Books have the power to open our eyes to a new world. By reading about experiences different from our own, we are able to empathize and learn more about humanity. One small thing we can do during this time is make sure that our libraries reflect the many voices in this country. Whether you're a fan of poetry, science fiction, or just beautiful prose, these Black authors are some of the many we should all know and read regularly.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, we hope that it's a starting point for us all to diversify our own libraries.
Read on for some of the many important Black authors to add to your reading list.
It would be remiss to not include Nobel Laureate in Literature Toni Morrison on this list. Her beautiful prose on Black identity and Black womanhood was celebrated by critics, winning her many prizes from a Pulitzer to a National Book Critics Circle Award. Though she passed in 2019, her books, from Song of Solomon to Beloved, still resonate today.
The accomplished poet and memoirist fills the pages of her work with lyrical prose and poetry about her life in the context of racism and sexism in America. While she is best known for her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou wrote six volumes in total about her life, making her one of the most widely read Black writers of our time.
Zadie Smith's debut novel White Teeth won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award in 2000. She's a tenured professor of fiction at New York University and is known for her eccentric characters and clever dialogue.
James Baldwin's account of the Black experience in America spanned poetry, essays and plays. While he is best known for works like If Beale Street Could Talk or Nobody Knows My Name, he was also a major activist in the Civil Rights movement.
Jesmyn Ward is a two-time National Book Award winner (for 2017's Sing, Unburied, Sing and 2011's Salvage the Bones) whose searing and lyrical prose set in the deep South stays with readers long after they've finished her novels. Her writing focuses on past and present injustices as well as spirituality and has drawn comparisons to Toni Morrison.
Ralph Ellison's debut novel Invisible Man won the National Book Award for fiction, remained on the bestsellers list for weeks, and has been a pillar of American literature since. After its publication, Ellison taught at many universities including Bard College, the University of Chicago, and Yale.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Celebrated Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is best known for her 2013 novel Americanah, a love story spanning two continents and countless adversities. She was also, famously, sampled in Beyonce's hit song, "Flawless," in which she read from her essay, "We Should All Be Feminists."
A former national correspondent for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates is the author of the New York Times bestseller Between the World and Me, which won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction. His work spans culture, power, politics, and societal issues. His first novel, The Water Dancer, was published in 2019.
With his novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, Alex Haley traced his maternal line to a young enslaved man in Gambia and follows his descendants as they go through major historical events. The book was adapted into a TV miniseries in 1977 and became a cultural phenomenon with another adaptation in 2016. Haley was also an accomplished interviewer; his interview with Malcolm X in 1963 for Playboy magazine served as the beginning to The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley.
Richard Wright was a novelist and short story writer who was among the first to protest societal injustices toward Black people in his writings after the Second World War. His most famous novel, Native Son, was published in 1940, setting the stage for the Civil Rights movement in the '50s and '60s.
Kiley Reid's debut novel, Such a Fun Age, was met with critical acclaim when it was published late December 2019, detailing a familiar moment where police are called on a Black nanny with a white child. Reid is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop where she received the Truman Capote Fellowship.
Terry McMillan's 1996 novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back details the life of a high-powered investment analyst too busy for love until she takes a last minute vacation to Jamaica. McMillan's work focuses on the lives and loves of Black women.
Comedian Samantha Irby's hilarious collections of essays, from We Are Never Meeting in Real Life to Wow, No Thank You are riotous bestsellers with her takes on how she could be the next Bachelorette, and, relatably, why she can't get the hang of a budget.
Comedian Phoebe Robinson's collections of essays bring the same humor and tone you know and love from her stand-up shows and popular podcast Two Dope Queens to the page. Her second book Everything's Trash, But It's Ok, is a hilarious look at politics, gender, race, and dating in America.
Comedian Trevor Noah of Daily Show fame penned a memoir in 2016 about his life in Apartheid South Africa. As Noah was born to a white father and a Black mother (a crime punishable by five years in prison at the time), his book chronicles his early life before he became an internationally successful comedian.
Zora Neale Hurston
Writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston focused on Black life in the rural South in her writings while her research in anthropology centered on Black folklore. Her most popular novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937 and still resonates today.
Tayari Jones' most recent novel, An American Marriage, was the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Aspen Words Prize and an NAACP Image Award. It chronicles the relationship between newlyweds in the context of a false conviction and made President Barack Obama's 2018 Summer Reading List.
Alice Walker, best known for her novel The Color Purple which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, was born to Black sharecroppers in Georgia in 1944. Her writing and poetry detail the Black southern experience and examine racism and gender in America.
Ijeoma Oluo's book gives readers the tools they need to discuss race in America. With her sharp ideas and unflinching honesty, this book, along with Oluo's other writing, is a manual for anyone to learn how to discuss everything from intersectionality to affirmative action.
Born in Jamaica, Marlon James' most famous book A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fictional retelling of the attack on Bob Marley and his band before the Smile Jamaica concert in 1976 and the aftermath of that event. The novel won the 2015 Man Booker Prize.
Bryan Stevenson is a writer, lawyer, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization. His most famous work, Just Mercy, chronicles his experience defending a wrongly accused man, Walter McMillian, who was sentenced to die for a murder he didn’t commit and was recently adapted into a film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.