reading

This is what happens when bookish black women start talking about good literature on a lazy holiday weekday. I asked folks on Twitter and Facebook to help me craft a list of 10 books by black women that everyone should read. Instead of 10, I got 100.

Not surprising, really. Despite the absence of names like Paule Marshall, Gayl Jones and J. California Cooper on many mainstream lists of “bests,” the well of sistah girl literary talent is deep like the Lakers’ starting lineup, but unlike Kobe ‘n’ ‘em, greatly underappreciated.

I was once earnestly told, in an online discussion about the screensaver on the original Kindle, with its pencil-sketch parade of mostly white, mostly male and mostly dead authors, that writers of color and women writers were excluded from the literary canon, because, “for whatever reason,” none had written anything to approach the brilliance of men like Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe. Feasting on privilege, and your high school English class reading list from two decades past, can make a body mighty myopic. One wonders what else this reader thinks people of color and women cannot do as well as white men — “for whatever reason.”

I sought out several of the books below to read about black women’s experiences—some like my own, to learn from other black women and to support black women making art, which is not to say that reading books by black women is some act of largesse on the readers’ parts. The books below and the women who created them are, quite simply, damned good and deserve a space on bookshelves for that reason above all others.

I asked 2,500 people: “What book by a black woman author should everyone read?” Below is the result — a list of 100 books by black women, crowd-sourced mostly by black women. This is not canon. There are plenty of great books by sisters that aren’t here. In fact, to get the list down to 100, I had to make some tough choices about which books by Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison, Pearl Cleage and Octavia Butler would be here. Nearly all of their work was mentioned at least once. I haven’t read all of these books (Though maybe we can fix that—more in a bit.) and certainly cannot promise that every one will meet your tastes. But be assured that nearly every book on this list was highly praised by multiple respondents. I did not tinker with these suggestions but to try to confirm titles, author names and genres, and to trim the list slightly to the 100 you see here.

And now, for a challenge: This year, I want to read as many of the books on this list as possible and I hope you will join me in the 2013 Clutch Reading Challenge. In the coming months, we’ll host some special panel discussions right here on Clutch magazine. But, in the meantime, join the 2013 Clutch Reading Challenge Group on Goodreads and let’s keep the literary conversation (and support of black women authors) going.

  1. Krik! Krak! by Edwidge Danticat (Fiction)
  2. Caucasia by Danzy Senna (Fiction)
  3. Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris Perry (Nonfiction)
  4. Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall (Fiction)
  5. The Upper Room by Mary Monroe (Fiction)
  6. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Children’s Books)
  7. Ugly Ways by Tina McElroy Ansa (Fiction)
  8. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Lori Tharps and Ayana Byrd (Nonfiction)
  9. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Fiction)
  10. Small Island by Andrea Levy (Fiction)
  11. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fiction)
  12. On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Fiction)
  13. Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown (Nonfiction)
  14. A Street in Bronzeville by Gwendolyn Brooks (Poetry)
  15. Mama Day by Gloria Naylor (Fiction)
  16. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (Science Fiction)
  17. Breath, Eye, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (Fiction)
  18. Daughters by Paule Marshall (Fiction)
  19. Sula by Toni Morrison (Fiction)
  20. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Fiction)
  21. Naughts and Crosses trilogy by Malorie Blackman (Fiction)
  22. Coming to England by Floella Benjamin (Autobiography)
  23. But Some of Us Are Brave by Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith (Nonfiction)
  24. Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks (Poetry)
  25. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (Fiction)
  26. 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter (Fiction)
  27. The Fisher King by Paule Marshall (Fiction)
  28. Before You Suffocate your own Fool Self by Danielle Evans (Fiction)
  29. Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in a Racially Divided Economy by Maggie Anderson (Nonfiction)
  30. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (Nonfiction)
  31. Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Nonfiction)
  32. Abeng by Michelle Cliff (Fiction)
  33. Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor (Fiction)
  34. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Fiction)
  35. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Autobiography)
  36. Black, White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self by Rebecca Walker (Nonfiction)
  37. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Various (Nonfiction)
  38. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Fiction)
  39. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake (Children’s Books)
  40. The Shimmershine Queens by Camille Yarbrough (Children’s Books)
  41. Darkest Child by Dolores Philips (Fiction)
  42. The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey by Toi Derricotte (Nonfiction)
  43. Gathering of Waters by Bernice McFadden (Fiction)
  44. Corregidora by Gayl Jones (Fiction)
  45. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (Fiction)
  46. The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir by Staceyann Chin (Autobiography)
  47. Are Prisons Obsolete by Angela Davis (Nonfiction)
  48. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde (Nonfiction)
  49. Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair (Fiction)
  50. Zami—A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde (“Biomythography”)
  51. Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood (Fiction)
  52. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens by Alice Walker (Nonfiction)
  53. To Be Young, Gifted and Black by Lorraine Hansberry (Autobiography)
  54. Her Stories: African American Folktlaes, Fairy Tales and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton (Fiction)
  55. The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissak (Fiction)
  56. Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd (Biography)
  57. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (Children’s Books)
  58. Betsy Brown by Ntozake Shange (Fiction)
  59. Kindred by Octavia Butler (Science Fiction)
  60. Baby of the Family by Tina McElroy Ansa (Fiction)
  61. Cane River by Lalita Tademy (Nonfiction)
  62. Daughter by asha bandele (Fiction)
  63. Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do by Pearl Cleage (Fiction)
  64. The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta (Fiction)
  65. Homegirls and Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez (Poetry)
  66. Efrain’s Secret by Sofia Quintero (YA)
  67. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost by Joan Morgan (Nonfiction)
  68. The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales by Bessie Head (Fiction)
  69. The Collected Poetry by Nikki Giovanni (Poetry)
  70. Jubilee by Margaret Walker (Nonfiction)
  71. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology by Barbara Smith (Nonfiction)
  72. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin (Fiction)
  73. For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange (Fiction)
  74. Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson (Nonfiction)
  75. The Hand I Fan With by Tina McElroy Ansa (Fiction)
  76. Deals with the Devil and other Reasons to Riot by Pearl Cleage (Nonfiction)
  77. Kehinde by Buchi Emecheta (Fiction)
  78. NW by Zadie Smith (Fiction)
  79. The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker (Fiction)
  80. Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery by bell hooks (Nonfiction)
  81. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid (Fiction)
  82. Ain’t I A Woman by bell hooks (Nonfiction)
  83. The Street by Ann Petry (Fiction)
  84. Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriweather
  85. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriett Jacobs
  86. Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis (Nonfiction)
  87. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  88. Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman by Michelle Wallace(Nonfiction)
  89. Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime by J.California Cooper (Fiction)
  90. Meridian by Alice Walker (Nonfiction)
  91. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
  92. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (Fiction)
  93. Homemade Love by J. California Cooper (Fiction)
  94. Bitch is the New Black: A Memoir by Helena Andrews (Autobiography)
  95. Color Blind: A Memoir by Precious Williams (Autobiography)
  96. On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe (Fiction)
  97. Oh Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam CJ Walker by A’lelia Bundles (Biography)
  98. Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior by Dr. Marimba Ani (Nonfiction)
  99. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (Fiction)
  100. Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler (Science Fiction)

78 Comments

  1. Thank god I found this list! I was starving for black women’s lit and sad I couldn’t find any reading lists… until now!

Comments are moderated, please be respectful. View our policy.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

More in Book Club, clutch reading challenge
Close