13 Amazing Books Written By Black Women

Let’s be real here, there’s no single list that will ever fully capture the magic, brilliance, and range of what Black women have brought to bookshelves. That would be impossible...and limiting.
Throughout history, the literary contributions that Black women have brought to the table have often been ignored. Black women, our stories and our accomplishments, are overwhelmingly vast and often overlooked. But sometimes, it’s great to have a starting point.
Ahead, we’ve compiled a varied list of books that keep popping up in conversation in 2017. Sure we could’ve focused on fiction, nonfiction, or poetry (again: the contributions are vast), but the heart and soul of this list lies in its variety. After all it’s still commonplace to find any of these authors shelved haphazardly in one teeny “African American Interests” section at your local bookshop.
These authors illuminate us through their work and leave an indelible mark on our souls. They’ve come up in conversations over brunch; they’re books we’ve gravitated towards in an effort to better understand our political climate; they’re books that inspire.
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Photo: Courtesy of William Morrow Paperbacks.
All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks, 2000

In this book of essays, love takes center stage. Sex, desire, romantic love, self-love...all love. Author and activist bell hooks takes a bold, frank look at how we’ve come to see love and express it. She examines clichés, and breaks down society’s shortcomings when it comes to teaching the complex emotion. "We would all love better if we used it as a verb," she writes. What’s left is a powerful collection of observations you’ll want to return to again and again.
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Photo: Courtesy of Anchor.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi, 2014

Since moving to America, Nigerian-born Ifemelu has everything she could possibly hope for. Though she never quite got over her first love Obinze (and he never got over her). Chimamanda Ngozi’s Americanah is a playful, yet tender story that not only explores love, but identity, and what it means to be Black in various cities (and hair salons) throughout the world.
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Photo: Courtesy of Harper Perennial.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, 2014

Roxane Gay is both badass on the pages she authors and even on Twitter (seriously, if you’re not following her, do so immediately). This fearless collection of essays will make you feel beautifully human and unapologetic about your personal relationship with the meaning of feminism. "I believe feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves," she writes.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, 1970

Each day protagonist Pecola Breedlove awakens, she prays for blond hair and blue eyes to replace her ebony skin and curly hair. This was the first novel in the iconic Toni Morrison’s oeuvre. It poses questions about race, how we perceive beauty, and most importantly it challenges how we construct our ideas of “ugliness.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Harcourt.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker, 1982

While many of us saw the film through the gaze of its director Steven Spielberg, if you’ve never read the book, now is the time. Decades later, Alice Walker’s Celie remains an iconic figure with a heartbreaking will to survive, though it’s truly Walker’s storytelling that takes center stage.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ballantine Books.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, 1969

Many of us know this classic all too well, having read it as teens in school. Though it deserves a re-read in adulthood. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was one of Maya Angelou’s seven autobiographies. We follow Angelou as she ages from childhood to womanhood, and as she endures racism, sexual assault and so much more.
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Photo: Courtesy of White Pine Press.
Homegirls and Handgrenades, Sonia Sanchez, 1984

The beauty of Sonia Sanchez’s work lies in how she boldly allows poetry and politics to collide. What’s left are a passionate collection of poems that are equally revolutionary and delicate. Often hailed as one of the most essential writers of the Black arts movement, Sonia Sanchez is a poet of the ages. And you'll understand why in this uplifting piece of work.
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Photo: Grand Central Publishing.
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler, 1998

Science fiction is a world dominated with by the works of white male authors. Though it was Octavia Butler’s real-life experiences as a Black woman that made her an astute cultural observer. While many recommend beginning with her 1979 story, Kindred, it’s Parable of the Talents that’s on everyone’s radar now. It’s a tale that just so happens to feature a senator who’s hellbent on getting help to “make America great again.” Sound familiar? This is just one of many prophetic moments in this series (which is being re-released in 2017.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Crossing Press.
Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde, 1984

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood,” writes Lorde in the essay, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action*. In this collection of 15 essays and speeches activist, mother and poet Lorde explores sexism, homophobia, ageism, and empowerment. All of which was written by the deft hand of a poet.
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Photo: Courtesy of Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, 1937

When Zora Neale Hurston released Their Eyes Were Watching God 80 years ago, it was widely panned by her Harlem renaissance contemporaries. The story about Janie Crawford — the husbands she buried and her many attempts at survival, is one that still resonates. Oh and the weather is pretty nuts.
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Photo: Courtesy of Take Root Media.
Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm, 1970

Before, Obama and before Hillary, there was Shirley. If the #GrownWomanGoals title, Unbought and Unbossed doesn’t grab you, then her story will. Chisholm’s real-life tale is about her meteoric rise from a little girl in Brooklyn, to the nation’s first African-American woman elected to congress in 1968. Ultimately she was the first woman to run for president of the U.S. just a few years later.
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Photo: Courtesy of Flatiron Books.
What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey, 2014

If someone asked you, “What do you know for sure?” could you answer? Well in this book Oprah did. Blame it on the recently trending Making Oprah Podcast, which dishes on the many bumpy moments of the 63-year-old’s television career. We now want more from this iconic woman. While hers is a name we often take for granted, this book offers loads of wisdom and is great to keep bedside when needed a dose of inspiration.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
Women Race & Class by Angela Davis, 1983

Thanks to Angela Davis’ speech at the Women’s March and her appearance in Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, Davis’ legacy has been front of mind for many women seeking knowledge. Her brilliance and indomitable spirit shine through in Women Race & Class, where she takes readers on a deep dive through the women’s liberation movement in the U.S.
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Photo: Courtesy of Vintage.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith, 2001

When Zadie Smith released “White Teeth” 16 years ago, critics couldn’t help but compare her to the great writers of eras past a.k.a. white guys (Charles Dickens, John Irving). This work of fiction gives a glimpse into the lives of two unlikely friends and the cultural ideals that both set them apart and unite them. It’s also pretty hilarious.