10 Must-Read Books by Black Women

portrait of Ciera Graham, Ph.D.
by Ciera Graham, Ph.D.

Published January 24, 2022

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10 Must-Read Books by Black Women

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Books are an important educational resource for learning about historical events and the perspectives of others. February is Black History Month and there's no better time to highlight Black poets and authors who have produced literary works shedding light on the Black experience.

The perspectives and experiences of Black women have often been ignored and devalued, but Black women authors have played an important role in shaping Black history and culture.

In honor of Black History Month, we've put together a list of ten must-read books written by Black women that will educate and inspire you.

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The Color Purple

By Alice Walker


"The Color Purple" is a staple in African American literature. The book was written by novelist, poet, and social activist Alice Walker. "The Color Purple" chronicles the story of African American women in the early 20th century in rural Georgia.

The story is centered on a friendship between two young girls who experience rape, domestic violence, poverty, racism, and sexism. The book explores how the characters survive these traumas through perseverance and sisterhood. The book won a Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1983 and was released as a film in 1995, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race

By Margot Lee Shetterly


"Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race" is a 2016 nonfiction book written by Margot Lee Shetterly. The narrative unfolds between the 1930s and 1960s and tells the powerful true story of three Black female mathematicians who were influential in the space race.

The three women are Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. All three worked at NASA, facing daily incidences of gender and racial discrimination. The book reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. The book was adapted into a film in 2016, which was nominated for three Oscars.

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas


"The Hate U Give" is a profound tale of the contemporary challenges facing Black teenagers. The book was written by Angie Thomas and focuses on the life of a 16 year old girl named Starr Carter.

Carter comes from a mostly poor Black neighborhood but attends a predominately white and affluent school. Starr witnesses the police murder her Black friend and must deal with the emotional trauma of this experience while also managing daily incidences of racism at her school. The book will leave readers in suspense but inspired by the bravery of the main character.

Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment

By Patricia Hill Collins


"Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment" is a compelling book on the Black female experience written by Patricia Hill Collins. Patricia Hill Collins is a professor and writer that specializes in issues of race, class, and gender.

In this book, Collins explores the complexity of Black female experience, including the gender and racial discrimination that Black women face. She uses work from bell hooks, Angela Davis, and Alice Walker to highlight how critical Black feminism is to society. If you are looking to learn more about intersectionality or Black feminism, this is an excellent read.

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

By Michelle Alexander


"The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" is a profound account of the inequities facing Black men. The book highlights how the "war on drugs" led to disparate policing practices in Black communities and the unlawful imprisonment of Black men.

"The New Jim Crow" demonstrates that mass incarceration is a prevalent problem and civil rights issue in the United States. The book was written by author and civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander.

Becoming

By Michelle Obama


"Becoming" is a memoir by former first lady Michelle Obama. Readers are able to develop insight into Michelle Obama by reading this book and learn about the intricacies of her childhood and life beyond her public image.

Obama chronicles her childhood growing up in the South Side area of Chicago and her experiences of racism, gender discrimination, career instability, parenthood, and marriage. She also reflects on her time as first lady.

Rosa Parks: My Story

By Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins


"Rosa Parks: My Story" is an autobiography by Rosa Parks, a pivotal figure in the Black civil rights movement who is best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This book is accessible and easily understood by middle school and high school readers. Readers get the opportunity to learn about Rosa Parks, her childhood, and her experiences throughout the civil rights movement.

This Is My America

By Kim Johnson


"This Is My America" by Kim Johnson is an uplifting and candid portrayal of the injustices present in the American justice system. The novel focuses on the experiences of teenager Tracy Beaumont who is working tirelessly to release her innocent father from death row.

Tracy is forced to relive the trauma of her father's arrest when her brother is also falsely accused and put in jail. Tracy begins her own investigation into the incident, and discovers how the criminal justice system has continued to harm her family and the lives of other Black and Brown people. This book is a powerful portrayal of the generational effects of police brutality, mass incarceration, and racism in the Black community.

In Every Mirror, She's Black

By Lola Akinmade Åkerström


"In Every Mirror, She's Black" is a contemporary novel written by Lola Akinmade Åkerström that sheds light on the experiences of Black women navigating predominately white society.

The book chronicles the life of three different Black women whose lives are linked unexpectedly by the same influential and affluent white man. The book tackles issues of racism, tokenism, and the complexities of Black womanhood.

The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett


"The Vanishing Half," written by Brit Bennett, is a generational story about the complexities and difficulties of passing as a person of a different race in the 1950s to the 1990s in the Deep South and California.

The book details the story of two Black girls, one of whom makes the decision to pass as white, suppressing and denying her Black identity. It's a riveting story for anyone wanting to learn more about the history and contemporary impact of passing.

We are at a critical time in the United States where people are acknowledging and reckoning with the historical and contemporary impact of systemic racism.

Black History Month provides us the opportunity to learn not only about Black achievements but also how racism impacts the lives of Black people every day. Reading these books by Black women authors is an excellent way to start learning about Black experience, history, and culture.


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