The African American Experience: Well Read Black Girl Reading List at JMRL

The African American Experience blog photo

Well Read Black Girl is “an inspiring collection of essays by black women writers, curated by the founder of the popular book club Well-Read Black Girl.” Below is a list of titles recommended in the book by Black authors that you can check out from JMRL. 

Non-Fiction

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin

Essays which established Baldwin as an essential intellectual voice of his time, fusing in unique fashion the personal, the literary, and the political.

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

In an age of Black Lives Matter, James Baldwin’s essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written. With documentaries like I Am Not Your Negro bringing renewed interest to Baldwin’s life and work, Notes of a Native Son serves as a valuable introduction.

Gal: A True Life by Ruthie Mae Boltons

A Black woman chronicles her journey from illegitimate child, abandoned by her parents and raised by her abusive grandfather, through her problems with alcohol, to her high school graduation and successful new life.

Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Our Movement by Charlene A. Carruthers

Drawing on Black intellectual and grassroots organizing traditions, including the Haitian Revolution, the US civil rights movement, and LGBTQ rights and feminist movements, Unapologetic challenges all of us engaged in the social justice struggle to make the movement for Black liberation more radical, more queer, and more feminist.

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver

By turns shocking and lyrical, unblinking and raw, the searingly honest memoirs of Eldridge Cleaver are a testament to his unique place in American history. Cleaver writes in Soul on Ice, “I’m perfectly aware that I’m in prison, that I’m a Negro, that I’ve been a rapist, and that I have a Higher Uneducation.” What Cleaver shows us, on the pages of this now classic autobiography, is how much he was a man.

The Crunk Feminist Collection by Brittney C. Cooper, Robin M. Boylorn, Susana M. Morris

For the Crunk Feminist Collective, their academic day jobs were lacking in conversations they actually wanted—relevant, real conversations about how race and gender politics intersect with pop culture and current events. To address this void, they started a blog. Now with an annual readership of nearly one million, their posts foster dialogue about activist methods, intersectionality, and sisterhood. And the writers’ personal identities—as black women; as sisters, daughters, and lovers; and as television watchers, sports fans, and music lovers—are never far from the discussion at hand.

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Y. Davis

Examining the lives and art of black women blues singers, an African-American professor argues that they expressed a black, working-class, feminist perspective that opposed both white, mainstream culture and that of the black middle class.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better, coming from one of our most interesting and important cultural critics.

When and Where I Enter by Paula J. Giddings

Drawing on extensive research in speeches, diaries, letters, and other original sources, this interpretive history assesses the contributions of numerous uncelebrated Black women to the causes of political and sexual equality.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America–and changed American theater forever. The play’s title comes from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which warns that a dream deferred might “dry up/like a raisin in the sun.”

My Soul Looks Back: a Memoir by Jessica B. Harris

The award-winning writer describes what it was like growing up and hanging out with other members of the Black Intelligentsia in 1970s New York City, including Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison and their ongoing friendships.

Negroland; a Memoir by Margo Jefferson

A highly personal meditation on race, sex, and American culture traces the author’s upbringing and education in upper-class African-American circles against a backdrop of the Civil Rights era and its contradictory aftermath.

This will be My Undoing by Moran Jerkins

An influential literary critic presents a highly anticipated collection of linked essays interweaving incisive commentaries on subjects ranging from pop culture and feminism to black history, misogyny and racism to confront the challenges of being a black woman in today’s world.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.

She Begat This: 20 Years of the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Joan Morgan

Award-winning feminist author and journalist Joan Morgan delivers an expansive, in-depth, and heartfelt analysis of the album and its enduring place in pop culture. She Begat This is both an indelible portrait of a magical moment when a young, fierce, and determined singer-rapper-songwriter made music history and a crucial work of scholarship, perfect for longtime hip-hop fans and a new generation of fans just discovering this album.

A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo

A staff writer for the New Yorker describes the true stories of Africans who are bravely resisting the fundamentalism sweeping their country, including a women’s basketball team in Somalia, a vigilante against Boko Haram, and kidnapping victims of Joseph Kony’s LRA.

Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Award-winnning collection of essays, poetry, and images that expose the racial tensions in twenty-first century life, highlighting the slights, slips of the tongue, and intentional offensives that pervade the home, school, and popular media.

American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World by Anita Reynolds

One of the first African American stars of the silent film era recounts her life, discussing her privileged childhood, short career in the film industry, and escapades in Europe before World War II drove her back to the U.S.

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

The creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” details the one-year experiment with saying “yes” that transformed her life, revealing how accepting unexpected invitations she would have otherwise declined enabled powerful benefits.

You Can’t Touch my Hair by Phoebe Robinson

The stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster offers humorous, poignant essays describing her experience as a black woman in modern America on topics such as how she’s been questioned on her love of Billy Joel and U2 and why you can’t touch her hair.

This is Just My Face by Sidibe Gabourey

The Oscar-nominated star of Precious and Empire delivers a much-awaited memoir that shares details about her childhood with a polygamous father in Harlem, her gifted mother who supported them by singing in the subway and her own unconventional rise to fame.

Black Women Writers at Work by Claudia Tate

Gathers interviews with authors, including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, in which they discuss their careers, lives and influences

How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

The Combahee River Collective, a path-breaking group of radical black feminists, was one of the most important organizations to develop out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s. In this collection of essays and interviews edited by activist-scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, founding members of the organization and contemporary activists reflect on the legacy of its contributions to Black feminism and its impact on today’s struggles.

Black White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker

Describes the personal journey of a woman born to a black mother and Jewish father, including her struggle with drugs and complicated friendships, and culminating in her endeavor to find her own identity.

Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence by Rebecca Walker

A memoir of pregnancy after years of postponing parenthood describes how an award-winning writer and activist avoided becoming pregnant for some fifteen years due to a variety of circumstances and the transforming journey that ensued when she eventually elected to become a mother.

Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman by Michele Wallace

Michele Wallace blasts the masculinist bias of 1960s Black politics, showing how women remained marginalised by the patriarchal culture of Black Power. She describes the ways in which traditional, male-identified myths of Black womanhood block the development of a separate female subjectivity.

Black Boy by Richard Wright

The once controversial, now classic American autobiography measures the brutality and rawness of the Jim Crow South against the sheer desperate will it took to survive. Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those about him; at six he was a “drunkard,” hanging about in taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot. At the end of Black Boy, Wright sits poised with pencil in hand, determined to “hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo.”

 

Poetry

The Book of Light by Lucille Clifton

A collection of poetry by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet features works that locate the eternal sublime amid mundane experience.

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton by Lucille Clifton

Landmark volume containing all of Lucille Clifton’s published work and 55 previously unpublished poems. Foreword by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison.

On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove

The Pulitzer Prize-winning former Poet Laureate of the United States offers a poetic celebration of the complexities of human life in a collection that includes such works as “Cameos,” “The Camel Comes to Us from the Barbarians,” “The Enactment,” and “Black on a Saturday Nightz.”

Electric Arches by Eve Ewing

Offers a series of meditations in poetry, prose, and illustrations that explore coming of age as an African American woman.

My House by Nikki Giovanni

Writing of mothers and their children, of childhood memories, of black leaders and black Africa, the poems in My House marked a new dimension in tone and philosophy for Nikki Giovanni when they first appeared at the beginning of her extraordinary career. Emotional and autobiographical, Nikki Giovanni personalizes the political–like no one else–and brings her house in all its complexity and glory to our own backyards.

There are More Beautiful Things than Beyonce by Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker stands at the intersectionsof vulnerability and performance, of desire and disgust,of tragedy and excellence. Unrelentingly feminist,tender, ruthless, and sequined, these poems are an altarto the complexities of black American womanhood inan age of non-indictments and deja vu, and a time ofwars over bodies and power.

Ordinary Beast by Sealy Nicole

The existential magnitude, deep intellect, and playful subversion of St. Thomas-born, Florida-raised poet Nicole Sealey’s work is restless in its empathic, succinct examination and lucid awareness of what it means to be human.

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the randow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

The Obie Award winning theatrical celebration, in verse and prose, of being female and Black incorporates the triumphs, joys, griefs, and losses of Black women in America.

Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange

In a collection of more than 60 original and selected poems in both English and Spanish, a poet, novelist and award-winning playwright, drawing from her experience as a feminist black woman in America, shares her utterly unique, unapologetic and deeply emotional writing that has made her one of the most iconic literary figures of our time.

Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith

A National Book Award finalist and the author of six critically acclaimed volumes of poetry presents a compelling new collection that envisions, re-envisions and ultimately reinvents the role of witness with an incendiary fusion of forms, including prose poems, ghazals, sestinas and sonnets.

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

In these brilliant new poems, Tracy K. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant, and revisits the kitschy concepts like “love” and “illness” now relegated to the Museum of Obsolescence. Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic by Mahogany L. Browne, Jamila Woods, Idrissa Simmonds

A BreakBeat Poets anthology to celebrate and canonize the words of Black women across the diaspora.

 

Plays

A Soldier’s Play

A black sergeant cries out in the night, “They still hate you,” then is shot twice and falls dead. Set in 1944 at Fort Neal, a segregated army camp in Louisiana, Charles Fuller’s forceful drama–which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982 –tracks the investigation of this murder.

The Mountaintop by Katori Hall

An important new voice for African-American theatre, Katori Hall explores the lives of black and often invisible Americans with vivid language, dynamic narratives and richly textured characterisation. Winner of the Olivier Award for Best New Play 2009, The Mountaintop is a historical-fantastical two hander, portraying the penultimate day in the life of Martin Luther King.

Detroit ’67 (The Detroit Project) by Dominique Morisseau

Three provocative dramas, Paradise Blue, Detroit ’67 and Skeleton Crew, make up Dominique Morisseau’s The Detroit Project, a play cycle examining the sociopolitical history of Detroit. Each play sits at a cross-section of race and policing, of labor and recession, of property ownership and gentrification & and comes alive in the characters and relationships that look toward complex, hopeful futures. With empathetic storytelling and an ear for the voices of her home community, Morisseau brings to life the soul of Detroit, past and present.

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks

Brothers Lincoln and Booth–given their names by their father as a joke–share an obsession with three-card monte and act out a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

 

Fiction

Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker

This debut collection is a complicated love letter to Washington, DC, and to those who call it home: a TSA agent who’s never flown, a girl braving new worlds to play piano, and a teacher caught up in a mayoral race. These characters navigate life’s “training school”-with lessons on gentrification and respectability-and fight to create their own sense of space and self.

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

A debut collection by a prize-winning writer explores the ties that bind people to each other and their homes as reflected in stories featuring generations of women haunted by the ghosts of war, a daughter who is outraged by the return of her believed-dead mother and a decimated refugee world where resolutions have unforeseen consequences.

How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs

Tenderness and cruelty, loyalty and betrayal, ambition and regret—Alexia Arthurs navigates these tensions to extraordinary effect in her debut collection about Jamaican immigrants and their families back home. Sweeping from close-knit island communities to the streets of New York City and midwestern university towns, these eleven stories form a portrait of a nation, a people, and a way of life.

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Originally published in 1953, Go Tell It on the Mountain was James Baldwin’s first major work, based in part on his own childhood in Harlem. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, resonating symbolic power, and a rage that is at once unrelenting and compassionate, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a Pentecostal storefront church in Harlem. Baldwin’s rendering of his protagonist’s spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle toward self-invention opened new possibilities in the American language and in the way Americans understood themselves.

Another Country by James Baldwin

Set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, among other locales, Another Country is a novel of passions–sexual, racial, political, artistic–that is stunning for its emotional intensity and haunting sensuality, depicting men and women, blacks and whites, stripped of their masks of gender and race by love and hatred at the most elemental and sublime.

Jam on the Vine by La Shonda Katrice Barnett

Discovering a love for journalism upon stealing a newspaper from her mother’s white employer, precocious Ivoe Williams eventually flees her segregated community to launch a first female-run African-American newspaper at the side of her lover.

The Mothers by Britt Bennett
In a contemporary Black community, 17-year-old Nadia Turner mourns the suicide of her mother, leading her to take up with the local’s pastor’s son; but when she gets pregnant, the pregnancy and the subsequent cover-up will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth

The Thunder Beneath Us by Nicole Blades

A rising star at a style magazine privately struggles with survivor’s guilt from a terrible accident that took the lives of her two brothers, a situation that is complicated by a vindictive boss, a boyfriend’s breakdown, and a secret affair.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Raised in America, the multiracial daughter of a mother from Johannesburg struggles with her mother’s terminal cancer and her own need to find love and a place to belong, quests shaped by losses, changes in her sense of identity, and unexpected motherhood.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

Humorous, poignant, perceptive, and full of grace, Kathleen Collins’s stories masterfully blend the quotidian and the profound in a personal, intimate way, exploring deep, far-reaching issues—race, gender, family, and sexuality—that shape the ordinary moments in our lives.

Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Returning to her hometown of Brooklyn after a failed career as an artist, Penelope discovers that her mother has left the family to reclaim her roots in the Dominican Republic, and seeks a reconciliation with Penelope.

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Working as a sex worker near the pristine beaches and turquoise seas of Jamaica to pay for a younger sister’s education, Margot hopes that a new hotel that is reshaping her home will grant her financial independence and allow her to pursue a forbidden affair with another woman.

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
After marrying David, Jessica becomes haunted by the violent, mysterious deaths of those close to her and discovers that her husband has traded his humanity for immortality and is invoking a forbidden ritual to keep her and their daughter with him forever

Freshwater by Emezi Akwaeke

Traces the experiences of a deeply troubled young woman who alarms her devout Nigerian family as she succumbs to multiple personality disorder and begins to display increasingly dark and dangerous traits in accordance with her fractured personalities.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

A novel centered on the journey of the Turner family and its thirteen siblings, particularly the eldest and youngest, as they face the ghosts of their pasts; both an actual haint and the specter of addiction; the imminent loss of their mother; and the necessary abandonment of their family home in struggling Detroit.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

A collection of stories by the award-winning author of Bad Feminist explores the hardscrabble lives, passionate loves and quirky human connections experienced by diverse protagonists, including a woman who pretends she does not know that her husband and his identical twin switch places with her.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge

When the Freeman family participates in a research study in which they live with Charlie, a chimpanzee orphan who can speak sign language, they feel isolated in an all-white community, and discover the truth about the research center’s questionable studies.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana and experience profoundly different lives and legacies throughout subsequent generations marked by wealth, slavery, war, coal mining, the Great Migration and the realities of 20th-century Harlem.

Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years, due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist, Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Suddenly sent from their home in Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados after their mother can no longer care for them, sisters Phaedra and Dionne spend the summer of 1989 living with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

When her new husband is arrested and imprisoned for a crime she knows he did not commit, a rising artist takes comfort in a longtime friendship, only to encounter unexpected challenges in resuming her life when her husband’s sentence is suddenly overturned.

Annie John by Jamacia Kincaid

Annie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua. A classic coming-of-age story, Kincaid’s novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie’s voice—urgent, demanding to be heard—is one that will not soon be forgotten by readers.

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

Nella Larsen’s novels Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) document the historical realities of Harlem in the 1920s and shed a bright light on the social world of the black bourgeoisie. The novels’ greatest appeal and achievement, however, is not sociological, but psychological. As noted in the editor’s comprehensive introduction, Larsen takes the theme of psychic dualism, so popular in Harlem Renaissance fiction, to a higher and more complex level, displaying a sophisticated understanding and penetrating analysis of black female psychology.

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

In this funny, fresh fable, a villager leaves her husband and finds she can manipulate chaos.

Daddy was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether

This beloved modern classic documents the lives and hardships of an African American family living in Depression-era Harlem. While 12-year-old Francie Coffin’s world and family threaten to fall apart, this remarkable young heroine must call upon her own wit and endurance to survive amidst the treacheries of racism and sexism, poverty and violence.

She Would be King by Wayetu Moore

Reimagines the story of Liberia’s early years through three individuals who share an uncommon bond, as they navigate the tense relationship between African American settlers and the indigenous tribes.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

In this celebrated novel, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison created a new way of rendering the contradictory nuances of black life in America. Its earthy poetic language and striking use of folklore and myth established Morrison as a major voice in contemporary fiction. Macon Dead, Jr., called Milkman, son of the richest Negro in town, moves from childhood into early manhood, searching, among the disparate, mysterious members of his family, for his life and reality.

Sula by Toni Morrison

The intense friendship shared by two Black women raised in a Ohio town changes when one of them leaves to roam the countryside and returns ten years later.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The first novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author relates the story of Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old Black girl growing up in an America that values blue-eyed blondes, and the tragedy that results because of her longing to be accepted.

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

The arrival of an ominous Black stranger disturbs the precisely choreographed interactions among the five people living in a beautiful house on a Caribbean island–a millionaire candy manufacturer, his wife, and their servants.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Sethe, an escaped slave living in post-Civil War Ohio with her daughter and mother-in-law, is haunted persistently by the ghost of the dead baby girl whom she sacrificed, in this Nobel Laureate’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor

Lester Tilson and Willie Mason, a pair of hip, latter-day poets, work their way down through Linden Hills, experiencing firsthand the lust, pain, hypocrisy, and valor of the hell-bound upper- and middle-class residents

The Women of Brewster Place By Gloria Naylor

The stories of seven Black women living in an urban ghetto evoke the energy, brutality, compassion, and desolation of modern Black America.

The Street by Anne Petry

The Street tells the poignant, often heartbreaking story of Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s. Originally published in 1946 and hailed by critics as a masterwork, The Street was Ann Petry’s first novel, a beloved bestseller with more than a million copies in print. Its haunting tale still resonates today.

The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips

Fourteen-year-old Tangy Mae tells of the brutal physical and mental abuse that her mother inflicts on her and her ten siblings, as she tries to break away from her mother’s control when she is selected to be a member of the first integrated class in her high school in this award-winning modern classic.

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

A tale inspired by The Great Gatsby is set in the contemporary South and follows the difficulties endured by an extended black family with colliding visions of the American dream

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

A prequel, of sorts, to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre recounts the childhood experiences and life in the Caribbean of Bertha Rochester before she married Mr. Rochester and went mad.

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart

A masterpiece of Caribbean literature, The Bridge of Beyond narrates the story of five generations of slave women on the island of Guadeloupe, as they face a series of personal crises and struggle to find love and happiness.

Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange

Three Black sisters from Charleston, North Carolina, seek to find their ways–Sassafrass through art in Los Angeles, Cypress through dance, and Indigo, the youngest, by staying home and seeing her world’s obvious magic.

Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair

Set on Chicago’s Southside in the mid-to-late 60s, Coffee Will Make You Black is the moving and entertaining tale of Jean “Stevie” Stevenson, a young black woman growing up through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. April Sinclair writes frankly about a young black woman’s sexuality, and about the confusion Stevie faces when she realizes she’s more attracted to the school nurse – who is white – than her teenage boyfriend. As readers follow Stevie’s at times harrowing, at times hilarious story, they will learn what it was like to be black before black was beautiful.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Two dark-skinned dancers with very different talents share a complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in early adulthood in a story that transitions from northwest London to West Africa. By the award-winning author of On Beauty.

Disgruntled by Asali Solomon

Kenya Curtis, an African American girl coming of age in Philadelphia in the late 1980s and early 90s, grows increasingly disgruntled by her inability to find any place, thing, or person that feels like home.

Heads of the Colored People by Nafiss Thompson-Spires

Contemporary and darkly humorous stories push boundaries and illuminate the simmering tensions and precariousness of Black citizenship and concept of black identity in a post-racial era.

The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker

Described by the author as a romance of the last 500,000 years, The Temple of My Familiar follows a cast of interrelated characters, most of African descent, and each representing a different ethnic strain, ranging from diverse African tribes to the mixed bloods of Latin America that contribute to the black experience in America.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The lives of two sisters–Nettie, a missionary in Africa, and Celie, a southern woman married to a man she hates–are revealed in a series of letters exchanged over thirty years. Pulitzer Prize-winner.

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

A novel based on the life of the author’s great-grandmother follows the story of Vyry, the child of a white plantation owner and one of his slaves, through the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Living with his grandparents and toddler sister on a Gulf Coast farm, Jojo navigates the challenges of his tormented mother’s addictions and his grandmother’s terminal cancer before the release of his father from prison prompts a road trip of danger and hope. By the National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Torn between the fantasies of her youth and the realities of a life marked by violence and abandonment, August reunites with a beloved old friend who challenges her to reconcile her past and come to terms with the difficulties that forced her to grow up too quickly.

Black Girl in Paris Shay Youngblood

The second novel by the author of Soul Kiss explores the journey of a young AfricanAmerican woman as she discovers her personal identity in Paris, while struggling to transform her dreams of becoming a writer into reality.

 

Sci-Fi

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

In 2025 California, an eighteen-year-old African American woman, suffering from a hereditary trait that causes her to feel others’ pain as well as her own, flees northward from her small community and its desperate savages.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

Lauren Olamina’s daughter, Larkin, describes the broken and alienated world of 2032, as war racks the North American continent and an ultra-conservative religious crusader becomes president.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern Black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

A first entry in a new trilogy by the award-winning author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms finds the sole continent of the earth threatened by murder, betrayal, a super-volcano and overlords who use the planet’s power as a weapon.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

She left her home for the stars, but found more adventure than she bargained for. A tense and intimate coming-of-age story in space.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Born into post-apocalyptic Africa to a mother who was raped after the slaughter of her entire tribe, Onyesonwu is tutored by a shaman and discovers that her magical destiny is to end the genocide of her people.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

In a world where the native populations of the Congo adopt steam technology and declare independence from King Leopold II, the land of Everfair is created to provide sanctuary for all people of African descent who are mistreated in their current homelands.

An Unkindess of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She’s used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she’d be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world.

 

Children

black is brown is tan by Arnold Adoff

Watercolor drawings and lively text illustrate the love shared by the parents and children of a family where the father is white and the mother is Black.

Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett

A rerelease of a long out-of-print 1953 classic follows the experiences of reluctant witch’s daughter Minx Snickasnee, who longs to go to school and make friends with children her own age and quietly conjures spells in a magic cauldron in the hope of meeting a beautiful fairy she has glimpsed all her life.

Bright April by Marguerite De Angeli

De Angeli’s charming story of a young black child growing up the Germantown (where De Angeli grew-up) section of Philadelphia, her Brownie Troop, friendships, and lessons of life.

Spin a Soft Black Song by Nikki Giovanni

A poetry collection which recounts the feelings of Black children about their neighborhoods, American society, and themselves.

Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems by Eloise Greenfield

An ALA Notable Children’s Book, Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems includes sixteen poems that tell of love and the simple joys of everyday life, seen through the eyes of a child: playing with a friend, skipping rope, riding on a train—or keeping Mama company till Daddy gets back.

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton

Retold Afro-American folktales of animals, fantasy, the supernatural, and desire for freedom, born of the sorrow of the slaves, but passed on in hope

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Although a classmate says that she cannot play Peter Pan in the school play because she is black, Grace discovers that she can do anything she sets her mind to do.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

This 40th anniversary edition of the 1977 Newbery Medal-winning title tells of a black family’s struggle to overcome the prejudices and hatred they face in Mississippi during the Great Depression.

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker

Accompanied by stunning illustrations that capture the Harlem Renaissance, an intimate portrait introduces readers to Langston Hughes, one of the greatest American poets of the twentieth century, by tracing the life of this literary master who fought for freedom for African Americans in his writings.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

 

Young Adult

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zâelie, her brother Tzain, and princess Amari fight to restore magic to the land and activate a new generation of magi, but they are pursued by the crown prince, who believes the return of magic will mean the end of the monarchy.

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

Two fifteen-year-old girls–one a slave and the other an indentured servant–escape their Carolina plantation and try to make their way to Fort Moses, Florida, a Spanish colony that gives sanctuary to slaves. A Coretta Scott King Award Book.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

After witnessing her friend’s death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter’s life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

Piecing Me Together by Rene Watson

Tired of being singled out at her mostly-white private school as someone who needs support, high school junior Jade would rather participate in the school’s amazing Study Abroad program than join Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk girls.

Last Summer with Maizon by Jacqueline Woodson

Eleven-year-old Margaret tries to accept the inevitable changes that come one summer when her father dies and her best friend Maizon goes away to a private boarding school.

 

Looking for more reading suggestions on this and other topics? Visit What Do I Read Next? to receive personalized recommendations from JMRL librarians.

About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

2 thoughts on “The African American Experience: Well Read Black Girl Reading List at JMRL

  1. Pingback: The African American Experience: Well Read Black Girl Reading List at JMRL — grow. learn. connect. – The Eclectic Kitabu Project

  2. Pingback: The African American Experience: Well Read Black Girl Reading List at JMRL — grow. learn. connect. – Lifelong Quest

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