Books by Black Authors Recommended by the Spectrum Community

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Published:
February 25, 2019

In honor of Black History Month, we asked members of the Spectrum community to tell us some of their favorite books written by Black authors. Below are over 30 books from a variety of genres. We hope you enjoy these recommendations (and add them to your reading list)! Have a book to add? Comment below and tell us about it!


Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Some of the stories are familiar the bravery of Harriet Tubman, the proud protest of Rosa Parks but there are even more stories of Black excellence that too often are overlooked. This book is a refreshing reclaiming and reaffirmation of African Americans’ historical significance beyond the drudgery of slavery. The book spotlights African American contributions as explorers, intellectuals, war heroes, liberators, wild west cowboys and, of course, agitators of injustice. Abdul-Jabbar is best known for his basketball prowess, but he proves here to be an adept writer. As a Black man himself, Abdul-Jabbar is notably passionate about chronicling Black excellence with a style that is powerful yet approachable to readers of all ages. Daniel Granderson, Spectrum reader


The Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Set in Nigeria, The Purple Hibiscus addresses religious commitment that becomes intolerable. The narrator, 15-year old Kambili, her brother Jaja, and their mother suffer under the control of their fanatically religious father/husband. Love and acceptance seem absent from the Roman Catholicism practiced in Kambili’s immediate family. Their aunt tries to protect the children by taking them to her home during school breaks. The children find tolerance in their sweet grandfather who believes in the “pagan” ideas of his ancestors. The contrast of beliefs provokes serious thinking. —Pam Dietrich, Spectrum news aggregator


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This book shatters any sense of America’s justice system as a “blind” weighing of the facts of individual cases. Instead, readers learn the contemporary statistics of mass incarceration of minorities within the context of America’s story of racism. Alexander takes the reader through her own journey of discovery and, while she exposes horrendous injustice, also writes with hope that “America’s current racial caste system is its last” (19). If you care about racial justice and have not already read this work, it is a must-read. —Kendra Haloviak Valentine, Professor, New Testament Studies, La Sierra University


The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Girl, Make Your Money Grow by Glinda Bridgforth

In this timely follow-up to the bestselling Girl, Get Your Money Straight!, author and financial expert Glinda Bridgforth teams up with investment expert and stockbroker Gail Perry-Mason to deliver power-packed, sister-to-sister advice on how to master the stock market, grow your income, and start investing in your biggest asset—you. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Austin Channing Brown's I'm Still Here is a breath of fresh air for any Black person who has ever experienced racial exhaustion while working in predominantly white spaces. Brown leverages her personal experiences as a Black woman working for Christian organizations to highlight the uncomfortable truth that white supremacy and misogyny seem to be constantly trying to chip away at Black dignity. I'm Still Here, a book written with prophetic instruction, hope in times of lament and dignity in moments of despair, is a must-read for Christians today. Garrison Hayes Community Praise Church, Associate Pastor


Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas

How did European immigrants to America who embraced Protestantism also come to value whiteness? Brown Douglas suggests that the answer is rooted in the ideology of American exceptionalism — a concept that lies at America’s very core. “Stand-your-ground-culture” is a contemporary manifestation of such ideology. These ideas are considered in light of the killing of Trayvon Martin and themes drawn from the crucifixion of Jesus. —Kendra Haloviak Valentine, Professor, New Testament Studies, La Sierra University


The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of American literature by W. E. B. Du Bois. It is a seminal work in the history of sociology, and a cornerstone of African-American literary history. To develop this groundbreaking work, Du Bois drew from his own experiences as an African-American in the American society. Outside of its notable relevance in African-American history, The Souls of Black Folk also holds an important place in social science as one of the early works in the field of sociology. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


More Than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas by David Barry Gaspar & Darlene Clark Hine

Gender was a decisive force in shaping slave society. Slave men’s experiences differed from those of slave women, who were exploited both in reproductive as well as productive capacities. The women did not figure prominently in revolts, because they engaged in less confrontational resistance, emphasizing creative struggle to survive dehumanization and abuse. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought by Beverly Guy-Sheftall

The first major anthology to trace the development, from the early 1800s to the present, of Black feminist thought in the United States, Words of Fire is Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s comprehensive collection of writings, in the feminist tradition, of more than sixty African American women. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This is a book I find myself returning to again and again. The stories Yaa Gyasi weaves in her debut novel are both timely and timeless. Gyasi’s exquisite writing and unforgettable characters ask us to bear witness to the legacy of slavery in America and the destruction it has wrought. Homegoing is an eye-opening, uncomfortable and necessary masterpiece that I recommend to everyone. Alisa Williams, Spectrum managing editor


High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris

As an African-American with roots in North and South Carolina, my cultural understanding and education growing up was punctuated by meals and learning to cook from my grandmother the way she learned from hers. High on the Hog examines the African-American culinary tradition and its roots in Africa. Harris demonstrates how each time African-Americans gather around their tables, their food tells the story of endurance, resilience, and the ability of ancestors to make something out of nothing. If you are a foodie like me or would like to expand your understanding of African-American cuisine, this is the book for you. Danielle M. Barnard, Spectrum contributor


Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks

bell hooks writes about the meaning of feminist consciousness in daily life and about self-recovery, about overcoming white and male supremacy, and about intimate relationships, exploring the point where the public and private meet. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

Spanning five decades and comprising 868 poems (nearly 300 of which have never before appeared in book form), this magnificent volume is the definitive sampling of a writer who has been called the poet laureate of African America, and perhaps our greatest popular poet since Walt Whitman. Here, for the first time, are all the poems that Langston Hughes published during his lifetime.—Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


But Some of Us are Brave by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, & Barbara Smith

Originally published in 1982, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies is the first comprehensive collection of Black feminist scholarship. Featuring contributions from Alice Walker and the Combahee River Collective, this book is vital to today's conversation on race and gender in America. With an afterword from Salon columnist Brittney Cooper. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston is an author who has penned sentences that changed the trajectory of my life. Reading Barracoon last year was nothing less than paradigmatic. It pokes a hole in the already challenged idea that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. Compiled from Hurston's notes and interviews with Kossola 'Cudjo' Lewis, we hear first hand of the life, love, and loss of "the last black cargo." I highly recommend this book. I will certainly be reading it again. Danielle M. Barnard, Spectrum contributor


Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

Dust Tracks on a Road is the bold, poignant, and funny autobiography of novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, one of American literature’s most compelling and influential authors. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Mules and Men is a treasury of Black America's folklore as collected by a famous storyteller and anthropologist who grew up hearing the songs and sermons, sayings and tall tales that have formed an oral history of the South since the time of slavery. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself by Harriet Jacobs

Harriet Jacobs survives slavery and decides to tell about it. Written in 1861, this slave narrative gives a woman’s perspective on the horror. It is a helpful companion piece to the narrative by Frederick Douglass. In Harriet’s story we hear of the daily fear of rape by the master and the deep desire to protect one’s children at all cost, including hiding in a cramped attic for seven years. This slave narrative includes reflections on what the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831) did to slaves in the South, and the implications of the Fugitive Slave Law (1850) for those who had escaped. —Kendra Haloviak Valentine, Professor, New Testament Studies, La Sierra University


The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

This book describes the search for identity by the author, and by his mother, a Jewish woman. McBride writes about family life with honesty and humility. This book is part of my treasure trove of non-fiction books, describing how people cope when breeching traditional societal barriers. Carmen Lau, Chair, Adventist Forum Board


Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Noah’s memoir is heartwarming, educational, and hilariously written and narrated (if you listen to the audiobook) by the author, demonstrating an ironic and more humorous take on the oppressive effects of apartheid. Maria Rankin-Brown, Spectrum reader


Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is beautifully and thoughtfully written to capture a woman and mother’s perspective of life in the White House, demonstrating her fairness, her compassion, and the importance she places on connecting with other people, as well as what it’s really like to be in the White House with restrictions to her own freedom and that of her family. Maria Rankin-Brown, Spectrum reader


We Have Tomorrow: The Story of American Seventh-Day Adventists With an African Heritage by Louis Reynolds

Black Seventh-day Adventists comprise more than one sixth of the church membership in North America. Such a significant number would perforce share in a significant amount of denominational history, and indeed would have a significant history of their own. —Excerpt from Google Books. Recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Protest and Progress: Black Seventh-day Adventist Leadership and the Push for Parity by Calvin B. Rock

Calvin Rock has produced a landmark book on race relations and leadership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. As an acclaimed leader himself, Rock writes with a pastor's heart and a prophet's passion to remind the church of where we have been, where we are, and where we must go. —Excerpt from publisher description. Recommended by DeWitt S. Williams, Spectrum contributor


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. The book transformed my knowledge about our criminal justice system. While it has been made into a movie, I highly recommend reading the book. Stevenson is a great writer and compelling story teller. Bonnie Dwyer, editor, Spectrum


The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

In Richard Wright’s Black Boy, we find the following memorable lines which became Wilkerson’s inspiration:

I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom.

The Pulitzer Prize winning Wilkerson takes Wright’s conceptual experiment and traces its results in her epic narrative detailing African-American migration from Jim Crow South to the “warmth” of such snowy Midwestern cities as Chicago and Detroit, and cities as far flung as California’s LA during the sixty years between 1910 and 1970. The story resonates because migration is a universal human impulse, especially when embarked upon as a means of resisting normalized cruelty. It warms the readers heart. —Matthew Quartey, Spectrum columnist


 

Books for Children and Young Adults

Chris Blake says it best in his recommendation below: “Too often children’s books are left out of literary conversations. Yet if we learn anything from history we ought to know that sacred lessons of bravely treating all people with respect and love begin best when listeners are young.”

 


Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis

The Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award-winning classic about a boy who decides to hit the road to find his father — from Christopher Paul Curtis, author of The Watsons Go To Birmingham (1963), a Newbery and Coretta Scott King Honoree. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Toward the Promised Land: Milestones in Black American History by Wilma King

Describes the impact of the novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, looks at the work of Black abolitionists, poets, novelists, lecturers, and politicians to end slavery, and discusses the events that led to the Civil War. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

In this science fiction/fantasy trilogy for teens and young adults, Binti leaves home against the wishes of her family to attend the prestigious and far-off Oomza University the first of the Himba people to ever do so. But shortly after leaving Earth, tragedy befalls the ship and a fight for survival ensues. Binti must face a daunting task that no one before her has ever accomplished, and it will require all the courage and tenacity she has. Okorafor’s writing is rich and intensely beautiful. It is a celebration of Afrofuturism, science, community, and the bonds we forge through triumph and tragedy. There are so many lessons to be learned in these short books, about how ancient rivalries and hatred are built on misunderstanding and fear, about the cost of war and the price of peace, and about the need to step outside ourselves and remember the humanity of the “other.” —Alisa Williams, Spectrum managing editor


Sit-in: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Too often children’s books are left out of literary conversations. Yet if we learn anything from history we ought to know that sacred lessons of bravely treating all people with respect and love begin best when listeners are young. This book provides a fresh retelling of Black history — concise, compelling, creative, and complete with a Civil Rights timeline for kids.

“It was February 1, 1960. They didn’t need menus. Their order was simple. A doughnut and coffee, with cream on the side.” Four Black men, college students, placed their orders at a Woolworth’s department store in Greensboro, North Carolina. They were not served that day. But because of their courage and determination people of all races are served and serve today. —Chris Blake, Spectrum contributor


Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney & Brian Pinkney

Born into slavery, Belle had to endure the cruelty of several masters before she escaped to freedom. But she knew she wouldn't really be free unless she was helping to end injustice. That's when she changed her name to Sojourner and began traveling across the country, demanding equal rights for Black people and for women. Many people weren't ready for her message, but Sojourner was brave, and her truth was powerful. And slowly, but surely as Sojourner's step-stomp stride, America began to change. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe

Mufaro's two daughters react in different ways to the King's search for a wife one is aggressive and selfish, the other kind and dignified. The king disguises himself to learn the true nature of both the girls and chooses Nyasha, the kind and generous daughter, to be the queen. —Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give showcases from a teenager’s perspective what going through a police shooting is like and the ramifications of being a proponent of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. —Maria Rankin-Brown, Spectrum reader


Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson

From Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson and acclaimed author Renee Watson, comes the inspiring true story of Florence Mills. Born to parents who were both former slaves, Florence Mills knew at an early age that she loved to sing, and that her sweet, bird-like voice, resonated with those who heard her. Performing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired everyone from songwriters to playwrights. Yet with all her success, she knew firsthand how prejudice shaped her world and the world of those around her. As a result, Florence chose to support and promote works by her fellow black performers while heralding a call for their civil rights.—Excerpt from publisher description, recommended by Lisa Clark Diller, Spectrum contributor


 

Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org

Images courtesy of the respective publishers.

This article has been updated to include additional recommendations from the community (Feb. 28, 2019).

 

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