, miraculously, it does not break them; they persist, and this book, in an indirect and unexpected way, has illuminated that persistence for me. 

By James Agee, Walker Evans,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Let Us Now Praise Famous Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1936, Agee and Evans set out on assignement for Fortune magazine to explore the daily lives of sharecroppers in the South. Their journey would prove an extraordinary collaboration and a watershed literary event when in 1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was first published to enourmous critical acclaim. This unspairing record of place, of the people who shaped the land, and of the rhythm of their lives today stands as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century.


Book cover of Sounder

Mya Chavis Author Of A Sovereign Pursuit: Stolen Justice Redeemed

From my list on comic fiction having you on the edge of your seat.

Why am I passionate about this?

Creatively formulating, cultivating, and producing high-quality fiction “masterpieces” is what I was destined to do. The art of writing is a “gift & passion” that runs rapidly through my veins. Propelled through an obitual love of reading adventurous tales and storytelling as a young child my writing voyage has expanded to writing poetry, monologues, and screen writing. Combining all imaginative inspired gifts and talents refined by a burning passion to communicate prolific narrations like no other author can. Inspirational, impactful authors that paved the way for me to be here are Maya Angelou, Roald Dahl, Theodor Seuss Geisel, Levar Burton, and Nikki Giovanni.

Mya's book list on comic fiction having you on the edge of your seat

Mya Chavis Why did Mya love this book?

A timeless, classic treasure and a personal favorite of mine.

Sounder is a fiction novel, that takes you on an unpredictable emotional roller coaster of unpredictable life events, adversity, and one young boy's unmerited love for his dog.

A saga of an African American sharecropping family conquering and overcoming its economic, financial, racial, and societal challenges of the 1960s after they are set out to fend for themselves after a “young boy's” father is imprisoned for theft.

This expressive fable engulfs you in thought and emotion surrounding limitless perseverance, in spite of. I can’t even tell you how many times I read this book over and over as a young adult. No dull c liché plots this book never gets old and is an overall great read.

By William H Armstrong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sounder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

The Newbery Medal–winning classic novel about the courage and faith—and the love of a dog—that give a family strength in the face of inhumanity. 

The boy knows that times are tough for his family. Every night, his father goes out hunting with their great coon dog, Sounder, to try to put food on the table. But even with the little they bring back, there is still never enough for the family to eat.

When the boy awakens one morning to a sweet-smelling ham on the table, it seems like a blessing. But soon, the sheriff and his deputies come to…


Book cover of The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century

Mark R. Cheathem Author Of The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson

From my list on early U.S. presidential campaigning.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian of the U.S. presidency, I have long been fascinated by the ways in which aspirants for the White House energize and harness popular support for their candidacy. Tracing the development of electioneering practices from the early 1800s to today has been fascinating. Is there a connection between the hickory sprigs worn by Andrew Jackson’s supporters and the MAGA hats worn by Donald Trump’s supporters? Between the political rallies of William Henry Harrison and those of every modern presidential candidate? Between the derision leveled at politically active women in the 1830s and that directed at Sarah Palin and Hilary Rodham Clinton in the twenty-first century? You betcha!

Mark's book list on early U.S. presidential campaigning

Mark R. Cheathem Why did Mark love this book?

This book has been one of the most interesting and enjoyable ones I have read recently. Grinspan looks at how political parties tried to cement voters’ loyalty for a lifetime by courting their first (or virgin) vote. He also discusses the importance of voting and political parties in shaping the lives of young people. Young people are often overlooked in traditional historical scholarship, but Grinspan treats them seriously.  

By Jon Grinspan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

There was a time when young people were the most passionate participants in American democracy. In the second half of the nineteenth century--as voter turnout reached unprecedented peaks--young people led the way, hollering, fighting, and flirting at massive midnight rallies. Parents trained their children to be "violent little partisans," while politicians lobbied twenty-one-year-olds for their "virgin votes"-the first ballot cast upon reaching adulthood. In schoolhouses, saloons, and squares, young men and women proved that democracy is social and politics is personal, earning their adulthood by participating in public life.

Drawing on hundreds of diaries and letters of diverse young Americans--from…