10 Black Female Authors You Should Be Reading
- By Taylor Hicks
It’s February—the month of cold weather, discounted chocolate, and Black History. There are plenty of ways to celebrate Black History Month—by donating to nonprofits like Black Girls Code, SisterLove, and the NAACP, supporting local Black businesses, studying historical Black figures, etc.—but one of the best ways is to snuggle up by a warm fire (or heater), chow down on your favorite cheap candy, and grab a good book written by a POC. So add to your bookshelf some of these works written by celebrated Black female authors (listed in no particular order).
1. Zora Neale Hurston
You may know her from: Their Eyes Were Watching God, aka that book you read in high school English class.
Why you should read her work: Not only was she a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, but her work gives its readers a look into the early 20th century African-American experience. Bonus: Hurston was also known for her research on Haitian voodoo.
Other works by Hurston: Jonah’s Gourd Vine; Moses, Man of the Mountain; My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica; Every Tongue Got to Confess
2. Octavia Butler
You may know her from: Kindred, her time-traveling slave narrative, or Fledgling, her sci-fi vampire novel.
Why you should read her work: She’s a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and in 1995 she became the first science fiction writer ever to receive the MacArthur Fellowship. Her work often explores diverse communities and the effects of colonization through science fiction lenses.
Other works by Butler: Patternmaster (Patternist series); Lilith’s Brood (Xenogenesis series); “Bloodchild” (short story); Speech Sounds (short story)
3. Roxane Gay
You may know her from: Bad Feminist, that book of essays everyone talks about, and her famous Twitter account @rgay.
Why you should read her work: Along with her regular contributions to Salon, she has been featured in many anthologies like Best American Short Stories. She’s also a copywriter for Marvel Comics’ Black Panther spin-off, World of Wakanda, making her one of the first black women to be a lead writer for Marvel.
Other works by Gay: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body; An Untamed State; Difficult Women
4. Maya Angelou
You may know her from: Her work as a poet and civil rights’ activist, as well as her famous memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Why you should read her work: She’s pretty much done it all, including working with MLK Jr. and Malcolm X during the civil rights movement and as an overseas journalist during the decolonization of Africa. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, her work is required reading in many schools across the nation, and she was an accomplished actress and director.
Other works by Angelou: Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (poetry); Letter to My Daughter (personal essay); Gather Together in My Name (memoir)
5. Toni Morrison
You may know her from: Her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Oprah.
Why you should read her work: She’s been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many other awards. Outspoken about politics and her beliefs, Morrison does not care to write about her own life, preferring to write fiction when not addressing specific topics in her essays and speeches.
Other works by Morrison: Song of Solomon; The Bluest Eye; “Mourning for Whiteness” (New Yorker essay); Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
6. Zadie Smith
You may know her from: Her award-winning novel White Teeth, which was adapted for television in 2002.
Why you should read her work: She’s taught at multiple universities, including Cambridge and NYU, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Smith was the monthly New Books reviewer for Harper’s Magazine and is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books.
Other works by Smith: The Autograph Man; Swing Time; Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays; “Two Men Arrive in a Village” (short story)
7. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You may know her from: Her TED Talks “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All Be Feminists.”
Why you should read her work: In 2008 she won a MacArthur Genius Grant and in 2010 she was listed in The New Yorker′s “20 Under 40” Fiction Issue. Her award-winning novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, was adapted into a film starring 12 Years A Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor in 2014.
Other works by Adichie: Purple Hibiscus; Half of a Yellow Sun; The Thing Around Your Neck; Americanah; We Should All Be Feminists
8. Akwaeke Emezi
You may know her from: Her photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz and profile in the February 2018 issue of Vogue Magazine.
Why you should read her work: Known for her video art projects, most notably The Unblinding, and her numerous short stories and articles. Freshwater, her debut novel coming out February 13th, follows a Nigerian woman with a fractured self whose multiple identities take turns narrating the novel.
Other works by Emezi: “Who Is Like God” (short story); “Sometimes The Fire Is Not Fire” (selected and edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
9. Tayari Jones
You may know her from: An American Marriage, her latest novel, is a pick of Oprah’s Book Club (and a February 2018 Book of the Month selection). An American Marriage is about an African-American couple whose lives are shaken when the husband is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
Why you should read her work: Currently a professor at Rutgers University, Jones has won numerous awards for her writing, including the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction and the Lillian Smith Book Award. She has also written for Tin House and The New York Times.
Other works by Jones: Leaving Atlanta; The Untelling; Silver Sparrow
10. Alice Walker
You may know her from: The Color Purple, the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that inspired an Oscar-nominated film and a Tony-award winning musical.
Why you should read her work: See above. An avid civil rights activist, she also helped pay for a headstone for writer Zora Neale Hurston’s unmarked grave.
Other works by Walker: The Third Life of Grange Copeland; Meridian; Warrior Marks; Once (poetry)
Last modified on February 19th, 2018
Taylor Lea Hicks is a writer, editor, teacher, and avid reader. She has a BA from the University of Central Arkansas and an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook Southampton. Her work is published in Gandy Dancer, The Portland Review, Circa Magazine, and TSR - The Southampton Review.
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