If you’re looking to add books to your TBR list, look no further! Whether you recognize some of these books from high school or you’ve been scoping out debut authors this year, this list of classic reads by Black authors has you covered.
Their Eyes Were Watching God — Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God is arguably one of Hurston’s best works and a true literary masterpiece. Following the tumultuous life of young Janie Crawford in the 1930s, we’re taken on a journey of a woman’s right to equality and personal development. If you’ve read this book, you’ll know why people have said Hurston was well ahead of her time.
Beloved — Toni Morrison
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, among several other awards, Beloved is more than just a literary masterpiece. It is a powerful novel that lets readers learn about the horrors of slavery, and it leaves you full of questions, self-reflection, and knowledge about lives you didn’t know people lived. Toni Morrison knows how to beautifully craft a story that weaves together multiple storylines.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X — Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Although only 39 years of age when he was assassinated, The Autobiography of Malcolm X captures his life’s work from prison to militant activism to his conversion to Islam. Since being published in 1965, this book has been acclaimed as a classic work on the Black American experience.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings — Maya Angelou
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first of seven autobiographical works that deal with the life of Maya Angelou. It is a powerful memoir beginning in her childhood up till her coming of age at sixteen. Several themes come up in this book, most importantly the difficulties of being Black and being a woman in America. Many consider this essential reading for young students grappling with their own coming-of-age.
The Warmth of Other Suns — Isabel Wilkerson
The Warmth of Other Suns beautifully chronicles the decades-long Great Migration of six million Black Americans fleeing the South in search of a better life in Northern cities. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, the reader can expect to be instantly captivated by the narrative and gripping stories of over a thousand people that Wilkerson interviewed herself. This book is a riveting account of an “unrecognized immigration” within the United States.
The Color Purple — Alice Walker
Another Pulitzer Prize-winning book by an incredible author, The Color Purple is a brilliant exploration of race and gender through the profound depth of its female characters. It is essentially a feminist novel about an abused and uneducated Black woman’s struggle for empowerment, and this novel holds a place of permanent importance in America.
Song of Solomon — Toni Morrison
Another literary masterpiece by Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon is one of those books you’ll find difficult to put down. The novel explores the complexity of family and highlights the legacy of slavery in America. Right from the start, we’re hooked into the story Morrison creates around a set of complex characters. Just like the rest of her work, Song of Solomon is one book you must read at least once.
A Raisin in the Sun — Lorraine Hansberry
If you’re a fan of theater then there’s a good chance you’re familiar with A Raisin in the Sun. Published in 1959 and debuting on Broadway the same year, the play is about the hopes and aspirations of a working-class Black family from the South Side of Chicago. Not only was the play regarded as one of the greatest of its time, but Lorraine Hansberry also left her mark as an incredible American playwright, having written A Raisin in the Sun at the age of 29.
Native Son — Richard Wright
Anyone who’s read Native Son knows how powerful this book is, particularly in the context of being written in 1940. This book is an uncomfortable, gripping, and even relatable read, standing just as relevant today as it was when it was first published because of its deep exploration of what it means to be Black in America.
Go Tell It On the Mountain — James Baldwin
Another excellent coming-of-age novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain is a beautifully crafted semi-autobiography. James Baldwin is known for being a masterful storyteller, and this debut novel captures the intensity of themes such as religion, race, gender, and sexuality.
The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railway is a breathtaking piece of historical fiction based on slavery. Set in the 1850s just before the Civil War, the novel details the journey of Cora, a slave who escapes her master’s slave plantation in pursuit of freedom. This is undoubtedly an electrifying novel with memorable characters and earns its place on the list of books capturing the horrors and resilience of Black people during that era.
Americanah — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
At last, this list features an author, not from America! Having said that, this novel follows the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze within and far from America. Adichie knows how to write about racial identity, moving to America and admiring the U.S. as a newcomer, offering a fresh perspective on being Black in America, particularly as an African.
Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi
Although she was born in Ghana, Yaa Gyasi grew up in the U.S. upwards from the age of two. Homegoing was inspired by her first trip to Ghana since moving to the U.S. The story is set in eighteenth-century Ghana and follows half-sisters Effia and Esi, who end up living two completely different lives. Gyasi has received immense praise and several accolades for this debut novel and has categorically cited writers like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin as her inspiration for beginning a career in writing.
The Hate U Give — Angie Thomas
If there’s one novel you need to read in today’s politically-charged era riddled with constant police brutality, it’s this one. The Hate U Give is more than just a novel; it’s Thomas’ attempt at explaining the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggles faced by Black Americans owing to systemic racism. This novel is worthy of every award received and is a must-read for young adults across the country.
The Street — Ann Petry
Last but not least, Ann Petry’s The Street is a stellar novel following the life of Lutie Johnson, a single Black mother navigating racism, sexism, and classism living in post-WWII Harlem. Her struggle to raise her son amid poverty, violence and racial dissonance is a struggle shared by many even today. The Street was the first novel by a Black woman to sell over one million copies.
Looking for Black authors making their literary debut this year? Click here!