14 Black Women Writers to Read Year-Round

14 Black Women Writers to Read Year-Round

Black women writers have long been excluded from the American literary canon, meaning their incredible works often go unread. Black women, who experience the world at the intersection of race and gender, have diverse, thoughtful stories to tell. 

For Black History Month, YW Boston staff members have reflected on their favorite writers, and made some great recommendations. The women below are authors, poets, and theorists whose work spans from the early 20th century to present day. This list may have been compiled for Black History Month, but you’ll want to add these authors to your year-round reading list.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Check out: We Should All Be Feminists

Adichie, who grew up in Nigeria, writes it all – nonfiction essays, short stories, novels, and more. Her novels, such as Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, have received wide acclaim, and her novel Americanah was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. She is a two-time TED Talk speaker on the importance of diversity and feminism. Her most recent talk We Should All Be Feminists was published as a book in 2014.

“Adichie’s work gets to the heart of issues that perplex and plague our society today, and the essay is brief enough to reread whenever I need motivation to stay in the good fight that we are all in together.” -Recommended by Meghan, Advocacy Intern

Octavia Butler

Check out: Parable of the Sower

Butler, often referred to as the “grand dame of science fiction,” wrote a number of novels including her five-volume Patternist series, Kindred, and Parable of the Sower. Her work examined modern power struggles, and is seen as a strong influence on 21st century Afrofuturist writing. Parable of the Sower, set in the 2020s during the collapse of society, follows a young woman, Lauren, who feels others’ pain as her own.

Recommended by Julia, Youth Leadership Program Manager

Safia Elhillo

Check out: The January Children

Elhillo, a Sudanese-American poet, has performed her spoken word poetry around the world. She is recipient of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize and the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. The January Children “is a deeply personal collection of poems,” which explores the legacy of colonialism in Sudan and feelings of disconnection in a post-colonial world.

“Absolutely stunning book of poetry that explores and complicates questions of manmade borders, home, diaspora, and Sudan’s history of colonial occupation. The kind of poems that take your breath away. The kind of poems that stay with you long after you’re finished.” -Recommended by Lin, Youth Leadership Partnerships Coordinator

Nikki Giovanni

Check out: “Ego-Tripping” from Ego-tripping and Other Poems for Young People

Giovanni is a poet, educator, commentator, and activist, who gained critical acclaim during the 1960s as a prominent Black Arts Movement artist. She gained a national following after her poetic responses to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evars, and Robert Kennedy, and for writing poetry about her growing political awareness. In the 1970s she began writing for young people, focusing on African-American history and experiences specific to young black people.

“That poem gives me life!” -Recommended by Kemarah, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Health Programs

Yaa Gyasi

Check out: Homegoing

Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama. Her debut novel, Homegoing, was inspired by her 2009 trip to Ghana. The novel follows the descendants of two half-sisters – one sold into slavery and one married to a British colonialist. It won the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, and the American Book Award.

“Homegoing is an epic novel. Even though each chapter has a different main character, you become so connected to the two central families. It is an incredible exploration of inheritance, intergenerational trauma, and family love.” -Recommended by Leigh, Fund Development and Communications Associate

Zora Neale Hurston

Check out: Their Eyes Were Watching God and “How It Feels to be Colored Me”

Hurston, a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist, wrote about Black life in the American South during the first half of the 20th century. She was one of the first Black anthropologists to study African American culture. Her most popular novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, follows the main character Janie’s coming of age, and is considered one of the most influential works in African American literature.

On Their Eyes Were Watching God: “I love this story, because I can resonate with Janie. Janie wanted liberty and freedom to love without stipulations. After being forced into an arranged marriage, Janie was left feeling worthless. She wanted to feel the divine connection in a commitment, that comes with laughter, partnership and happiness. Janie was able to fulfill her desires. It was a short lived relationship, but it captured an essence her soul yearned. That satisfaction lives on forever!” -Recommended by Minu, Administrative Assistant

On How It Feels to be Colored Me: “Her work focuses on being black in the south, but as a Caribbean American, I read her work and can see the diasporatic connections. I love the essay because she openly rejects the role of victim which riddled the writing of her time and still plagues many today.” -Recommended by Kemarah, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Health Programs

Samantha Irby

Check out: We are Never Meeting in Real Life

Irby is a comedian, blogger, and author who runs the blog bitches gotta eat. Her second book, We are Never Meeting in Real Life, is a collection of essays hilariously chronicling her adventures, from applying for the Bachelorette to making “adult” budgets. This collection was a New York Times Critics Top Book of 2017.

“Samantha is laugh out loud, accidentally spit out your drink, funny. She’s poignant, sweet, crass and profane – sometimes in the same sentence. She takes on racism, sexism, food politics, body shaming and a lot more in her essays.” -Recommended by Kathryn, Assistant Vice President

Anne Moody

Check out: Coming of Age in Missisippi

A lifelong activist fighting racism and segregation in the American South, Moody shared her memoirs in her book Coming of Age in Mississippi. During college she began working with groups like the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was a primary participant of the sit-in’s at Woolworth’s lunch counter, and organized voter registration efforts. In Coming of Age in Mississippi, she writes of growing up as a Black girl in rural poverty, and the activism her early life inspired.

Recommended by Meredith, Annual Fund and Special Events Manager

Toni Morrison

Check out: BelovedThe Bluest Eye, Sula

Morrison, a Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, has published over 20 works of fiction, non-fiction, plays, and more. Her novels, often historical, depict African-American life through “poetically-charged and richly-expressive” prose. Beloved, The Bluest Eye, and Sula each depict complicated women main characters, each forced to make difficult decisions to stay afloat.

“Reading her books over the years has enriched all of my learning experiences and has provided a world-class education in American History. I am deeply grateful for everything she has shared. When things are tough to navigate in the world, I find myself revisiting books like Beloved, Sula and The Bluest Eye. The inner strength of the characters she has managed to render on the page always manage to guide me toward renewed perspectives.” -Recommended by Rosa, Communications and Marketing Manager

Phoebe Robinson

Check out: You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain

Robinson, one half of the popular podcast 2 Dope Queensis a stand-up comedian, writer, and actress. Among others projects, she writes for NY Magazine, VanityFair.com, and the tv show Girl Code, and will make her film debut in the Netflix summer comedy Ibiza. Her collection of essays, You Can’t Touch My Hair, examines race, gender, pop culture — making you laugh and learn all at once.

“This book is incredibly funny, captivating, and poignant. It’s an easy-to-read book that offers a contemporary narrative to issues of race and identity.” -Recommended by Mu-Chieh, LeadBoston Program Coordinator

Warsan Shire

Check out: Her poetry, including Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

Featured prominently in Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, Shire’s poetry explores themes of gender, race, war, cultural assumptions, and immigration. In 2014, she was named the first Young Poet Laureate for London and chosen as poet-in-residence for Queensland, Australia. She is currently the poetry editor for Spook Magazine.

Recommended by Emily, Youth Leadership Senior Program Coordinator

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Check out: From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

Taylor is a professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, whose research includes race and public policy, with a focus on housing policy. She co-authored a call for women to strike, which led to the Day Without a Woman on March 8, 2017. Her book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation examines the history of race and policy in the United States, and the development of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Her perspective is affirming and refreshing.” -Recommended by Kemarah, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Health Programs

Nayyirah Waheed

Check out: “i am mine” and other poems on Instagram

Considered one of the most popular poets on Instagram, Waheed has published two books of poetry, salt. and Nejma.  She writes about feminism, race, identity, and love. She is known for the shortness of her poems and is praised for breaking away from traditional forms of poetry.

Recommended by Emily, Youth Leadership Senior Program Coordinator

Jacqueline Woodson

Check out: Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson is a writer of books for children and adolescents, writing about subjects such as interracial love, teen pregnancy, and LGBTQ+ identity. Her work is praised for its realistic characters and settings, and its focus on self esteem and identity. She was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress for 2018-2019. Brown Girl Dreaming is a novel told in verse about Woodson’s childhood, growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s.

Recommended by Brianna, Girls’ Health Educator

 

 Find more staff book recommendations!