Literature by Black authors is largely ignored or marginalized in literary canons. This is not because there aren’t any works worthy enough for inclusion but because of the overarching domination of institutional racism and sexism. Here, we celebrate some of black literature’s classic fiction titles spanning many different genres.
If you have any more recommendations for books you think others would enjoy, please share them in the comments!
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Blending the colorful and vibrant language of African American Vernacular, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” is widely acknowledged as an American classic. A journey of self-discovery, Hurston tells the life of Janie, an African American woman, and her story tragedy and suppression in a process of self-actualization.
Go Tell it on the Mountain
Eloquent language invoking spirit from the King James bible, “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, forms around a young boy’s search for self-discovery and emancipation from the entrapment of personal, religious, cultural and racial bonds. A debut novel, that is an American classic.
Driven by the anger, poverty, angst and racism in and around him, Bigger Thomas travels a downward spiral of crime and violence. Wright’s “Native Son” is a classic novel portrays the raw and brutal nature a young black man trapped in a vicious cycle of violence viciously endures.
The Blacker the Berry
A raw and honest look at colorism within the Black community, “Black The Berry” is a story of a woman struggling with her skin color and acceptance from her family, loved ones and her community. Though written in 1929, the subject matter is still relevant to this day.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
An autobiographical coming of age story, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” blends Angelou’s experiences with others and forges her young self as symbolic of other young black girls growing up in America. Stark and vivid, it has remained a classic example of black literature since publication.
A fantastical tale transcending time and space, “Kindred” is a novel of a 20th century black woman named Dana that is violently flung to live out experiences on a slave plantation in the antebellum South. Revealing the horrors of chattel slavery, Butler forces an examination of racism and sexism and the wounds it left unhealed on America.
A timeless classic, sadly because the issues of race in America the nameless character of “Invisible Man” still plague our nation today. Navigating a confusing path of racial identity to acquire self knowledge, this book is still a must read.
Faces at the Bottom of the Well
Through science fiction, “Faces at the Bottom of the Well” explores the multifaceted aspects of racism in a series of allegories. In one brilliant scenario, visitors from outer space wage demand US and the government it’s Black citizen, in turn for a chance to clean up pollution, new technology and enough gold to erase its debts.
The most popular of Wilson’s ten-part “Pittsburgh Cycle” plays, “Fences” captures the internal and external struggles of a man who grew in the segregated South experiencing that world and its standards slowly beginning to be challenged during the changing sixties.
The Weary Blues
The first book of Hughes, published at the age of 24, “Weary Blues” contains some of his most anthologized poems, “Dream Variations”, “Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Dream Variations”. Fusing the lively spirit of jazz, the poems captures the essence of the Harlem Renaissance.
With stiff, truncated sentences, “Annie Allen”, creates the voice of a young black girl and her coming of age story. Through uncompromising glimpses into the black woman experience Brooks became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer.
Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” reveals the painful life of Cellie, and the tragic, abusive experiences she overcomes to find strength and love. The story has been adapted to film and has become a Tony award winning musical.
A Raisin in the Sun
A story revolving the struggle of a Black family dealing with racism and poverty, ” A Raisin in the Sun”, reveals the strength of the African American family when facing hardships. Hansberry weaves hope, pride and inspiration into the this classic play.
for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf
Shange’s series of 20 poems come together to express the pain and struggle of seven black women characters. Dealing with themes of love, loss and hope, with language like ” being colored is a metaphysical dilemma I haven’t conquered yet”” the book “for colored girls” has been adapted on Broadway and on film.
In Haitian folklore, the griot asks “Krik?” and listeners respond by saying “Krak!”. Danicat continues the strong oral story telling tradition of the African diaspora in her second novel composing nine stories of the lives of Haitian women and the struggles they endure.