Books have the power to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, and for Black women, reading can be an especially enriching experience. Literature provides a unique window into the diverse experiences, challenges, and triumphs of Black women.
In this blog post, we’ve curated a list of some of the best books that every Black woman should consider reading.
These books encompass a wide range of genres, from memoirs to fiction, and they celebrate the strength, resilience, and beauty of Black women.
Books Every Black Woman Should Read
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
This novel, published in 1937, is a seminal work in African-American literature and women’s literature. It tells the story of Janie Crawford, an African-American woman in the early 20th century, and her journey through three marriages and self-discovery.
The narrative is notable for its strong, independent female protagonist and its use of dialect, which lends authenticity to the characters’ voices.
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison
Published in 1987, this novel is set after the American Civil War and is inspired by the true story of an enslaved African-American woman, Margaret Garner.
The story revolves around Sethe, who escapes slavery but is haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, whom she named Beloved. The novel explores themes of motherhood, freedom, and the psychological impact of slavery.
“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
This 1970 novel is Morrison’s first and focuses on the experiences of African-American women in the early 1940s. The story centers on a young girl named Pecola Breedlove, who dreams of having blue eyes as a symbol of beauty and acceptance.
The novel critically examines issues of race, beauty standards, and identity.
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published in 2013, this novel tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States for university.
The book is a rich commentary on race, identity, and the immigrant experience, contrasting life in Nigeria and the U.S. It also explores themes of love and belonging.
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama
Released in 2018, this memoir by the former First Lady of the United States is a deeply personal account of her life. It covers her childhood in Chicago’s South Side, her years as an executive balancing the demands of work and motherhood, and her time in the White House.
The book is a candid reflection on her personal and professional experiences.
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
This 1982 novel is a powerful portrayal of the life of African-American women in the southern United States in the 1930s. It tells the story of Celie, a young Black girl born into poverty and segregation, and her journey to self-discovery and empowerment.
The novel addresses themes of sexism, racism, and the unbreakable bond between sisters.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
Published in 1969, this is the first in a seven-volume series of autobiographies.
This book covers the early years of Angelou’s life, recounting a youth filled with trauma, racism, and displacement, but also resilience and a love of literature. It’s a story of overcoming adversity and a testament to the human spirit’s ability to heal.
“Sula” by Toni Morrison
Published in 1973, this novel explores the bond between two friends, Sula and Nel, in a small Ohio town.
The story spans from the 1920s to the 1960s, delving into the complexities of friendship, betrayal, and community dynamics in an African-American neighborhood.
Morrison examines issues of conformity and rebellion, good and evil, and the expectations placed on Black women in society.
“Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde
This is a collection of fifteen essays and speeches written between 1976 and 1984 by Audre Lorde, a writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist.
Lorde’s work is known for its passionate and forthright discussion of issues like sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and classism.
In “Sister Outsider,” she particularly focuses on the complexities of identity and the interlocking nature of social categorizations.
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
Published in 2016, this novel begins with the story of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, born in different villages in 18th-century Ghana, and follows their separate lineages over the course of 300 years.
One sister marries an Englishman and remains in Africa, while the other is captured and sold into slavery in America. The book spans generations, exploring the lasting effects of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Kindred” by Octavia Butler
This 1979 novel is a combination of historical fiction and science fiction. It tells the story of Dana, a Black woman who finds herself repeatedly transported from her home in 1976 Los Angeles to a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation.
There, she meets her ancestors: a proud Black woman and a white, slave-holding father. The novel explores the complexities of slavery and the impact of the past on the present.
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
Published in 2017, this young adult novel is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
It follows the story of a 16-year-old girl named Starr Carter, who is drawn into activism after she witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed friend, Khalil.
The book explores themes of racism, police brutality, and the importance of finding one’s voice.
“Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison
This 1977 novel is a rich tapestry of African-American life and folklore. The story follows Macon “Milkman” Dead III, from birth to adulthood, as he embarks on a journey to find his family history.
The novel explores themes of identity, legacy, and the African-American experience in the United States.
“Queenie” by Candice Carty-Williams
Released in 2019, this contemporary novel focuses on Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London.
Struggling with her mental health, identity, and the end of a long-term relationship, Queenie’s story is a raw and often humorous look at the life of a modern Black woman.
“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay
Published in 2014, this collection of essays explores the idea of being a “bad feminist.” Gay discusses how she loves things that might seem at odds with feminist doctrine (like pink or rap) and yet remains a committed feminist.
She addresses topics like gender, race, pop culture, and politics, often interweaving personal reflections and social commentary.
“Red at the Bone” by Jacqueline Woodson
This 2019 novel opens with 16-year-old Melody’s coming-of-age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone.
The story then delves into the history of Melody’s family, tracing back to her grandparents and parents, exploring the themes of teenage pregnancy, parenthood, class, race, and the choices that shape families and lives.
“Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves” by Glory Edim
Published in 2018, this anthology is a collection of essays by Black women writers, including Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and N.K. Jemisin, among others.
The essays celebrate the importance of representation in literature and the impact of seeing oneself in stories.
Edim, the founder of the Well-Read Black Girl book club, aims to amplify the voices of Black women writers and discuss the influence of their work on her life and the lives of readers.
“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
This 2014 memoir told in verse captures Woodson’s experiences growing up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with her family in South Carolina and New York.
It’s a touching narrative that weaves together the threads of her childhood, her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement, and her realization of her own dream to become a writer.
The book’s lyrical format is both accessible and profound, making it an engaging read for all ages.
“Women, Race, & Class” by Angela Y. Davis
First published in 1981, this book is a historical analysis that explores the intersections of race, gender, and class within the context of the women’s rights movement.
Davis critically examines the movement’s origins and development, highlighting the ways in which racism and classism affected the struggles and contributions of Black women and working-class women.
This book is renowned for its insightful analysis of feminism and its comprehensive view of the socio-political issues related to gender equality.
“Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward
This 2011 novel is set in the rural town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.
It follows the story of a pregnant 14-year-old girl named Esch and her impoverished family as they prepare for the storm.
The book explores themes of family, poverty, and survival, imbued with mythological elements and raw, poetic language. Ward’s portrayal of a family’s struggle against the backdrop of an impending natural disaster is both gripping and deeply emotional.
“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones
Published in 2018, this novel delves into the life of a young African American couple, Celestial and Roy, whose lives are torn apart when Roy is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison.
The story examines the effects of wrongful incarceration on their marriage, personal lives, and the American Dream. It’s a poignant exploration of love, loyalty, race, and justice in contemporary America.
“Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower” by Brittney Cooper
Released in 2018, this book is part memoir, part social commentary. Cooper, a Black feminist theorist, uses her personal experiences to explore themes of feminism, race, and politics.
She discusses the concept of “eloquent rage” as a source of empowerment for Black women, turning stereotypes on their head and using anger as a constructive force for societal change.
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett
This 2020 novel tells the story of identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella, who grow up in a small, southern black community and run away at age sixteen.
Their lives diverge as one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town they once tried to escape, while the other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.
The novel explores the themes of identity, race, and family, and how the past shapes the present.
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
Published in 2010, this book offers a comprehensive analysis of the U.S. criminal justice system and how its policies have effectively created a new racial caste system through mass incarceration.
Alexander argues that, by targeting black men and disenfranchising convicted felons, the criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, comparable to the Jim Crow laws of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The book is a call to action for a more equitable justice system and a critical reevaluation of the War on Drugs and its consequences on African American communities.
“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin
This 2015 novel is the first book in the “Broken Earth” trilogy, set in a world where supercontinent called the Stillness endures catastrophic climate changes periodically.
The story follows Essun, a woman living in a society that oppresses those with her earth-moving abilities, known as Orogenes.
It’s a tale that weaves together elements of fantasy and science fiction, addressing themes like oppression, survival, and the complexities of human nature. Jemisin’s narrative is notable for its rich world-building and intricate plot, bringing a fresh perspective to the fantasy genre.
“The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir” by Jenifer Lewis
Published in 2017, this memoir offers an intimate look into the life of actress Jenifer Lewis, known for her roles in “Black-ish” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
The book is a candid account of her journey from a small town to Hollywood fame, detailing her struggles with bipolar disorder, sex addiction, and the highs and lows of her career.
Lewis’s story is told with her trademark humor and honesty, offering an inspiring tale of resilience and empowerment.
“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay
Released in 2017, this deeply personal memoir explores Gay’s relationship with her body, food, and weight. The book delves into her experiences with sexual assault, body image, and the societal expectations placed on women’s bodies.
Through her journey, Gay confronts the challenges of self-care and the complexities of living in a world that often demands conformity to narrow beauty standards.
“Push” by Sapphire
This 1996 novel tells the harrowing story of Precious Jones, a 16-year-old African American girl growing up in Harlem. Illiterate, overweight, and pregnant with her second child, Precious is a survivor of immense physical and emotional abuse.
The narrative follows her journey as she enrolls in an alternative school and begins to find her voice and a sense of self-worth.
The novel is a raw and compelling exploration of adversity, empowerment, and the transformative power of education.
“Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi
Published in 2018, this young adult fantasy novel is inspired by West African mythology and culture.
It follows Zélie Adebola as she attempts to bring back magic to her people, the Maji, who have been oppressed and stripped of their powers by a ruthless king.
The book is a thrilling adventure that tackles themes of oppression, racism, and power dynamics, all set in a richly imagined magical world.
“Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward
This 2017 novel is a powerful tale of a family in rural Mississippi. The story is centered on a young boy, Jojo, who lives with his grandparents and his drug-addicted mother, Leonie.
When Leonie takes Jojo and his sister on a road trip to pick up their father from prison, they are accompanied by the ghost of a young boy who was once a prisoner.
The narrative weaves together the past and present, exploring the lingering pain of racial violence and the deep bonds of family.
“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid
Released in 2019, this novel explores the dynamics of race and privilege in contemporary America.
It centers around Emira, a young Black woman who is accused of kidnapping while babysitting the white child of Alix, an affluent blogger.
The event sets off a series of revelations and events that explore the complexities of transactional relationships, white savior complexes, and the quest for authenticity in a social media-driven world.
“You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain” by Phoebe Robinson
This 2016 collection of essays by comedian Phoebe Robinson touches on a variety of topics related to race, gender, and pop culture with humor and insight.
Robinson discusses her experiences as a Black woman in America, tackling issues from hair politics to representation in media. The book combines personal anecdotes with broader social commentary, all delivered with Robinson’s distinctive voice and wit.
“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
This 2019 novel, which won the Booker Prize, tells the interconnected stories of twelve characters, predominantly black British women, spanning several generations.
Each character’s story explores different aspects of British life, touching on themes of feminism, race, sexuality, and identity. The novel’s unique narrative style—free of standard punctuation and capitalization—adds to its distinctive voice and exploration of the diversity of black womanhood.
“Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall
Published in 2020, this book is a critical examination of mainstream feminism, arguing that it often overlooks the needs of marginalized women, particularly black women, women of color, and queer women.
Kendall discusses how issues such as food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are feminist issues and calls for a more inclusive and intersectional approach to feminism.
“The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first novel, released in 2019, is set in the pre-Civil War South and tells the story of Hiram Walker, a young man born into slavery who discovers he possesses a mysterious power.
The narrative, infused with magical realism, explores themes of memory, freedom, and the unbreakable bonds of family. Coates’ lyrical prose and the blending of historical and fantastical elements make for a compelling read.
“The Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes
In this 2015 memoir, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of hit TV shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Scandal,’ shares how saying “yes” changed her life.
Rhimes recounts her experiences of stepping outside her comfort zone and embracing challenges, and how this shift in attitude led to profound changes in her personal and professional life.
The book is both a personal narrative and a call to live life more fully and fearlessly.
“More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are” by Elaine Welteroth
Released in 2019, this memoir by the former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue chronicles Welteroth’s journey as she breaks barriers in the world of media and fashion.
As a young black woman, she shares her experiences of challenging norms and stereotypes in her rise to the top of a predominantly white industry. The book is a candid exploration of race, identity, and success in modern America.
“Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard” by Echo Brown
This semi-autobiographical novel, published in 2020, blends magical realism with a coming-of-age story.
It follows Echo Brown, a black girl from a poor neighborhood, who transcends her surroundings to become a wizard.
The novel deals with difficult topics such as racism, sexual abuse, and mental illness, while also offering a story of hope and resilience.
“The Awakening of Malcolm X” by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson
Published in 2021, this novel is co-written by Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and acclaimed author Tiffany D. Jackson.
It focuses on the formative years of Malcolm X during his time in prison, detailing his journey of self-education, his awakening to racial politics, and his path to becoming a civil rights leader.
The book provides insight into the lesser-known early years of a key figure in American history.
“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Based on her 2012 TEDx talk of the same name, this 2014 book is a concise yet powerful essay arguing for the definition of feminism for the 21st century.
Adichie shares her experiences and observations of sexual politics in Nigeria and the Western world, calling for a more inclusive and aware understanding of feminism that benefits everyone.
Her engaging and accessible approach provides a clear and compelling argument for why everyone should embrace feminist ideals.