Black History Month is an important time to recognize and celebrate the contributions made by African Americans to society. It is a time for us to recognize the struggles and triumphs of black people throughout history, and to honor the legacy of those who have come before us.
This month serves as a reminder that we should continue to strive for equality and justice in our communities. Additionally, it is a time for us to celebrate black culture, art, music, literature, and more.
In celebration of Black History Month, we want to recognize the important contributions of African American authors and their works. We have compiled a list of 17 must-read books for celebrating black voices and history. These books range from classic works by famous black authors to more modern novels about racism and the African American experience.
Whether you’re looking for a classic or a more contemporary read, this list offers something for everyone to enjoy. From fiction to non-fiction, these books offer an insight into the struggles and triumphs of African Americans throughout history.
Celebrating Black History Through Storytelling
1. BELOVED – TONI MORRISON
Toni Morrison’s hugely influential, Pulitzer Prize–winning work — first published in 1987 — brought the wrenching experience of slavery into the literature of our modern times. Set in post–Civil War Ohio, it is the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has withstood savagery and not gone mad. But eighteen years after her escape, she is still not free. After being haunted for years by the ghost of her baby, who died namelessly and is referred to simply as Beloved, Sethe comes face to face with her terrible past in a very real and startling way.
Discover why The New York Times chose Beloved as the best American novel of the previous fifty years.
2. WE CAST A SHADOW – MAURICE CARLOS RUFFIN
Fathers are willing to go to any lengths to keep their children safe. In the story, our protagonist is a father of a bi-racial son called Nigel, whose black birthmark is threatening his safety in a society where racism and segregation are rampant. Thus, he is faced with an impossible decision – what’s the best way to ensure his son’s protection in this environment? Does he risk the safety of his son in this dangerous society that devalues and dehumanizes him, or does he put Nigel through an experimental new medical procedure that promises to save lives by turning people white?
This gripping, hallucinatory novel is a sharp satire on surviving racism in America as well as a profoundly moving story of a father’s love and the sacrifices we willingly make to protect those who mean the most to us.
3. THE GOOD HOUSE – TANANARIVE DUE
Alex Dolan’s debut novel has been categorized by Publishers Weekly as one of the most influential horror stories since the success of Stephen King. In this thrilling tale, a female protagonist looks for an ancestral power that might be able to protect her hometown from dark forces. Working to rebuild her law practice after her son commits suicide, Angela Toussaint journeys to the family home where the suicide took place, hoping for answers, and discovers an invisible, evil force that is driving locals to acts of violence. This excellent horror novel features characters with deep personalities and gripping, unpredictable storylines. Its eerie atmospheres add to the suspense it provides, creating an overall captivating experience.
As a bonus, you should definitely check out Tananarive Due on the essential documentary Horror Noire on Shudder to learn more about the history of Black horror.
4. BROWN GIRL IN THE RING – NALO HOPKINSON
Set in the wasteland future version of Toronto, the affluent have fled the city and barricaded the roads so that the poor and mostly people of color can’t get out. The dystopic Toronto setting paints a depressing picture as the wealthy flee, leaving minorities behind and stuck in the city. Roads out of the city are blocked off, making it difficult for these individuals to access better opportunities outside. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother.
A startlingly original story, Brown Girl in the Ring is an example of Caribbean magic realism. In his work, Hopkinson emphasizes the dangerous consequences of becoming blind to the suffering of others and disregarding human rights in pursuit of personal gain. He speaks out against inequality and illustrates how a lack of empathy can lead to incredibly destructive outcomes.
5. CRESCENDO: WELCOME HOME, DEATH AWAITS – L. MARIE WOOD
A man, haunted by a family curse, is taken beyond the limits of his sanity to a realm where he has no control over his actions or his fear. James Adams was living an ordinary life in a New York suburb until the demons inside him stirred, revealing horrifying secrets and predicting his future as his fate.
L. Marie Wood, one of the few African American female authors to foray into the horror genre, is proud to present her debut novel, Crescendo. She is part of an exclusive group that uses psychological suspense and horror to create captivating stories. It’s about fate and the lengths we will travel to avoid the inevitable. Set in tranquil Rockland County, New York, this tale of suspense and horror will take its reader on an emotional roller coaster of anger, anxiety, compassion, and indelible fear.
6. WHITE IS FOR WITCHING – HELEN OYEYEMI
There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England, which has been home to four generations of Silver women. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed.
This spine-tingling Gothic tale about love and loss is also a powerful reflection on race and family legacies. White is for Witching is boldly original and absolutely terrifying. Thank you for visiting with us. For more Literature related content, visit our blog at The Ritual.
7. FLEDGLING – OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
Fledgling is the last novel written by the renowned Black writer Octavia Butler, winner of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant and PEN West Lifetime Achievement Award for her body of work. Butler received critical acclaim for her strong protagonists, social observations, and feminist novels that are even more relevant today than ever.
Fledgling is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly un-human needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: she is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. It’s a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.
8. LET’S PLAY WHITE – CHESYA BURKE
White brings with it dreams of respect, wealth, of simply being treated as a human being. It’s the one thing Walter will never be. But what if he could play white, the way so many others seem to do? Would it bring him privilege or simply deny the pain?
Let’s Play White is a horror anthology that explores how privilege, race, and power dictates Black people’s ability to survive. In each story, Chesya Burke asks what it’s like to escape into someone else’s skin. From the spectrum spanning despair and hope to the stark weave of personal struggles, Let’s Play White speaks with the voices of the overlooked and unheard.
9. WONDERLAND – JENNIFER HILLIER
It’s only Vanessa Castro’s first day as deputy police chief of Seaside, and already bodies are dropping at Wonderland. By day, Wonderland may be a magical place boasting retro charm. But before daybreak, an eerie feeling descends. Maybe it’s the Clown Museum, home to creepy wax replicas of movie stars and a massive collection of antique porcelain dolls. Or maybe it’s the terrifyingly real House of Horrors.
Acclaimed author Jennifer Hillier’s edgy thriller is an insidiously creepy, fast-paced roller coaster ride that hurtles towards a shocking and bloody conclusion.
10. THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM – VICTOR LAVALLE
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table and keep the roof over his father’s head, selling dangerous magic items to people desperate for magic. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
This Lovecraftian horror novel is a retelling/alternate version of The Horror at Red Hook. It specifically plays off the racism in Lovecraft’s story (perhaps his most racist story). You don’t have to have read Lovecraft’s original to enjoy this one, but it definitely helps to appreciate the beauty of how skillfully LaValle flips that tale on its head.
11. WHO FEARS DEATH – NNEDI OKORAFOR
In post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region, genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert and gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. It doesn’t take long for the girl to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. But even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, but she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
This World Fantasy Award-winning novel blends myth and magic with harsh and brutal reality. At times hard to read due to the depictions of savage violence, but it’s also balanced by great humanity. This book has been optioned for a TV series for HBO, with executive producer George R.R. Martin.
12. THE GILDA STORIES – JEWELLE GOMEZ
Author Jewelle Gomez is considered one of the foremothers of Afrofuturism. The Gilda Stories introduces the title character as a slave girl in Louisiana, in 1850. Some years later, she is made into a vampire. Each story relates to a segment of her long and fascinating life. With strong echoes of Interview with a Vampire, the narrative of Gilda’s life progresses over a 200-year trajectory, as Gomez brilliantly weaves together a series of narratives that are as poignant and thought-provoking as they are thoroughly entertaining.
Gomez also infused this vampire novel with a great deal of Black Feminist/lesbian perspective, making it the perfect companion to something like Carmilla. The Gilda Stories is also currently in TV development.
13. BABEL-17 – SAMUEL R. DELANY
Samuel R. Delany has opened doors for black writers in the genre, including Octavia Butler, whom he mentored. Delany’s 1967 Nebula Award-winning Babel-17 is a fascinating tale of Rydra Wong, a spaceship captain, who is intrigued by a mysterious language called Babel-17 that has the power to alter a person’s perception of themselves and others and possibly brainwash her to betray her government.
Babel-17 is all about the power of language, and it’s surprisingly fresh for a novel written in 1966. Lyrical and thought-provoking, it’s full of interesting ideas — a must-read for those passionate about linguistics and lovers of science fiction. The impact of this novel is made all the more remarkable when you consider that Delany was just 23 years old when he wrote it.
14. MINION – L.A. BANKS
There is one woman who stands between us and the eternal night. All Damali Richards ever wanted to do was create music and bring it to the people. By day, she is a successful spoken word artist. But come nightfall, she hunts vampires and demons. After a series of brutal murders rocked the city, Damali realizes she is up against the most powerful vampire she’s ever met. Soon she finds herself being pulled deeper into the vast and horrifying vampire world.
L.A. Banks was a prolific, award-winning writer whose work spanned multiple genres. Her horror opus was The Vampire Huntress Legend Series — a twelve-book series centered around a young woman named Damali Richards, part of a long line of humans who are born once every thousand years to fight the Dark Realms. The entire series is based on the never-ending struggle between good and evil, religion and love. Start with the first book in the series, Minion, which is widely considered a classic. Thank you for visiting with us. For more Literature related content, visit our blog at The Ritual.
15. SMOKETOWN – TENEA D. JOHNSON
A generation ago, the city of Leiodare was overrun with a mysterious epidemic believed to have been spread by birds. Now, in the post-climate change in the United States, birds are outlawed. And what was once a crater in Appalachia is now a tropical, glittering metropolis where Anna Armour is waiting. Anna is a woman of special gifts. She has chosen this beautiful, traumatized city to wait for the woman she’s lost. When one night Anna creates life out of thin air and desperation, no one is prepared for what comes next.
Told through interlocking stories, Smoketown delves into the invisible connections that rival magic, and the cost of redemption. Johnson’s debut novel examines the relationship between art and society, blurring the boundaries between magic and science. Wildly imaginative and strange, it’s a post-apocalyptic novel with dreamy world-building. There’s a deep mystery at the heart of this novel that culminates in a breathless climax.
16. SLICE OF CHERRY – DIA REEVES
Kit and Fancy cordelles are sisters and best friends. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, they are used to feeling like outsiders. Eventually, they start to give into their innate desire to kill, opting only to kill those who truly deserve it. But when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities.
Reeves’ deliciously demented tale is fast-moving, unpredictable, and extremely engrossing. Her debut novel, Bleeding Violet, was a sexy and gruesome paranormal tale. Her sophomore novel, Slice of Cherry, reads like a twisted childhood fantasy brought to life. Dark and disturbing, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
17. THE TEMPEST TALES – WALTER MOSLEY
The Tempest Tales follows Thamest Landry, a black man who is killed by the police unjustly. He is denied access to heaven and, due to the racism faced in the world, decides to not go to hell either. He questions how he could be found guilty when so many people of color are subjected to discrimination across the world. Confounded, Saint Peter sends him back to Harlem, where a guiding angel tries to convince him to accept Saint Peter’s judgment and acknowledge his own guilt. Even the Devil himself tries to win over Tempest’s soul.
Mosley is famous for his crime fiction and historic mysteries. His horror novel ‘The Tempest Tales’ similar to the movie ‘Get Out’, questions our traditional assumptions of good & evil. Through the street-smart Landry, Mosley poses the provocative question: Is sin for blacks the same as it is for whites? And who gets to decide? In the wake of Black Lives Matter, it’s definitely a story of our times.
Believe what you may, but know that behind every great adventure story is a grain of truth, though that truth may come from somewhere completely surprising.
Thank you for visiting with us. For more Literature related content, visit our blog at The Ritual.
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