Celebrating Black History and Women's History is a year-round joy. As we head into March, we've polled our team to put together a list of our favorite books by Black women authors: powerful novels, poetry, and plays that had us laughing, weeping, and thinking. Whether you're a sci-fi fan, a romantic, or a historical fiction buff, we've got something for you. Discover a new favorite or longtime classic here, and if yours isn't on this list, share your favorite talent with us on social!
1. Our Nig – Harriet E. Wilson
Our Nig is the first published novel by an African-American woman, discovered 100 years after Wilson’s death. It’s about a servant girl named Frado who lives in New England in antebellum times, whose life journey parallels that of Wilson herself.
2. The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
Written with delightful turns of phrase and witty observations, The Vanishing Half is the story of two light-skinned Black identical twins who run away from their small Southern Black community at 16. It’s all about identity and how the past shapes each twin’s future—which, for one sister, includes choosing to pass as white.
3. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
A true classic and a gem of the Harlem Renaissance, Their Eyes Were Watching God is the coming-of-age story of protagonist Janie Crawford. Oprah Winfrey produced the film adaptation, which starred Halle Berry as Janie.
4. Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
Named one of the 10 best books of 2017, this book centers around the dynamics of a Mississippi family. One of its most interesting elements is that one of its three narrators is the ghost of a boy, and that supernatural motif throughout a very down-to-earth story adds an element of magic.
5. Intimate Apparel – Lynn Nottage
Intimate Apparel is a play about a Black seamstress in 1905, Esther, who sews intimate apparel for a wide range of New York City clients. Based on the life of Nottage’s great-grandmother, it deals with impossible love and Esther’s life ambitions.
6. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing, written by a Ghanaian-American, is an epic saga that traces the family lines of two 1700s-era Ghanaian sisters, one of whom stays in Ghana and one of whomo is sold into American slavery, all the way down to modern times. It’s amazing.
7. Recyclopedia – Harryette Mullen
Three of Mullen’s 1990s books of prose poems and lyrics come together under one title in Recyclopedia, taking readers on a bluesy journey of the collisions between consumerist society, femininity, identity, poetry and politics.
8. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
A book that spawned a hit musical and film, The Color Purple is written in the form of letters between two Black women from 1930s rural Georgia. It’s known for tackling difficult subject matter and is on the list of most frequently banned books – but that compelling and beautiful content made Walker the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer.
9. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
A novel set during the Great Migration (when six million Black Americans fled the Jim Crow South), The Twelve Tribes of Hattie follows protagonist Hattie Shepard and her many children through 60 years of navigating desperate loss, difficult trials, and the search for belonging and love.
10. Bloodchild and Other Stories – Octavia E. Butler
Calling all sci-fi lovers: This collection of Butler stories and essays is a must-read. It’s known for its diversity of subject matter – just as one example, the story “Bloodchild” describes the unusual bond between a race of insect-like lifeforms called the Tlic and a colony of humans who have escaped Earth and settled on the Tlic planet.
11. Beloved – Toni Morrison
Inspired by the true story of an escaped slave who killed her toddler daughter to spare her from being returned to slavery, this Pulitzer-winning book tells the post-Civil War story of a former enslaved woman, Sethe, whose Cincinnati home is haunted by a malevolent spirit who she believes is the daughter she murdered.
12. The Proposal – Jasmine Guillory
After declining an enormously public and hilariously bad proposal that goes viral, protagonist Nikole embarks on a rebound journey toward a different happy ending. It’s a sharp, funny, and delightful.
13. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
No celebration of Black American women authors would be complete without this book. Angelou’s debut memoir (and the first in a seven-part series), it captures “the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right.”