12 Best Books By Black Authors Update 05/2022

Best Books By Black Authors

The Black Lives Matter movement’s re-energized efforts in 2020 shed a light on various aspects of Black culture. Many readers were inspired by this event to seek out new Black authors and to study the rich variety of Black literature available, which spans generations and boundaries, illuminating a wide range of experiences.

From 20th-century classics that crystallized crucial moments in the civil rights movement to funny novels, thrilling fantasy, and 2020 bestsellers that continue to traverse complicated social tensions, we’ve compiled a list of 70 of the best books by Black authors that should be on your ‘TBR’ list.

Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin are among the well-known black authors on our list, as well as some of the most promising up-and-coming authors. Black voices are represented in a wide range of genres in our ‘Fiction’ section, and we’ve also dedicated sections to nonfiction, poetry, and Young Adult fiction (we know how important it is for young people to be represented in the books they read). So let’s get started!

Fiction

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty introduces us to Me, a young Black watermelon and cannabis grower in The Sellout. When Me’s father is killed by cops and his hometown of Dickens is wiped off the map, he decides to confront one injustice by burying it beneath another. Me hires a Black slave to serve as his footstool and petitions America’s highest court to reestablish segregation, in one of the book’s many absurdist twists. This caustic but heartfelt satirical novel, powered by a wicked wit, turns themes of racism and slavery inside out in service of a devastatingly clever message.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Earth, Jemisin’s triple Hugo Award-winning trilogy, is set in the Stillness, a future where society is built around surviving nuclear winters. The Orogenes, who control the earth’s strength, are the reason for life’s survival; nonetheless, civilization shuns and exploits them. A red rift tears through the land in The Fifth Season, spewing enough ash to darken the sky for years. Without the supplies needed to make it through the long, dark night, war will erupt across the Stillness, and Essun will be forced to track down her missing daughter across this dangerous, dying continent.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is a seminal novel by a modern literary giant that follows Sethe, an ex-slave living with her daughter in a house haunted by mysteries. Sethe is held captive by her plantation’s memories, and when a fellow slave heralds the strange approach of a woman known only as Beloved, Sethe’s heinous past erupts into the present. Beloved is so much more than the sum of its parts: it’s a classic depiction of the legacy of slavery, an absorbing ghost story, and a commentary on motherhood and family.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Due to its readers’ initial rejection of its powerful, Black female protagonist, Their Eyes Were Watching God went out of circulation for nearly 30 years after it was first published in 1937. Janie Crawford is sixteen years old when her grandma discovers her kissing a sleazy lad and marries her to an elderly man with sixty acres. Janie goes through three marriages in her quest for independence, culminating in a trip back to her roots. When Hurston’s classic was reprinted in 1978, it became one of the most highly appreciated and widely read novels in African American literature. Rigorous, bright, and profoundly rewarding.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Seven shooters entered Bob Marley’s home on December 3rd, 1976, with machine guns blazing. The attackers were never apprehended, despite the fact that the reggae singer lived. A Brief History of Seven Killings is James’ fictional investigation of the deadly aftermath of this incident, as well as of Jamaica during one of its most unstable and violent periods. This ambitious and enthralling work, which spans decades, countries, and is crammed with unforgettable voices, cements James’ place among the great literary geniuses of his generation — and, more crucially, on our list of must-reads by Black authors.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Tracker, famed for (you guessed it) his ability to track individuals, is followed by Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Tracker, accompanied with a motley group of supernatural mercenaries, is hired to discover a missing youngster and uncovers a conspiracy in the process. This epic has been dubbed the “African Game of Thrones” because it embraces African mythology with the same feeling of adventure and intrigue as the HBO series. Not to mention the fact that it’s quite violent. However, James’ hallucinogenic and perplexing prose transforms the fantastical scenario. It’s already been optioned for film rights, so read it now before it’s on the big screen!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerian teens in love who grow apart when Ifemelu travels to America, are the central protagonists of Americanah. This work wears its politics on its sleeve, eloquently portraying how it feels to try to traverse different cultures — a feeling that is intrinsic to being an immigrant — and addressing the lived experiences of Black people, whether American or not. Ifemelu’s blog articles, which are sprinkled throughout the narrative, are where this topic is most overt. The overt nature of the politics, on the other hand, does not come at the expense of story or characters, and Adichie writes with witty wit.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, Walker boldly writes Southern Black women into world literature. Celie, a young African-American lady growing up in segregated Georgia, is the protagonist of the film. Celie is separated from her children and her beloved sister Nettie after being raped by the guy she names “father.” She is also locked in an awful marriage. Then she meets Shug, a singer and magician who helps her realize her own spiritual power. Walker’s work doesn’t sugarcoat the truth, but it is brave enough to believe in forgiveness and optimism.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

The year is 2025, and the world is on the verge of collapse. Only the wealthy are safe in America, where violence reigns supreme. However, one woman has the ability to alter the course of history. Lauren’s life is changed forever when her home is destroyed and her family is killed in a fire. She is forced to embark on a perilous trek north with a small group of refugees, and along the route, she comes up with a revolutionary concept that could save humanity. Nothing is more terrifying than a dystopian tale that is already becoming a reality, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower’s examination of climate change, injustice, and racism is frighteningly accurate.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward’s tense novel depicts a damaged Mississippi family, with a young mother (Leonie) who is addicted to drugs and a husband who is serving a prison sentence. Leonie takes her two children and her friend Misty on a road journey to meet him after learning that he is set to be released. Ward translates the road novel into twenty-first-century America, imbuing it with ancestral voices, mythical themes, and hypnotic lyrical in this amusingly prosaic trip full of gas station sleepiness and sketchy drug exchanges. Sing, Unburied, Sing is a horrific and magnificent work by a remarkable author.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

As Hurricane Katrina approaches, Salvage the Bones portrays the story of a terribly poor family in the Mississippi countryside. Esch, 14, her three rogue brothers, and their drunken father race against the time to prepare and stockpile food on their rotting junkyard of land. However, with Esch pregnant and her brother stealing scraps for his pit-litter, bull’s these orphaned children must defend and nurture one another in order to survive. If you pick up this book, we hope you’ll forgive us for having two Jesmyn Ward novels in our list of must-reads by Black authors – it’s difficult not to devour it in a ravenous frenzy.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi are half-sisters who were born in Ghana in the 18th century. Their paths diverge when one is sold into slavery and the other marries a slaver. From the Gold Coast to the Mississippi plantations, from Ghanaian missionary schools to Jazz Age Harlem, Homegoing follows their descendants over eight generations. Gyasi shares Morrison’s ability to crystallize the consequences of slavery, but she is unique in her ability to link it to the present day, demonstrating how racism has become institutionalized. Homegoing is a shattering historical fiction debut from a superb new Black novelist, epic in scope but intimate in characterization.

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