15 Must-Read Books by Black Authors

In a turbulent social climate, we turn to art for guidance and understanding, change and healing. Books can be a gateway to the heart of human experience, a medium that amplifies the voices that need to be heard. Here are 15 influential books written by black authors who’ve used the power of written word to tell stories that challenge and unite the world.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Winner of the 2019 prize for Women’s Fiction, Jones’ fourth masterpiece follows newlyweds Celestial and Roy whose bright future is ripped away when Roy is thrown in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Based on Thomas’ reaction to the police shooting of Oscar Grant, this YA novel is narrated by a black teen girl named Starr who witnesses and seeks justice for the murder of her best friend, Khalil, who is shot by a white police officer.

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin


Set in a future Southern America where surviving racism means opting for experimental surgery, this satirical novel is described by NPR as “[…] at once a pitch-black comedy, a chilling horror story and an endlessly perceptive novel about the possible future race of America.”

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This bestselling magical realism novel tells the story of Hiram Walker, who was born into slavery and becomes involved in the underground railroad, where he uses his superhuman power of conduction to transport people across vast distances.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

A poetic chronicling of Woodson’s journey in finding her voice during the Civil Rights Movement, this enthralling novel won the 2016 Newbery Medal for children’s memoir.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

First published in 1952, this modern American classic tells the story of a black male protagonist growing up in the South and moving to Harlem where he grapples with identity, racism and individualism through experiences with schooling and a society called the “Brotherhood.”

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Omotoso’s witty 2017 novel features two elderly and recently widowed women, one black and one white, who share hostility as next door neighbors until an unexpected event brings them together.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first installment of Angelou’s impactful poetic memoir recounts her experiences with trauma and racism in the first sixteen years of her life growing up in 1950s and 60s Arkansas.

Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim

Founder of the Well-Read Black Girl Book Club, Edim compiled this beautiful collection of essays by black women writers discussing the impact of representation in literature.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The first book in James’ action-packed fantasy trilogy pays homage to African history as it takes the reader on a harrowing journey with Tracker, a hunter hired to find a mysterious missing child.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid 

Reid’s page-turning debut novel explores racism in the social media age, as young black protagonist Emira is wrongly accused in a supermarket of stealing the child she’s babysitting.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award for her story of a Nigerian woman who immigrates to the United States for university while her partner heads to London. The Washington Post hails it for providing “ruthless honesty about the ugly and beautiful sides of both nations.”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Inspired by a true story of Margret Garner, Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the tale of a black slave who seeks refuge in Ohio with her family after escaping a plantation in Kentucky.

NW by Zadie Smith

Set in North-West London, Smith’s 2012 experimental novel follows the lives of four characters as they enter adulthood and self-examine their place in a changing class system.

The Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

The first in a Young Adult fantasy series, Adeyemi’s debut novel incorporates West African mythology to tell the tale of a heroine fighting against the kingdom’s suppression of magic.

  • Posted by Julia McAlpine
  • June 15, 2020 7:41 AM PDT
Here are 15 influential books written by black authors who’ve used the power of written word to tell stories that challenge and unite the world.




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