Between the World and Me
Coates’ series of letters to his teenage son offers a thoughtful reflection on race in America told through his own experiences, beginning with a childhood in Baltimore, and later his college years at Howard and adult life in cities like New York and Paris. Expect touching moments as he expressively writes to his son, as well as brutally honest musings on national tragedies like Ferguson, the loss of Trayvon Martin, and more.
When we meet protagonist Charley, she’s packed up her life and moved her pre-teen daughter to rural Louisiana to run the sugarcane land her father mysteriously left her when he died. As she goes from Cali gal to Southern girl—all while living with her opinionated grandmother—Charley learns about her family, her past, and herself. This is the kind of slow-cooked, sweet read best enjoyed while sipping a warm mug of tea or a tall glass of lemonade. The book is so charming, in fact, that Selma director Ava DuVernay adapted it as a TV series for OWN.
Oprah chose this novel as an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 pick—and we agree with the selection. It’s an unputdownable narrative that chronicles the love story between a boy named Ephram and a girl named Ruby Bell, whom he describes as “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at.” We follow Ruby’s years from a small-town girl in Texas to a grownup searching for herself—and her mother—in 1950s New York. Bond’s debut is breathtaking.
Boy, Snow, Bird
There are plenty of plot twists and surprises behind this author’s poetic prose. Boy, Snow, Bird brings to life Boy—a woman who’s left New York City behind for a Massachusetts small town—her eventual stepdaughter, Snow, and her birth daughter, Bird. Woven between the webs of this family’s complicated relationships are the writer’s observations on family, love, and skin color. It’s undeniable: Oyeyemi is an incredibly gifted writer, with a distinct, dynamic voice.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Woodson shares the stories of her childhood in the post–Jim Crow ’60s and ’70s—both in South Carolina and New York—through brilliant poetry. With each verse, you can feel the writer’s sorrow and maturity as she faces the harsh realities of the Civil Rights Movement and also discovers a love of writing. Often billed as an “adolescent” book, this is a read that can be enjoyed by all ages.
God Help the Child
We couldn’t leave out Toni Morrison‘s last published novel. It’s a complicated story—and we won’t give away too many spoilers—but this gripping narrative centers around a young woman named Bride, whose dark skin cost her the love of her light-skinned mother. A must-read for all readers, but especially Morrison fans.
Land of Love and Drowning
This young writer’s debut is filled with artful writing that illustrates both an enchanting and painful world: the Virgin Islands during the early 1900s. After being orphaned, two sisters and their half-brother learn they each possess their own unique brand of magic. The novel’s surrealism is a modern-day twist on the likes of Gabriel García Márquez, with hints of Yanique’s Caribbean roots and culture. Don’t miss this one!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda herself might disagree with being on a list of works by African American writers—after all, she identifies as African—but then again, her novel skillfully reexamines and blurs the lines between Black, African American, and African. Americanah is as much a cultural critique as it is a love story, following the main character Ifemelu’s emigration from a young girl in Nigeria to a post-graduate race blogger in the U.S.—capturing the reader all the while with a sweeping and at times heartbreaking international love story.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Fiction can run across all gamuts, but there’s one type of story that will always hit a soft spot for many readers: the multigenerational family tale. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a prime example of how that kind of story can be masterfully told from multiple perspectives—12, in this case, all somehow related to a Southern Black family growing up during the Great Migration. But like many family dramas, the root of all of their problems is something that remains ever elusive for characters and readers alike: the American Dream.
Claire of the Sea Light
Fiction fans have long bowed down to the powerful prose of Edwidge Danticat, and her work lives up to the hype. This stunner transports us to the seaside town of Ville Rose, Haiti, where we meet a little girl named Claire whose mother dies during childbirth. After bouncing between her father and various caregivers, Claire goes missing on her seventh birthday. The rest of the story unfolds in a heart-wrenching, page-turning novel that’s vividly brought to life by Danticat’s signature style.
Black authors are often under-recognized and overlooked, but in the past few years, there has been an undeniable resurgence of books detailing the Black experience, not just in America but across the globe. From struggling families in the 1960s deep South to the first-person recollections of one of our greatest voices on race, check out this list of books by authors who are leaving their marks on the literary world.
Featured Image by Merlas/Shutterstock