16 Empowering Books for

Best African American Books

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I was born May 21—last day of Taurus, first day of Gemini and just over a week away from the unofficial start of summer—so naturally, I blossom in warm weather. I’m out and about in sundresses and stilettos, I’m socializing at farmers’ markets, I’m accepting Evites and going to meet-ups. But come October, when the wind starts getting a little bite on it and November, when it is officially too cold to do something as simple as getting the mail without tugging on a coat and hat, I transition into hibernation mode.

I love the change of seasons on the east coast, but that chilly air is the perfect impetus to stay in the house, make sweatpants and fuzzy socks my uniform and get some serious reading done. Here, in no particular order—except for the first one, which is my absolute, all-time favorite—are 50 books that challenge us to think, feel, reflect, understand, stretch ourselves, believe, get mad, find peace, seek resolution.

It is by no means a comprehensive list. I don’t even think we could create one because somewhere, someone is writing a great book right at this very moment that will ultimately deserve a space on many of our must-read rolls. But I hope it at least serves as a jump-off point for some thoughtful, purposeful literary consumption until the springtime thaw (which is March 20, in case you’re counting days).

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
3. Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry
4. The Miseducation of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson
5. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson by George Jackson
6. Cane by Jean Toomer
7. The Prisoner's Wife by asha bandele
8. Krik? Krak? by Edwidge Danticat
9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
10. The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman
11. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
12. Black Bourgeoise by E. Franklin Frazier
13. Jubilee by Margaret Walker
14. Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed
15. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
16. Kindred by Octavia Butler
17. One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant
18. In Search of Satisfaction by J. California Cooper
19. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
20. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
21. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
22. Black Betty by Walter Mosley
23. Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks
24. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
25. for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is not enuf by Ntozake Shange
26. Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman by Michele Wallace
27. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
28. The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois
29. The Street by Ann Petry
30. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
31. Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall
32. This Bridge Called My Back by Cherríe L. Moraga
33. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
34. Waiting to Exhale by Terri McMillan
35. Native Son by Richard Wright
36. Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell
37. Kehinde by Buchi Emecheta
38. We a BaddDDD People by Sonia Sanchez
39. The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
40. Fences by August Wilson
41. The Debt by Randall Robinson
42. Conversations With God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African-Americans by James Melvin Washington
43. The Little Black Book of Success by Elaine Meryl Brown, Rhonda Joy McLean and Marsha Haygood
44. Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks
45. Why I Love Black Women by Michael Eric Dyson
46. The Wedding by Dorothy West
47. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost by Joan Morgan
48. Tumbling by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
49. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage

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