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BOOK LIST:

African American Heritage Month: Fiction & Literature

Updated: February 28, 2017

A selected list of novels, short stories, and poetry about African American history and the African American experience.


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.

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.

Brown, Linda Beatrice, 1939-
 

An eleven-year-old runaway slave, a nine-year-old freed by her master, and a seven-year-old son of a plantation owner find themselves alone during the Civil War and must rely on each other to survive.


Pinckney, Darryl, 1953-
 

Jed, middle-class, black and gay in 1980s' Chicago, hopes to find freedom and acceptance in Berlin, as did William Bradshaw in Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. Darryl Pinckney's writing style and plot structure weave stream of consciousness, reflection and critical commentary, into a uniquely modern story.


Lester, Joan Steinau, 1940-
Call Number: YA
After her parents' divorce, biracial teenager Nina Armstrong doesn't feel like she fits anywhere; however, she finds meaning and inspiration when she learns about her great-great grandmother's escape from slavery in the 1850s.

Morrison, Toni.
Call Number: YA

The Bluest Eye (1970) is the first novel written by Toni Morrison. It is the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove—a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all otherswho prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment.


Oyeyemi, Helen.
 
In 1953, pale, watchful Boy Novak flees her abusive rat-catcher father, alights in the small New England town of Flax Hill, and warily settles into an almost happy marriage with widower Arturo Whitman. She cannot, however, shake her inherent distrust of his uncannily beautiful gentle daughter, Snow, and after the birth of her own daughter, Bird, she sends Snow to live with relatives in the South. A mesmerizing Snow White reimagining that incisively explores the history of race relations in America, the complexity of parental love, and the mutability of appearance and perceptions. Oyeyemi's writing is assured and natural and her storytelling masterful.

Kibler, Julie.
 
Without a word of explanation, 89-year-old Isabelle asks her hairdresser, Dorrie, to drive her from Arlington, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend a funeral.  Dorrie agrees to this outlandish request because it will provide her with much needed time apart from her teenage son and the new man in her life.  Isabelle is white and Dorrie is black, but this is not Isabelle’s first interracial interaction.
 

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.

Senna, Danzy.
Call Number: Ed.a
Highly readable novel about a girl with a white mother and black father who struggles with her mixed race identity.

Anderson, Laurie Halse.
 

Isabel, a young American Revoluntionary-era slave, wades through the dangerous shoals of staying loyal to her disabled sister, spying for the rebels, and facing her Tory master's cruelty. This book was a National Book Award finalist. Be sure to check out the sequel, Forge, as well.


Dove, Rita,
Call Number: 811 D743-9

A compilation of poetry (1974 - 2004) by Rita Dove, who was the first African American United States Poet Laureate, 1993-1995. The subject matter and form of her work are diverse and expansive.


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.

Call Number: 812.08 C7615-2

Ten plays by prominent and emerging African American women playwrights. Reflective of modern issues, many of these plays are in formats which are theatre breakouts 


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.

Hopkinson, Nalo,
 

This collection of short stories by celebrated fantasy author Nalo Hopkinson is incredibly original and beguiling. The stories throw you straight into new and fantastic worlds that you will wish to stay in longer.  Whether it be the quirky and adorable world of “Miss Emily Breakfast,” or the chilling coming of age “The Easthound,” this is a collection you will not be able to put down. 

 

Wilson, August.
Call Number: 812 W7464-1
Two garbage men argue about and explore the links between the aftermaths of slavery, the legalized discrimination of Jim Crow America, and African American lives during the 1950s. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Smith, Sherri L.
 

During World War II, 18-year-old Ida Mae Jones passes for white so she can join the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), serve her country, and fulfill her lifelong dream of flying. Smith tells a riveting story about a little-known chapter of World War II history, set against the backdrop of Jim Crow America.


Due, Tananarive, 1966-
 

In Tananarive Due’s first short story collection, the reader is presented with a combination of haunting speculative fiction and horror that will astound. Intense and packed with emotion, these tales truly take advantage of the short story format, fitting mystery, despair, death and hope into tightly wound and rich worlds. Whether you find yourself lost in Gracetown, Florida or flung into a sparse apocalyptic future, Due’s stories will transport you far away from the everyday.

 


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.

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.

Jemisin, N. K.
 
After a war in the distant past between rival gods, the losing deities were forced to become slaves to mortal humans. A young woman, named possible heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, finds her life increasingly complicated by these subjugated gods.

Marlow, L. Y. (Lydia Y.).
 

Just as his strength is about to give out, Morris, a young U.S. Navy enlistee, is pulled out of the waters of Pearl Harbor by a sailor who later perishes from one of the relentless Japanese Imperial Army torpedo attacks.  When Morris returns home to Boston, he calls upon his rescuer's sister, Beatrice, to pay his respects.  The comfort they offer each other is a godsend, while the sexual attraction they feel is as compelling as it is forbidden.  Beatrice is black and Morris is white, and during the early 1940s Beatrice’s friends and relatives believe that nothing but trouble will come from this liaison. Morris tells no one about Beatrice because he is married and has a young baby that he has yet to get to know.


Revoyr, Nina, 1969-
 

When Raina’s African-American mother and Nancy’s Japanese-American father fall in love and move in together, the grown-ups’ peers object to the relationship. The daughters, on the other hand, are highly competitive basketball players totally immersed in the rivalry between their South Central Los Angeles high schools.  And Nancy quietly grapples with her one-sided attraction to Raina.


Butler, Octavia E.
Call Number: SF Ed.b
In a decaying America society, set in the not-too-distant future, 18-year-old empath Lauren Olamina leads a band of refugees from Southern to Northern California, sustained by belief in their new philosophy, Earthseed.

Chase-Riboud, Barbara.
 
At the age of 21, Harriet Heming leaves behind her Monticello home and her life as a slave.  With her fair skin and red hair, she is able to pass as a white woman, but without being granted emancipation by her father, Thomas Jefferson, she must guard this secret for the rest of her life because of the laws of slavery and miscegenation.  This is a sequel to Chase-Riboud’s landmark novel, Sally Hemings, which documents the relationship between President Jefferson and his slave mistress.
 

Hansberry, Lorraine, 1930-1965.
Call Number: 812 H2485 1994
The Youngers, a working-class black family, struggle against economic hardship and racial prejudice. Winner of the New York Drama Critic's Award and the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway.

Call Number: 811.08 R6825
Poems about desire, new love, lost love, and enduring love.

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.

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.

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).

Trethewey, Natasha D., 1966-
Call Number: 811 T799-3

Award-winning poet Natasha Trethewey's collection explores race through the history of the United States. The poems are personal and historical. Natasha Trethewey was United States Poet Laureate, 2012 - 2014.


Powers, Richard, 1957-
 

In 1939 with the reluctant blessing of her Philadelphia Negro family, classical singer Delia Daley marries David Strom, a German Jewish émigré, who teaches physics at Columbia University. Delia masterfully transmits her musical gifts to their three children, but the seething racial hatred of the era constricts and jeopardizes their lives to such a degree that the family’s Jewishness becomes totally eclipsed.


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.

Whitehead, Colson, 1969-
 

A fantasy and historical novel that explores the experience of American slavery through the eyes of Cora, who escapes on a railroad that runs underground in antebellum America. Her experiences as she journeys from Georgia to the north are amazingly portrayed by Whitehead. The book often lurches from the gruesome violence that defined slavery to a world of fantasy, with all of it grounded in the horrific reality of slavery.

 

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.

Gay, Roxane,
 

 Roxane Gay levels a breath-taking punch with the story of Mireille Duval Jameson,  who is kidnapped and held for ransom where she is beaten, raped and mentally abused.  When released, she is in severe shock and suffering from PTSD, all of which brings up unspoken family issues.  Without sensationalism and with great truth, the novel is a response to the notion of closure and complete healing for victims of PTSD, but also about a type of healing that allows a victim to have a life.  A therapist tells her that she will get better, but she will never get over what happened.


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.

Okorafor, Nnedi.
 

In a post apocalyptic Africa, Onyesonwu is born as a product of powerful magic and shameful rape. Ostracized by both local tribes, Onye and her mother live a quiet life. But Onye soon comes to realize that the circumstances surrounding her birth have imbued her with unexpected magical power. As she fights to learn to wield her natural gift, she must also break free from the confines of her expected role in life.


Whitehead, Colson, 1969-
 

In this near future post Zombie apocalypse, civilian troops are sent into Manhattan to flush out the remaining undead after the major firefights decimated their number.  Mark Spitz is a member of one such three person squad, scouting out old office buildings and trying to come to terms with the trauma of having survived the worst of it. But reconstruction of everyday life is not going as smoothly as the reports would have the general populace believe and Spitz may soon be in store for something a lot worse than the drudgery of straggler patrol.


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