It’s Black History Month, and I’m inspired to read more African American literature. Where should I start?

Great question! Reading African American literature is a wonderful way to celebrate Black History Month. For starters, African American literature includes novels, short stories, as well as poetry, essays, biographies, slave narratives and much more. Therefore, African American literature is so vast that it can be overwhelming, but never fear…the library is here! We can definitely make some awesome recommendations for anyone wanting to read more literature written by African American authors.

Poetry

Tupac’s The Rose that Grew from Concrete

Often hailed as the greatest rapper of all time, Tupac’s lyrical talents are further showcased in his cult-classic poetry book The Rose that Grew from Concrete. Ever since his tragic demise in 1996, Tupac’s fame has made him a larger-than-life figure, almost a god-like being in popular culture. Yet, his haunting, beautiful poetry in The Rose that Grew from Concrete humanize Tupac in profound ways. As the title of the anthology suggests, Tupac illustrated how he and other marginalized people can defy the odds by overcoming difficult circumstances. He also wrote about love and family, as he conveyed his dreams of having a wife and children someday. While he reflected on some of the wonderful things in life, Tupac was unafraid of examining life’s hardships, such as loneliness, sadness, and heartbreak. Indeed, The Rose that Grew from Concrete reveals that Tupac is more than just a one-dimensional person. Like all of us, he was complex, emotive and contemplative.

Jill Scott’s The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours

Did you know that Jill Scott is a poet as well as an R&B singer? Known for her soulful, sensual music lyrics, Scott channels her musical genius into her work of poetry. In The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours, Scott’s sultry rhymes reflect the beauty of Black love, which is significant considering that the antiquated caricatures of African Americans as unlovable and inherently brutish still exist in society. Scott also writes about heartache and emotional pain, making her poetry relatable to readers who may or may not be familiar with her music. Additionally, Scott’s writing style is conversational, edgy and alive with emotion, and you will definitely enjoy reading The Moments, the Minutes, the Hours.

Novels

Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar

That’s right – before Queen Sugar became a popular series on Oprah Winfrey’s Network, it was a wonderful novel. Not only is Natalie Baszile’s title of her novel really catchy (it’s a clever pun on the age-old slogan “King Cotton”), but the plot is also compelling. Charlotte “Charley” Bordelon West inherits a sugarcane farm after her father dies. To claim her inheritance, Charley and her daughter move from Los Angeles to Louisiana and embark on a life changing journey. Charley (an African American woman) faces racism and misogyny in sugarcane farming, an industry dominated by white men, and she must confront the challenges of balancing work and family. In Queen Sugar, Baszile brilliantly conveys a wonderful tale about family, resilience and African American life in the present-day South.

James Baldwin’s Another Country  

It’s pretty much impossible to discuss African American literature without mentioning James Baldwin. As an essayist, novelist, poet and activist, Baldwin was courageous in his examinations of injustice. Another Country is about the tragic life of Rufus, a 1970s African-American jazz musician, and how his suicide impacts his relationships. While the plot may seem simplistic, Baldwin tackles many societal “taboos,” such as adultery, interracial dating,  and sexual identity. Additionally, Baldwin explores how racism influenced African American migration from the United States to Europe. A daring exposé of race, love, and acceptance, Another Country is one of Baldwin’s most acclaimed novels.

Slave and Neo-Slave Narratives

Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Did you know that the Beloved novel is considered to be a neo-slave narrative? Neo-slave narratives tell a fictionalized account of slavery, and in Beloved, Toni Morrison masterfully tells a story about Sethe, who escapes slavery but is still haunted by her horrific abuse in captivity. Part of Morrison’s genius is her ability to illustrate the trauma of slavery on African American women, and the importance of Black women in forging African American communities within a racist society. Morrison also exposes the occurrences of matricide during the slavery era, and Black women’s agony of raising their children in bondage. Based on the true story of Margaret Garner, Beloved’s non-linear plot can make for a challenging read, but it is well worth the extra effort.

Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Many people have already heard about the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, but there’s a reason why Douglass’ narrative is so popular. First of all, Douglass’ story is compelling because it’s not every day that we read about an enslaved person who escapes bondage and becomes one of the most revered social activists in history. Secondly, Douglass was a gifted writer, and he had the ability to illustrate the ways in which the institution of slavery not only oppressed Black people, but it also corrupted the minds of the slaveholders. Undoubtedly, Douglass’ Narrative sheds much-needed insight into the devastating consequences of slavery.

As you can probably tell, issues such as bigotry, social justice, love, and family are just a few of the themes that are commonly seen in African American literature. Honestly, it’s impossible to fully convey everything that African American literature has to offer. However, these suggested titles will get you started on the right track. Happy reading!

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2 Responses to It’s Black History Month, and I’m inspired to read more African American literature. Where should I start?

  1. Fiona says:

    Thanks for this, a great list

  2. Frances Little says:

    Any books by J. California Cooper (lots are downloadable) which talk about black southern life from the 50s-90s, E. Lynn Harris which talks of black gay male life from 90s-2000s, Terri McMillian Waiting to Exhale and the sequel Getting to Happy 90s-2000s, Cant Get Enough and PG County by Connie Briscoe both books on affluent blacks in Washington DC area and can be downloaded, They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, Cupcake Brown, and The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.

    I made it a resolution last year to read one book a month. You will not be disappointed with any of those books I recommended.

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