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During and after the Civil Rights Movement, the number of published works by African American authors soared, especially works by women. Today, there are so many wonderful works of literature, films, and other creative works by African Americans to enjoy and learn from. Poets, children's authors, inspirational figures in political life -- all offer something to learn and stories to enjoy. Listed below are some of the most influential and well-regarded authors of today, along with a recommendation of which of their books to start with -- or continue with, if they are already a favorite of yours!
Octavia Butler is a famous African American science fiction author. This second novel in Butler's PARABLE series won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1999. Set in a dystopian American society, the novel follows protagonist Lauren's rebellion against her captors and the pursuance of her dream for humans to live on other planets, while also following the side story of Lauren's biological daughter's search for her mother.
bell hooks is an influential African American author, professor, and feminist. She has written poetry, nonfiction, and children's books. Her book AIN'T I A WOMAN?:BLACK WOMEN AND FEMINISM is a crucial work on the intersection of women's rights and civil rights issues.
N. K. Jemisin is a science fiction and fantasy writer who has recently achieved great acclaim with her INHERITANCE TRILOGY. THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS is the first book in this series, and contains a riveting story of a young girl, already mourning the death of her mother, trying to claim her royal inheritance amidst great power struggles, both mundane and divine.
One of the most famous African American novelists of our time, Toni Morrison is well-known for her novels such as BELOVED and THE BLUEST EYE. In TAR BABY, Morrison paints a picture of love between two African Americans who come from different socio-economic backgrounds and the struggles they face as they try to be together in American society.
Gloria Naylor's novels often focus on the lives of African American women. THE WOMEN OF BREWSTER PLACE was her first novel and won the National Book Award in 1983. The novel follows the lives of seven Black women in several short stories which show the highs and lows of life for Black women in their relationships and their environment.
Alice Walker is a novelist, poet, short story writer, and activist who was greatly influenced by Zora Neale Hurston. She is perhaps best known for this novel, THE COLOR PURPLE, which examines the lives of two Black sisters, their struggles with the men in their lives, their family issues, and their experiences as Black women in a low position in American society.
Jeannette Caines wrote several highly acclaimed picture books and received the National Black Child Development Institute's Certificate of Merit and Appreciation. JUST US WOMEN is a wonderful picture book which celebrates the bond between women of different generations as they make a journey together.
Christopher Paul Curtis has written many books for children and young adults. THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM - 1963 follows the family dynamics of the Watsons as they travel from Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama and the effects of the 1963 church bombing on their lives.
Eloise Greenfield was a prolific author of children's books and elementary-level biographies. She also wrote poems and memoirs. Her books focus on the portrayals of African American communities and families. In TALK ABOUT A FAMILY, the protagonist deals with her parents' fights, the homecoming of her older brother, and coping with change.
Nikki Grimes is a children's author and poet whose writing celebrates African American life while also depicting its struggles. One of her middle-grade novels, JAZMIN'S NOTEBOOK depicts a 1960's African American teenager's emotional life and how writing poetry helps her to cope with the trials of growing up.
Angela Johnson is a children's author and poet whose stories focus on African American friendship, families, and other issues pertinent to children's and teens' experiences. TONING THE SWEEP is a beautiful, poetic book about three generations of women, their relationships, how they have come to terms with the harsh realities of being Black, and, for the protagonist, how to celebrate life in the face of her grandmother's illness. Beautifully and simply written, this book presents a stunning picture of life in the desert and creates a sense of true joy for the reader.
Christopher Myers, son of famous African American author Walter Dean Myers, is a children's literature author who also works a lot with cross-media. His stories are often inspirational, such as FLY! where a young lonely boy learns from a homeless man how to make friends with the birds on the roof of his building and in the process feels freer himself.
Jason Reynolds is an African American author of middle grade and young adult novels as well as a poet. His books, such as AS BRAVE AS YOU, focus on what it is like to grow up Black. In this novel, two brothers go to spend the summer with their grandparents in Virginia and learn, through discovering their grandfather's secrets, that being brave is much more than being willing to take dangerous risks.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist and author of fiction and non-fiction. One of his most influential works is WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER, which argues that the election and two terms of Barack Obama as president of the United States brought about a horrible backlash of racism that had been fomenting beneath the surface. The essays look at this backlash and the presidency of Donald Trump, but also explore new movements and voices for justice which have arisen since Obama's presidency. A must-read to understand the racial politics of the USA in our time.
Roxane Gay, writer, professor, and commentator, explores themes of race, feminism, and other political issues. Her collection of essays, titled BAD FEMINIST, shows how feminism has influenced her life and includes reflections on the experience of being a woman, but also on what it is like to be human, and on the subjects of humanity and empathy.
Barack Obama, 44th president of the untied states, has also written books about his life, race, and the American Dream. DREAMS FROM MY FATHER is Obama's memoir and details the early years of his life up until his entry into law school. It is a wonderful example of an African American growing up during the Civil Rights era and rising above prejudice to experience success.
Michelle Obama, though best known for her role as First Lady of the United States, has given many powerful speeches and done wonderful civic work for children and for justice in society. BECOMING is Michelle Obama's memoir which covers her childhood in Chicago, her awareness of being a minority in college, and her marriage and political work. The book serves as a journey through the different arenas of America through the eyes of a brilliant and inspiring African American lawyer, politician, and mother.
African American Children and Young Adult Authors (More!)
Mildred D. Taylor, a young adult novelist whose books explore racism in the Deep South, is best known for her amazing novel ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY. The book follows the Logan children in rural Mississippi and their experiences in the post-Civil War American South. It outlines the struggles between the newly-freed Blacks in the south and their white neighbors and the violence and injustice the African Americans often faced.
Angie Thomas' debut novel, THE HATE U GIVE, brought her to the forefront as a current influential Black author. The novel addresses the issue of police shootings of black people with the protagonist's experience of witnessing her best friend shot to death by police and the after effects of the incident, including the question of how safe it is to speak out against hate. The novel is a heartrendlingly accurate representation of current racial issues in the USA.
What Momma Left Me by Renée Watson
Publication Date: 2010-07-01
Renee Watson is a Newberry Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award winning author of children's and young adult fiction. WHAT MOMMA LEFT ME is her debut book about Serenity, an orphan starting a new life with her grandparents and trying to navigate all the newness and strangeness of her life, her faith, and her family.
Jacqueline Woodson is a prolific and celebrated author of children's and young adult fiction. Her books often deal with the racial struggles of African Americans in current-day America. IF YOU COME SOFTLY is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about interracial dating, true love and support, and the reactions of other citizens to a mixed-race relationship.
Maya Angelou, a highly-celebrated African American poet, tells the story in memoir form of the author's teenage years and her struggles with racism. A wonderful insight into the life and mind of the poet who wrote so many empowering works for women and African Americans.
Amiri Baraka -- also known as LeRoi Jones -- was a controversial poet, dramatist, and author. He wrote on issues ranging from Black liberation, to politics in Cuba, to music and beyond. This reader provides excerpts from his works, as well as some of his shorter works, to provide a good overview of the wide range of topics he covered and his views on hotly debated issues.
Philip Bryant is a celebrated African American poet from Minnesota. He currently teaches in the English Department at Gustavus Adolphus College. His book STOMPIN' AT THE GRAND TERRACE celebrates his life growing up in Chicago surrounded by jazz culture and depicts its influence on his older self. Included is a CD with the poems read to the accompaniment of compositions by jazz pianist Carolyn Wilkins.
Nikki Giovanni is a Black poet and children's book writer well-known for writing about gender and race. SPIN A SOFT BLACK SONG brings the best of both of her worlds in an anthology of poetry for and about Black children which encourages them to celebrate themselves and their lives.
August Wilson is a celebrated African American playwright whose works deal with the Black experience in America, including struggles with racism. FENCES, Wilson's most famous play, is set during the Civil Rights Movement and depicts the struggles of a Black man who could not break through the color barrier and how his attitudes affect his family and his choices.