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African American Literature for Adults: Fiction & Non-Fiction

Updated: February 28, 2015

A selected list of notable fiction and non-fiction about African American history and the African American experience, chosen by LAPL librarians.

by Spangenburg, Ray, 1939-
Call Number: 509.73 S735 2012
This book is in encyclopedic format, A to Z, and covers the contributions of African Americans in science, mathematics and invention. Brief profiles of 162 African American astronauts, physicists, chemists, biologists, agricultural specialists and others, both living and deceased, are accompanied by recommendations for further readings

by Gaines, Ernest J., 1933-
Call Number: Ed.d
This is a fictionalized autobiography of a 110-year-old former slave woman who witnessed more than a century of African American history and struggles, from the time of the southern confederacy to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

by Jordan, Barbara, 1936-1996.
Call Number: 92 J817-1
Speeches given by one of the most compelling orators of the U.S. Congress, Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

by Coates, Ta-Nehisi.
Call Number: 301.45096 C652
The journalist and social commentator describes his upbringing in 1980s Baltimore.

by Evans, Danielle.
Evans's debut collection of short stories, mostly about the experiences of young African American and mixed race women, is filled with funny, wise, readable gems.

by Lusane, Clarence, 1953-
Call Number: 301.45096 L968-1
A fascinating history of the White House from an African American perspective, covering such topics as slavery, the abolitionist movement, and African American White House staff.

by Hardesty, Von, 1939-
Call Number: 629.130973 H259-1
Richly illustrated with photographs and color poster reproductions, this coffee table book by curator Von Hardesty of the National Air and Space Museum, recounts the lives and contributions of African American aviators and astronauts. There is a chapter on the Tuskegee Airmen, subject of a recent

Call Number: 959.7 B6555
A series of gripping first-person accounts from African American soldiers who served in the Vietnam War and the effects the experience had on their lives once they returned home.

by Flamming, Douglas.
Call Number: 979.41 L881Fl
Many African Americans migrated to Los Angeles during the first half of the 20th century in search of a better life, but frequently encountered segregated schools, racially restrictive housing covenants, and institutionalized racism. Flamming chronicles Los Angeles's black community and the fight for civil rights in Los Angeles through the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, and World War II.

by Tademy, Lalita.
Inspired by research into her own family's history, Tademy created this epic family saga about four generations of women living in 19th and early 20th century Louisiana.

by Giovanni, Nikki.
Call Number: 811 G5115-11
This book of poetry is a snapshot of African American society as seen through the eyes of Nikki Giovanni and is a great introduction to her work. Her poems, written in the 1970s, make you feel like you're living through the era along with her, and pack an emotional punch.

by Joseph, Peniel E.
Call Number: 301.45096 J83
A narrative of African American activists, intellectuals, artists, and politicians from the past 50 years. This chronicle reassesses the successes and failures of African American leaders in the last half-century and their impact on American democracy and the world.

by Mosley, Walter.
Call Number: M
Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins is a World War II veteran who falls into detective work after losing his factory job. In the first novel in Mosley's outstanding series, Easy traverses the streets of 1948 Los Angeles in search of a missing Frenchwoman. Other titles in the series (A Red Death, Little Scarlet, Blonde Faith) follow the detective through volatile periods in L.A. history, including the Red Scare, the Watts Riots, and the Vietnam War.

by Moye, J. Todd.
Call Number: 940.544973 M938
As director of the National Park Service's Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project, Moye helped to conduct over 800 interviews with Tuskegee Airmen and others who worked at the Tuskegee Army Air Field from 1941-1945. Their stories, in their own words, are told here.

by McFadden, Bernice L.
McFadden tells the story of a fictional Harlem Renaissance writer named Easter Bartlett (loosely based on Zora Neale Hurston) who flees the Jim Crow South to pursue her dreams, but encounters her fair share of hardship along the way.

by Baldwin, James, 1924-1987.
Call Number: Ed.d
A 14 year-old boy is both attracted and repulsed by the church, his father, and everything his father represents; he longs to experience all the world has to offer, but he is terrified by sin. Ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

by Norris, Michele.
Call Number: 071.092 N857
Interested in the national conversation about race in the wake of Barack Obama's election, journalist and co-host of NPR's All Things Considered Michele Norris set out to investigate her family's own past. In the process, she learns about many things that her family never talks about.

by Smith, R. J., 1959-
Call Number: 301.45096 S657
Smith shows how Los Angeles's Central Avenue was a hub for artistic, political, and civic life for African Americans in the 1940s.

by Ashe, Arthur.
Call Number: 796.00973 A824
In 1983, Arthur Ashe was asked to teach a course, The Black Athlete in Contemporary Society, at Florida Memorial College's Center for Community Change. Because he could not find the resources needed, Ashe researched and wrote this three-volume history which covers the history of sports in ancient civilizations and the historical achievements of African American athletes who overcame racist obstacles from the seventeenth century through the twentieth century. This monumental work includes narrative explanations and numerous chronological charts for major sports.

by Harris, Jessica B.
Call Number: 641.0973 H314
A critically acclaimed history of African American cuisine from popular cookbook author Jessica B. Harris. The book traces partcular foods, cooking methods, food traditions and profiles individual cooks throughout American history; includes photographs and selected recipes.

by Mungen, Donna.
Call Number: 979.41 L881Mun
The first African American woman to own land in California, Biddy Mason was born into slavery in 1818, but won her freedom in a Los Angeles court and purchased a homestead between Broadway and Spring Streets. When she died in 1891, she was one of the wealthiest women and most notable philanthropists in Los Angeles. You can read more about Mason's fascinating life story here, and in LAPL's California Index.

by Marable, Manning, 1950-2011.
Call Number: 322.4092 X1Mar
This is a new biography using recently declassified FBI documents and archival materials from the Nation of Islam - a significant and eye-opening contribution to the field of scholarship on Malcolm X.

by Marshall, Thurgood, 1908-1993.
Call Number: 347.092 M3686-1
This collection of letters written between 1935 and 1957 illustrate Marshall's legal work leading up to his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

by Whitehead, Colson, 1969-
Colson Whitehead's semi-autobiographical novel about two teenage brothers navigating between black and white worlds and coming of age in 1980s New York is clever, funny, and drenched in pop culture nostalgia.

by Ward, Jesmyn.
Set in a rural Mississippi town on the Gulf Coast, a pregnant teenage girl and her family eke out a precarious existence in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Winner of the 2011 National Book Award.

by Bell, Derrick A.
Call Number: 371.974 B433
Derrick A. Bell, the first tenured black professor at Harvard, analyzes the continuing repercussions and negative impact of this landmark Supreme Court ruling on the educational needs of African American children.

Call Number: 509.73 S6235
Prefaced with a brief historical introduction, a timeline and several statistical tables, this book has as its centerpiece the author's in-depth interviews with eighteen prominent African American women scientists. The author, Dr. Diann Jordan, is a professor of biology at Alabama State University.

by Morrison, Toni.
Call Number: Ed.d
Morrison's book is at once a family saga and a coming of age story about Macon "Milkman" Dead, a child born under auspicious signs. Only one of the Nobel Prize-winning author's outstanding works, readers should also explore classic titles like The Bluest Eye, as well as Morrison's more recent work (Love, A Mercy).

by McKinney-Whetstone, Diane.
McKinney-Whetstone examines three generations of South Philadelphia women, and the impact that mental illness, a mother's secrets, and a daughter's disappearance have on their lives.

by Tervalon, Jervey.
Based on his experiences teaching at Locke High School, Tervalon's powerful first novel is told in the voices of young people living in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

by Baldwin, James, 1924-1987.
Call Number: 818 B181-1
A compilation of the greatest work by one of the most significant writers of the Civil Rights Era. Includes essays and works of fiction.

by Wilkerson, Isabel.
Call Number: 301.45096 W681
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wilkerson examines the migration of nearly 6 million African Americans from the South for the North and the West between World War I and the 1970s through the stories of three individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who left rural Mississippi for Chicago in the 1930s; George Swanson Starling, who set out for Harlem in the 1940s; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, who became a Los Angeles physician after leaving Louisiana in the 1950s.

by Tuck, Stephen G. N.
Call Number: 323.40973 T889
In this engaging narrative, Tuck places special emphasis on little-known figures and events in the struggle for civil rights in the United States.