20 Books Written by Black Authors
Updated: Feb 21
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash
For Black History Month, here's a list of 20 books written by Black authors:
*In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As first lady of the United States of America - the first African American to serve in that role - she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the US and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites listeners into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her - from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work to her time spent at the world's most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it - in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations - and whose story inspires us to do the same.
*Renaada Williams beckons readers into her deepest thoughts and most intimate experiences as a queer black woman living in America with her latest collection of poetry. Much like her first book, Williams presents themes like sexuality and acceptance through her stunningly arranged words, but this time she dives much deeper. find her. keep her. delivers an amplitude of emotion and rawness; reading her poetry feels as if you’ve stumbled upon her secret journal and are reading words that were never meant to be found.
*Afi Tekple is a young seamstress in Ghana. She is smart; she is pretty; and she has been convinced by her mother to marry a man she does not know. Afi knows who he is, of course—Elikem is a wealthy businessman whose mother has chosen Afi in the hopes that she will distract him from his relationship with a woman his family claims is inappropriate. But Afi is not prepared for the shift her life takes when she is moved from her small hometown of Ho to live in Accra, Ghana’s gleaming capital, a place of wealth and sophistication where she has days of nothing to do but cook meals for a man who may or may not show up to eat them. She has agreed to this marriage in order to give her mother the financial security she desperately needs, and so she must see it through. Or maybe not?
*A literary classic that remains vital to our understanding of the past, Corregidora is Gayl Jones’s powerful debut novel, examining womanhood, sexuality, and the psychological residue of slavery. Jones masterfully tells the story of Ursa, a Kentucky blues singer, who, in the wake of a tragic loss, confronts her maternal history and the legacy of Corregidora, the Portuguese slave master who fathered both her mother and grandmother. Consumed and haunted by her hatred of the man who irrevocably shaped her life and the lives of her family, Ursa Corregidora must come to terms with a past that is never too distant from the present.
*Glory Akindele returns to London from her seemingly glamorous life in LA to mourn the sudden death of her father, only to find her previously close family has fallen apart in her absence. Her brother, Victor, is in jail and won’t speak to her because she didn’t come home for his trial. Her older sister, Faith, once a busy career woman, appears to have lost her independence and ambition, and is instead channeling her energies into holding together a perfect suburban family. Worst of all, their mother, Celeste, is headed toward a breakdown after the death of her husband and the shame of her son’s incarceration.
Rather than returning to America, Glory decides to stay and try to bring them all together again. It’s a tall order given that Glory’s life isn’t exactly working out according to plan either, and she’s acutely aware that she’s not so sure who she is and what she wants. A chance reunion with a man she’d known in her teens—the perceptive but elusive Julian—gives her the courage to start questioning why her respectable but obsessively private Nigerian immigrant family is the way it is. But then Glory’s questioning unearths a massive secret that shatters the family’s fragile peace—and she risks losing everyone she deeply cares about in her pursuit of the truth and a reunited family.
*Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash". At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age - and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
*In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a 19-year-old girl in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin's story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and is imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions - affection, despair, and hope.
*Ralph Elllison's Invisible Man is a monumental novel, one that can well be called an epic of 20th-century African-American life. It is a strange story, in which many extraordinary things happen, some of them shocking and brutal, some of them pitiful and touching - yet always with elements of comedy and irony and burlesque that appear in unexpected places. After a brief prologue, the story begins with a terrifying experience from the hero's high-school days; it then moves quickly to the campus of a "Southern Negro college" and then to New York's Harlem, where most of the action takes place. The many people that the hero meets in the course of his wanderings are remarkably various, complex and significant. With them he becomes involved in an amazing series of adventures, in which he is sometimes befriended but more often deceived and betrayed - as much by himself and his own illusions as by the duplicity and the blindness of others.
*It’s been months since aspiring journalist Kian Andrews has heard from his ex-boyfriend, Hudson Rivers, but an urgent text has them meeting at a café. Maybe Hudson wants to profusely apologize for the breakup. Or confess his undying love... But no, Hudson has a favor to ask—he wants Kian to pretend to be his boyfriend while his parents are in town, and Kian reluctantly agrees. The dinner doesn’t go exactly as planned, and suddenly Kian is Hudson’s plus one to Georgia’s wedding of the season. Hudson comes from a wealthy family where reputation is everything, and he really can’t afford another mistake. If Kian goes, he’ll help Hudson preserve appearances and get the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in media. This could be the big career break Kian needs. But their fake relationship is starting to feel like it might be more than a means to an end, and it’s time for both men to fact-check their feelings.
*When the body of reality TV star Desiree Pierce is found on a playground in the Bronx the morning after her twenty-fifth birthday party, the police and the media are quick to declare her death an overdose. A tragedy, certainly, but not a crime. Yet Columbia grad student Lena—principled, headstrong, and allergic to the spotlight—knows that can’t be the case. Despite the bitter truth that the two hadn’t spoken in two years, they were half-sisters. Lena knew Desiree. And Desiree would never travel above 125th Street. Something is very wrong with the facts. So why is no one listening? While the two sisters had been torn apart by Desiree’s partying and by their difficult father, Lena becomes determined to find justice for Desiree. Even if that means untangling her family’s darkest secrets—or ending up dead herself.
*Ghanaian-American Angela Appiah has checked off all the boxes for the "Perfect Immigrant Daughter." But then it quickly all falls apart: her boyfriend dumps her, she bombs the most important exam of her medical career, and her best friend pulls away. And her parents, whose approval seems to hinge on how closely she follows the path they chose, are a lot less proud of their daughter. It’s a quarter life crisis of epic proportions. Angie, who has always faced her problems by working "twice as hard to get half as far," is at a loss. Suddenly, she begins to question everything: her career choice, her friendships, even why she's attracted to men who don't love her as much as she loves them.
And just when things couldn’t get more complicated, enter Ricky Gutierrez—brilliant, thoughtful, sexy, and most importantly, seems to see Angie for who she is instead of what she can represent.
Unfortunately, he’s also got "wasteman" practically tattooed across his forehead, and Angie’s done chasing mirages of men. Or so she thinks. For someone who’s always been in control, Angie realizes that there’s one thing she can’t plan on: matters of her heart.
*Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix's past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.
*Are you tired of spinning your wheels following financial advice that leaves you feeling broker than before? Are you pulling your hair out trying to follow the complicated instructions offered by the gurus? In The Black Girl’s Guide to Financial Freedom, Paris Woods takes the guesswork out of wealth-building and presents a plan that anyone can follow. Paris spent years working in education and wanted to find a way to build wealth without changing careers or taking the traditional real estate or business routes. This book is the result of years of research and practice that helped her find a simpler path.
*In Morrison’s acclaimed first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.
*A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience. The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker's epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.
*Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A Black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas. Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs.
Yet against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris…like loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.
*Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does - or does not - say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
*Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.
*At the age of twenty, Milwaukee native Chris Gardner, just out of the Navy, arrived in San Francisco to pursue a promising career in medicine. Considered a prodigy in scientific research, he surprised everyone and himself by setting his sights on the competitive world of high finance. Yet no sooner had he landed an entry-level position at a prestigious firm than Gardner found himself caught in a web of incredibly challenging circumstances that left him as part of the city's working homeless and with a toddler son. Motivated by the promise he made to himself as a fatherless child to never abandon his own children, the two spent almost a year moving among shelters, "HO-tels," soup lines, and even sleeping in the public restroom of a subway station. Never giving in to despair, Gardner made an astonishing transformation from being part of the city's invisible poor to being a powerful player in its financial district.
*Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. And each has something that the woman next door deeply desires. Sworn enemies, the two share a hedge and a deliberate hostility, which they maintain with a zeal that belies their age. But, one day, an unexpected event forces Hortensia and Marion together. As the physical barriers between them collapse, their bickering gradually softens into conversation and, gradually, the two discover common ground. But are these sparks of connection enough to ignite a friendship, or is it too late to expect these women to change?
*All descriptions are taken from their respective links.
Deanna (or "Nana Barratt") is an MA Creative and Media Enterprises graduate from the University of Warwick. She previously studied Popular Music, but decided to take a different career path into writing. She now writes about music, the TV and film industry, and East-Asian culture, and gives student advice and lifestyle tips.