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)
  • Jai

    I love this list… some old favs, and quite a few I need to pick up!

  • http://Www.freewomanchronicles.com Rose Tattoo

    You have room for another one because Their Eyes Were Watching God is on here at 38 & 93.

  • Jess

    Thank you so much for the extensive list and great recommendations. I was on vacay last week and could not find anything worth reading. I will load up my kindle for my next trip.

  • http://www.clutchmagazine.com Clutch

    Thanks … updated

  • Sweetles

    Great list. I’ve read many of the books on the list and will be checking out some of the books that I haven’t read.

  • http://www.aworknprogress.com Diana

    Good list! However, as folks mentioned above you have Their Eyes Were Watching God on here twice. You also have Sula on here twice – 19 & 74.

  • http://www.aworknprogress.com Diana

    You also have Sula twice at #19 & 74. I would definitely add When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings to one of those spots.

  • Mademoiselle

    I love you for this Clutch! Can we also get more book review articles so we can do “virtual book clubs” in the comment sections, please? That might require some heads up so we can read the book before the review gets posted, but I’d participate! :)

  • Sweetles

    I really love this idea. I would def participate in something like that.

  • Annjelica

    Thanks for sharing! After I read Gone Girl, I’ll check out some others on this list that I haven’t already read. Great idea as well to submit a Clutch reading challenge—very positive.

  • LadyP

    Yes, I would love that.

  • http://addassamari.edublogs.org/ Gail

    Very impressive list but I am most gratified to find both children’s books and nonfiction on the list.

  • Rakel

    I’m in love with this idea! I’ve read a few that are on the list and I can’t wait to tackle the ones I have yet to read. I’m in agreement w/the idea of a virtual book club. I would fully participate.

  • hiphoppmommie

    Yes! I plan to join you and have my teen daughter read some too.

  • http://www.notacookie.com lanee

    I will be joining the challange, I definitely need to read more and I would like to read more work by black people in general. This list is perfect timing, thank you!

  • Nebu

    My mother’s in an all black female book club that pretty much only reads books by authors of color. I know they’ve read some Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison, but I’ll have to show the rest of this list to her. I’ve also been meaning to start reading Chimimanda Adichie since I’ve watched some of her speeches online.

    Oooh, also just spotted Number 97, the biography of Madamde CJ Walker. My aunt knows the author (who is Madame Walker’s grand niece, I believe) and gave me that book when I was maybe 10. I read it more times than I can count!

  • Pseudonym

    Nice list!

    I would also like to add- for those who don’t already- the news. And not just the quick news-bites you get on tv or at Yahoo, but more in depth research (and even opinion) articles from experts that you would get from publications such as the Economist, Foreign Policy Magazine, even Salon.com. I think a lot of us could benefit from being more aware and up-to-date with the happenings in politics, science, business, etc. in our country and even around the world. Plus there’s a lot to be learned that can be applied to our own lives and make them better. and we can be more informed and not have to cram election season propaganda when campaigning is heavy and under way.

  • joyful1

    I’m up to the challenge Clutch! What a positive beginning to the new year!

  • http://gravatar.com/mheyward2006 mheyward2006

    I’ll def be reading some of these books. FYI, Sula is listed twice as well (19 and 74).

  • http://gravatar.com/lovegiraffes onegirl

    Is there going to be a timeline, or are the details still in the works? I think I’d like to be a part of this group! Thanks.

  • C

    I’m in!

  • http://www.facebook.com/felicityrankinsrhode Felicity Rhode

    I’d definitely be down for this.

  • GlowBelle

    I LOVE this idea too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/felicityrankinsrhode Felicity Rhode

    I am SO excited about this, as I’ve resolved to do more reading this year. I hope the Good Reads group is active…

  • GlowBelle

    Wonderful and impressive list! Some of these are on my to-reads too and I’m happy to see a lot of these I’ve read and consider near and dear to me.

    I don’t know if I scanned too fast, but I didn’t see and also suggest ‘Sugar’ by Bernice McFadden, ‘Third Girl From The Left’ by Martha Southgate, Nella Larsen’s works, and ‘Act Of Grace’ by Karen Simpson. Black women’s fiction/non-fiction is endless!

  • Bosslady

    WOW – Love the idea of a reading club, and love the list!! I already have my next 3 or so books lined up, but I will join the group and bookmark this page for reference when I finish the books I have.

  • JN

    You’re on, Clutch. You’re on.

  • 2NatuRho

    Thank you ClutchMag for your wonderful extensive list! Read seven out of the 100, I’m so looking forward to indulging in some of these books (definitely will be doing my research on them) and adding some to my favorites list!

    Slightly disappointed to see Mary Burnett Smith’s “Miss Ophelia” and/or BeBe Moore Campbell “What You Owe Me” not make the list though :(

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    IN! I am starting to slip in my recreational reading so this is a jump start I needed.

  • yr

    List printed: Thank you, Clutch!

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    So I’ve read 6 1/2 of 100 (have to finish The Temple of My Familiar). Knocking down 93 more!

    Thanks Clutch and GOODREADS (boy have we been strangers).

  • Alexandra

    Great list. I’ve been trying to build a book list for this year, and this will help me out a lot. Thanks for sharing Tami.

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  • http://sownbrooklyn.wordpress.com nettie

    I’m all in! I’ve just finished library school so I support reading wholeheartedly! I was already on Goodreads so joining the group was a snap!

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    Con of being a bookworm: I’ve only got about 30 of these books to read. Pro: I’m 70 books ahead.

    Thanks for the list, though. Before My Xmas vacation, I hadn’t read a book for pleasure in a year, so I have been hungry for new reads. I’m diving in!

  • Lostinareverie

    Sad face…I’ve only read five of these! I’m in…

  • http://www.facebook.com/tiffiney.tarbox Tiffiney Tarbox

    I usually read posts like this to get book ideas (closet book nerd) only but never recommended..ever.. til now. Last night I finished “COMING OF AGE IN MISSISSIPPI…AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ANNE MOODY” is an amazing read…never knew who she was til i got the book and really don’t know how i came across it but it is genious! thats my recommendation

  • http://flavors.me/ivywriter Kellea Tibbs

    Clutch! I’m so glad you put this list together because the Black literary waters have been getting quite overcrowded with the “urban-lit” genre (not that I don’t like some of it but the bookshelves especially at places we frequent like Wal-mart, are becoming oversaturated to the point, that’s all they offer to shoppers and this is all we tend to see online). I’m so glad to see classic novels by Black women writers on this list. I think that thos of us familiar with the classics need to make sure we share our knowledge of them with the younger generation. While I can’t say that I will read them all in 2013, I will definitely make an effort to add many of them to my bookshelf. I’m reading a new classic now, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, the current Oprah Book Club 2.0 book choice.

  • Nikster

    Would love this. Even one book selected for each month that could be open to discussion in the comments would be great!

  • kaya

    I would love to do this! But this list looks very expensive :c

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  • http://tatianainflux.com Tatiana

    Awesome!!! I’m going to print this out and use it to grow my library. :)

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    Congrats on finishing library school! That’where I’ll be in a couple years, Lord willing:)

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    Totally agree with you on the literary waters sentiment. I for one I’m tired of seeing “street lit” take over the African-American sections at B&N and Books-A-Million.

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    Sixth person here to cosign this idea!

  • Kaeli

    Is there a library where you live? Depending on the size of the area they might not have all but the should have some.

  • Barbara2

    “Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson was just riveting! It was so exciting to read of the migrant Blacks from the South to different parts of America–mirrowing my own life.

  • http://eboniboykin.policymic.com/ eboni

    Also, Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton

  • Christie

    These are all books that have been published at least 2+ years ago so they should all be in paperback or really cheap on Amazon.

  • SS

    I love this idea and will definitely participate. Here are just a few I would add. Anything by Bernice McFadden, Terry Mcmillian, Virginia Deberry & Donna Grant. Street by Ann Petry. Daniel Black – Perfect Peace.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erika.tucker.713 Erika Gresham

    Love this list. Thank you so much Clutch!

  • Darlene

    I had to read Coming of Age in Mississippi for an African American History class, and it was a pretty good read.

  • http://Awomans-worth.blogspot.com Arlice Nichole

    Oh, I’m SO in! God bless you Tami Winfrey Harris!

  • Justanotheropinion

    GREAT idea! Will try to participate if this happens.

  • Justanotheropinion

    Their Eyes Were Watcging God-all time fav. I re-read every other year or so. Black Afros English teacher walked me out of the last day of class and said “don’t stope searching for your Teacake-that’s what you deserve as a Queen”. I should have listened but was too young to understand what he meant, but his words have always stuck with me. God Bless Danny Scarborough-gone but not forgotten.

  • http://naysue.wordpress.com naysue

    Yes! A few of these books are definitely included in my own Goodreads 50 Book Challenge for 2013. I’m also co-signing to say that this is a great list!

  • http://vyletlite.wordpress.com SwindyQ

    I really liked this article!

  • au napptural

    Nothing by two of my fave authors of all time, Bebe Moore Campbell and Terry McMillan, made the list. I don’t get that- they both wrote prolific best-sellers. For Helena Andrews to be on the list when they aren’t is alllllll wrong. But otherwise a good list. Kudos on the Octavia Butler picks and some of the more obscure material. I def. found some great titles to begin this year.

  • SJS

    Clutch you’ve missed out! Where the heck is: Don’t Let the White Girl Win by Stephanie Small. Couldn’t put it down.

  • p

    FINALLY!

    I have read a lot of the books on the list but missed many. I would recommend *Daughters of Africa-From the ancient to the present.An anthology*. Also, anything by Andrea Lee,Nalo Hopkinson, Martha Southgate, Kim McClarin, etc

    Thank You.

  • kaya

    Yeah I was just thinking about the library. I will be heading there in a couple of days so hopefully I can borrow one of the books!

  • kc

    Love it!

  • http://theblackgirloncampus.blogspot.com Peace

    Half of a Yellow Sun…one of my favorite books, EVER! Definitely read this one, you won’t regret it.

  • http://lifestyle30.wordpress.com Kellea Tibbs

    Yes, you will be surprised what the library is hiding on it’s shelves, and they can usually get copies from other branches. I love the library.

  • Lawn

    No list is complete without Fionna Zedde. I love Bliss! Seriously, I read it twice! Great list, though.

  • lol

    me too!

  • Nakia

    Thank You! I love this idea and though I’ll leave some of them off, there are many that intrigue me and will make my personal list, and many that I have already read.

    I know the intent is not to ADD to the 100, but I’ll go ahead and suggest Paradise by Toni Morrison. My favorite by my favorite, it’s considered a difficult read, but I find it beautiful and fulfilling and read it (along with “Their Eyes”) yearly. Also, if you are going to read Octavia Butler for the first time, fall in love with her language and style by reading Wild Seed first. Then, proceed to read everything she’s ever written! Also, read some things by Tananarive Due.

    AND, since I see that poetry was included, Like the Singing Coming off the Drums by Sonia Sanchez gives me life! Yes, I have memorized some…

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  • http://beforeverlight.wordpress.com jesme17

    Paradise is my favorite Toni Morrison book too!

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  • Ang

    Tamara are you going to visit soon? We’ve missed you at Goodreads

  • http://gravatar.com/justlish Lish

    Roll of Thunder as my boooook in middle school!!!

    Praise Song for the Widow was very good as well!

    I’m excited for this list I miss the literature posts on Clutch!

  • lauryn

    Love it. I’ve read some, but not most of these, either in my spare time or part of course material. Who am I kidding? Most of them were in my spare time.

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  • HD

    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!

  • Bre

    Did this idea ever transpire? If so, sign me up!

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