Must-Read Books from African American Writers

If Toni Morrison is the only black novelist whose work you’ve read, you have great pleasure in store. In honor of Black History Month, here are some of our favorite novels by black women, some well known and some newbies

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"Shifting Through Neutral" by Bridgett M. Davis (2004)

Young Rae has a difficult family situation: a father who’s ill, a mother who unfeelingly ignores Rae’s struggles to win her approval. Then the mother finally decamps, leaving Rae to care for her dad alone—and in the process discover the rewards of loyalty and love.


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"The Girl Who Fell From the Sky" by Heidi W. Durrow (2008)

Much like Rachel, the novel’s protagonist, Durrow grew up the daughter of a white mother and a black father, and consequently struggled with how she would identify herself racially and how society seemed to perceive her. At the center of the novel is an unimaginable tragedy, which serves as another catalyst for Rachel’s self-discovery.


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"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

Hurston’s Janie Crawford is an anomaly among Southern black women in the early 1900s:  independent, financially secure and determined to marry for love instead of stability. So when her happiness is shattered by a series of catastrophic events, she realizes that she can only look inward for strength and support.


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"See Now Then" by Jamaica Kincaid (2013)

The Antiguan-born Kincaid delivers her first novel in 10 years. Though the plot—the heart-wrenching account of a failed marriage—is strikingly similar to her own life story, Kincaid denies any parallels. 


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"The Twelve Tribes of Hattie" by Ayana Mathis (2013)

In her debut novel, an Oprah selection that is now on bestseller lists, Mathis expertly navigates one mother’s plight of raising and protecting her “tribe” of 11 children and one grandchild in the Jim Crow era.


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"Getting to Happy" by Terry McMillan (2010)

If you liked the uber-successful Waiting to Exhale, you’ll love McMillan’s follow-up, Getting to Happy. Best friends Savannah, Gloria, Bernadine and Robin are making their way through divorce, re-entering the dating scene and discovering themselves in the process.


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"Home" by Toni Morrison (2012)

Morrison explores the intersection of belonging and displacement in her tenth novel, Home. Protagonist Frank Money is a traumatized Korean War vet who finds new purpose when his beloved sister, Cee, desperately needs his help to survive.


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"NW" by Zadie Smith (2012)

The award-winning English novelist’s fourth book, NW explores the relationship between two women who were inseparable as girls but now grapple with the distance that class and race have wedged between them.


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The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)

Wilkerson’s spot-on depiction of the Great Migration—a time when approximately six million African-Americans left their homes in the South in search of better lives in the northern and western parts of the United States—brilliantly captures the untold stories of these brave men and women who changed their own lives and their children’s.


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Next: Three Big Changes Since Friedan Wrote Her Book


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