Even if you've donated to Black Lives Matter, protested alongside (opens in new tab) your fellow citizens, and held discussions with those close to you, as allies, there is always more you can do to educate yourself about the lived experience of Black people in the United States. Take a look at your bookshelf; take a look at the authors on your bookshelf; are you missing something or someone? If so, you've come to the right place. There's something in this mix for everyone, from mind-blowing science fiction to heartwarming memoirs, but all have one thing in common: They were written by amazing Black female authors. These Black authors have thought of it all, so all you have to do is read. Get ready to find your next favorite author.
'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In a way, Americanah is a love story, but it's not the kind of love story you grew up seeing. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they separate to leave military-ruled Nigeria. Ifemelu heads to America, but must face what it means to be black in the U.S. As for Obinze, he's forced to live an undocumented life in London, unable to join Ifemelu due to post-9/11 restrictions. When they join each other in Nigeria 15 years later, things have changed, but how exactly? And can they recover what they've lost?
'Grand Union: Stories' by Zadie Smith
Smith is known for her short stories, featured in publications from The New Yorker to The Paris Review. Reading her narratives about race and class in these fictional stories is, to me, a masterclass in creative writing. If only it were longer.
'Homegoing' by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing unravels the history, colonialism, and slavery in Ghana and America over 250 years. Told between two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, the novel explores their individual paths. One path sees years of warfare in Ghana and the other is present for slavery in America, but both stories capture a nation's underlying strength.
'We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays' by Samantha Irby
Into collections of essays that might make you cry from laughter? Yeah, us too. Irby, who's also a writer on Hulu's ever-so-funny-and-real Shrill, reaches new heights of masterful writing in her second book. Essays range from why she should be the new Bachelorette to dealing with awkward sexual encounters.
'Such a Fun Age' by Kiley Reid
This #ReadWithMC pick might make you cringe, but that's the point. When white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her Black babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the market for a late-night distraction, an event occurs that kicks off a series of events that will change their lives forever. This novel from Reid tackles the discussion of white privilege head-on, featuring fresh dialogue and characters you come in contact with in everyday life.
'Red at the Bone' by Jacqueline Woodson
The coming-of-age tale of all coming-of-age tales, this story intertwines the stories of 16-year-old Melody and her mother over lessons of desire, gentrification, education, class, parenthood, and more. Woodson is able to give a heart-stringing reminder of all the choices you make in your youth, and how they continue to follow you as you get older.
'Sing, Unburied, Sing' by Jesmyn Ward
If you love character-driven family dramas, then you've found the holy grail. Ward's characters, a dysfunctional family set in a fictional rural Mississippi, feel so real you'll ask yourself how the book could be fiction. Every character, from the drug-addict mother who's haunted by her dead brother to her children struggling to escape the ghosts of the past, will reel you in and have you stay put long past its final word.
'The Bluest Eye' by Toni Morrison
There aren't many authors who deserve the title of Icon, but Toni Morrison is one of them. The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize–winning author of 11 novels and professor emeritus of literature at Princeton University crafts unparalleled prose that will cut deep into you and stay there for a very, very long time. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl whose desire for blue eyes (a.k.a. whiteness) obstructs her ability to see her own beauty. Caution: Heartstrings will be pulled.
'An American Marriage' by Tayari Jones
If you got this far without reading Tayari Jones' An American Marriage, you played yourself. Jones tells the story of a newlywed couple, Celestial and Roy, who are unexpectedly separated when Roy is convicted of a crime his wife swears he didn't commit. Five years later Roy returns home, but he and Celestial struggle to rekindle their relationship because...Celestial has found comfort in Roy's friend and former best man. Juicy!
'Becoming' by Michelle Obama
When forever First Lady Michelle Obama releases a book, you read it. You just do. And not only because of who she is, but because of what you know she'll bring to the table. Her memoir Becoming offers up an insightful revisiting of her time both in and out of the White House, all while addressing some of society's most troubling issues, including racism and sexism. But you don't have to take only my word for it: The tome was #ReadWithMC's December 2018 pick.
'The Wedding Date' by Jasmine Guillory
Want a romantic comedy you read instead of watch? Pick up a copy of The Wedding Date. Author Jasmine Guillory tells the sweet (and funny) story of Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols, two people trapped in an elevator who spontaneously agree to be each other's wedding dates. This book is bursting with charm and hot sex scenes, and the main character, Alexa, isn't your typical doe-eyed girl searching for the right man, either. She's a curvy Black woman and Chief of Staff to the mayor. No pigeon-holed archetypes allowed!
'We Should All Be Feminists'
We Should All Be Feminists is more than just an essay. It's a call to action, a rallying cry, and a personal narrative. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is asking readers to reclaim and redefine the term feminist to create a more inclusive and intersectional community willing to fight for the equality of all women. Read this and then tell me you don't want to stick it to the patriarchy. I'll wait.
'The Book of Phoenix' by Nnedi Okorafor
Calling all sci-fi fiends! If you haven't yet experienced afrofuturism, start with Nnedi Okarafor and this book. Her writing, particularly in The Book of Phoenix, examines the rocky and problematic course of humanity through captivating science fiction. Think Divergent meets Hunger Games meets Black Panther—minus the official superhero titles. The Book of Phoenix at first takes place in Tower 7, home of the superhuman woman Phoenix. But after a tragic event, the gifted girl realizes that dismantling the prison she's called home is just the start of her new reality.
'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give is a heartbreaking and powerful narrative about the current Black experience in America as told through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl. Author Angie Thomas pairs modern-day political references with old-school critical race theory to explain how we got to our current climate and what it will take to rebuild. Read the book, then watch the movie.
'Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body' by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is an incredibly sharp writer whose style and diction will make you quiver. In her memoir Hunger, the Haitian-American queer author brings a gut-wrenching honesty and perspective to how our society handles body positivity and sexual assault via a range of personal stories and experiences.
'The Sun Is Also a Star' by Nicola Yoon
The Sun is Also a Star is a non-negotiable must-read. One, because we all secretly love YA fiction. And two, because Nicola Yoon does YA better than most. Her best-selling novel follows the story of Natasha and Daniel, a young couple who meet and fall in love 48 hours before Natasha's family is scheduled to be deported to Jamaica.
'Dawn' by Octavia E. Butler
Let your imagination run wild with this immersive novel written by Octavia Butler. Dawn tells the story of Lilith, a human who's been asleep for centuries, while Earth has supposedly died. She wakes to find herself living amongst an alien race known as the Oankali who are working to convince Lilith they've saved her. But there are more than two sides to this story.
'Caucasia' by Danzy Senna
In Caucasia, Birdie Lee and her sister, Cole, are two biracial sisters coming of age during the chaos of mid-1970s Boston. While Birdie is born light-skinned, her sister is dark―a difference that spurs their highly political, often volatile parents to make a decision that tears their family apart. Beautifully written and incomparably incisive, Caucasia is a coming-of-age book that not only captures a specific time and place, but also throws into question American society's assumptions about race.
'A Raisin in the Sun' by Lorraine Hansberry
This play is a go-to for young actors looking for rich, meaningful monologues, and once you read it you'll see why. A Raisin in the Sun is an unforgettable exploration of socioeconomic progress, intergenerational trauma, and dreams, circulating around the the explosive social atmosphere of the 1950s.
'The New Jim Crow' by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow is essential reading. Michelle Alexander breaks down the problems with mass incarceration and the American prison system in compelling, easy to understand language. This book changed the way thousands of Americans view our justice system, and inspired a national movement to reform policing.
'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker
Perhaps my all-time favorite book, The Color Purple not only explores difficult issues pertaining to race and gender, but it also traces the story of a family through two generations. In the end, it's a celebration of life, family, and endurance, and is the most beautiful exploration of queer awakening I've ever read.
'Redefining Realness' by Janet Mock
If multi-talented writer, director, and activist Janet Mock isn't your role model already, get ready for her to become one. After working as a staff editor with People magazine, she publicly came out as trans in a 2011 Marie Claire article (!!!), which she followed up with this honest, gorgeously written memoir.
'The Vanishing Half' by Brit Bennet
Much like Caucasia, Brit Bennett's 'The Vanishing Half' tells the story of two sisters―one of which embraces her Black identity, and the other of which chooses to pass as white. Bennett not only delves into the psyches of these sisters, but she also explores the way each woman's decision impacts future generations.
'Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics' by bell hooks
The late, great bell hooks changed the game when she penned this inviting and straightforward manifesto on contemporary women's rights. The bible of intersectional feminism, this relatively short book is an absolute must-read for anyone looking to expand their political mind and better appreciate the need for intersectionality.
'Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neale Hurston
No writer has captured love or young womanhood quite as poignantly as Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God. If this was required reading for you in high school, I urge you to revisit it as an adult: With each reading, this novel reveals something new.
'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou's universally loved memoir is so smooth and well-told that it reads like fiction. I'm often critical of stories told from a child's point of view (it's a difficult perspective to pull off), but Angelou captures innocence―and the collapse of that innocence―perfectly.
'Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents' by Isabel Wilkerson
In Caste, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson investigates the history of America's hidden (and, too often, not-so-hidden) social hierarchy and the way this system has driven us to our contemporary sociopolitical crises.
Alexis Jones is an assistant editor at Women's Health where she writes across several verticals on WomensHealthmag.com, including life, health, sex and love, relationships and fitness, while also contributing to the print magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, lives in Brooklyn, and proudly detests avocados.
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