For Black History Month & Beyond: 15 of My Favorite Books (So Far) by Black Authors

Monday, February 11, 2019

I wondered if it was appropriate for me to create a list like this at all. Who am I, a white, Jewish woman, to share my list of favorite books written by black authors? Those lists, I first thought, should come from black readers.

And then I re-thought. It should, in large part, be the work of white people to encourage other white people to try to learn & expand & to act as better allies. I am certainly not a perfect ally (none of us is, that's how this works), but I continue to try to put in the work, to learn as much as I can, & to be outspoken in ways that use my privilege for good.

One of those ways is by reading as many books as I can written by authors of color. I haven't done what some people have done, which is to drop white men - or white people altogether - from my TBR list entirely; I still want to read perspectives of the world, & sometimes, those come from white people, too. (And, look, I've gotta work on my Harry Potter re-read.) But I keep an ongoing list of books I want to read by authors of color, & I make an effort to prioritize them. 

The same is true of books by authors of other minorities (& overlapping minority identities): Asian writers, LGBTQ writers, Latinx writers, Jewish writers, etc., & overall, I do find that most of the books I read are written by women. 

I think this practice help me to better understand others & to be more aware of & empathetic to stories different than my own. I think this practice is important, & if you're an avid reader like I am, I hope it's one you practice, too - or that I can help you start. 

Before I begin, a note: I don't read a lot of classics, so some of the books that should probably appear on a list like this simply don't. I haven't read them, except for a few in high school (The Color PurpleTheir Eyes Were Watching GodInvisible Man) that I don't really remember. Maybe I should read more of them, though, so if you have recommendations, please leave a comment!

Without further ado, 15 of my favorite books written by black authors.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in an all-black neighborhood ruled by gangs but attends an all-white prep school, leading her to feel like she lives two lives. When cops shoot her best friend, Starr is the only witness - leading to national attend, local unrest, & inner & outer turmoil for Starr herself.

2. Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston spent time interviewing Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the U.S. Taken from his home in West Africa, Cudjo was a slave in Alabama until he was freed at the end of the Civil War & helped found Africatown, AL.

3. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In telling couple Ifemelu & Obinze, Adichie weaves an incredible story about blackness (African, American, & otherwise), life as an immigrant, the challenges of poverty & wealth - & the struggles unique to each of those elements that are universal, relatable, & human.

4. You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

Robinson, the co-host of the 2 Dope Queens podcast (a Cleveland native!), has a way with analogies, using hilarious & unexpected pop culture references to discuss important issues like racism, feminism, etc.

5. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

Wamariya left Rwanda at age 6, accompanied on by her older sister, staying in multiple refugee camps & in the homes of kind strangers to survive. Now a Yale grad & activist, Wamariya tells her story with grace & power, humanizing refugees & displaced people worldwide. 

6. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Daily Show host's memoir is both fascinating & informative while still retaining his signature wit & insight as he tells of growing up biracial in South Africa during & immediately following apartheid.

7. Rest in Power by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin

It's been nearly seven years since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot walking home from a 7-11, Skittles & an iced tea in his hoodie pocket. His parents' memoir is a painful, powerful look at the case, a testimony to race & racism in America. No justice, no peace.

8. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Suzette (Little) is black, Jewish, & bisexual, & Lionel (a.k.a. Lion), who is white, Jewish, & bipolar. Their parents aren't married, but the four of them have been a family since the two kids were young; they consider one another brother & sister, & they are best friends. This is a beautiful story of family & identity, & a fairly easy/compelling read.

9. Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Senghor

Senghor, who became a crack dealer at age 14, committed murder at age 19 just months after being shot himself (& likely suffering serious PTSD). He spent nearly two decades in prison, eventually relying on faith & writing to help him evolve into a peace-loving, justice-minded activist who now works to better the community where he grew up.

10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book should be a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand racial tension in America, whether you're a POC living that reality every day or a white person who seeks deeper understanding in order to become a better ally. Coates' writing - a memoir & social commentary in the form of a letter to his son - is a work of art.

11. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

This book is heavy, but each of the short stories within it is compelling and darkly powerful. Gay weaves the fictional stories of women who society deem problematic but who readers - presumably a lot of so-called difficult women themselves - will see as complex, thoughtful, & multitudinous.

12. The March series by John Robert Lewis

 Congressman John Lewis is a giant for social justice, a civil rights legend who has been putting his values into action for decades by working to desegregate the South &, in turn, the nation. This series is a fascinating way to read his personal story & to better understand the early civil rights era. 

13. The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Told from the third-person perspective of an older church-going woman, this novel tells the story of teenage church member Nadia, whose mother recently died by suicide; her boyfriend, Luke, the preacher's son; & her best friend, Aubrey, who becomes close to Luke, too. The book, which follows them into adulthood, is one of the most agonizingly, exquisitely human stories I've ever read.

14. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

This memoir by the indomitable Angelou focuses primarily on her relationship with a South African civil rights activist who tried to mold her into the perfect African (rather than African-American) wife. Her spirit, work ethic, & sense of justice are all on display as she struggles to be the perfect wife while remaining an activist, writer, an independent woman.

15. This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

Sidibe, perhaps best known for her role as Precious in the movie of the same name, writes her memoir in a chill, down-to-earth, hilarious voice that sounds like her own. She hits on serious topics, like depression, body image, domestic abuse, & race, but she also tells funny stories from her own life & dispenses advice on funnier subjects, like dating & her job as a phone sex operator.

What are your favorite books by black authors? What should I add to my TBR list? 

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