It’s no secret to us that Black women have been, and always will be talented! But arguably one of the least talked about spaces that we occupy… is literature. Hopefully, some classic novels written by Toni Morrison, for example, ring a bell, but the list doesn’t stop there! In fact, black women have never put the pen down, and demand more space on your bookshelf.
From memoirs to sci-fi, there is literally nothing we cannot write. Let’s get into these recommendations:
‘Red at the Bone’ by Jacqueline Woodson
If you are looking for a conversation starter, contemporary taste, and a quick read, look no further. Woodson captures the ups and downs of an unexpected pregnancy that challenges the life of a high school black girl who once thought…that’ll never be her. Trying to navigate through this new territory that even her family can’t quite fathom, Woodson leaves her readers questioning the fabrication of our own lives and the role our family plays. Despite things not being part of her plan, it becomes a life she may not want to change. This is a story of surrender to what is, acceptance of your reality, and the many unexpected blessings that can come with that.
‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You may have heard of this one already, but let’s bring this one back. This is a must have work that gently reveals the brutal truths of identity and race with a splash of love. As a young, and in love couple flee Nigeria military ruling, in hopes for the American dream, they are hit with the reality that the American dream is really nothing more than a dream when you’re black. Faced with racism, oppression, and other challenges, this work exposes what it feels like to be black in America for the very first time.
Please snag a copy of this classic and grant it some time, as it will be well worth the read. And for a taste of Chimamanda’s eloquence, wisdom, and power, take a listen to Flawless by Beyonce, because yes – this is the same spoken word artist featured on that track!
‘Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes: Essays’ by Phoebe Robinson
The title alone probably made you giggle a little with a side of “I know that’s right.” Robinson is hilarious, and her witty personality can be felt on each page. What I liked about this one is that even with humor, Robinson provides helpful advice to black women on topics ranging from political matters, to how to love your hair. The day to day life of black women isn’t easy but with this piece, it may cause a change in perspective, giving you the opportunity to laugh about things that previously caused you discomfort. Not only that, the title alludes to the power of boundaries, which is one of our greatest strengths as black women. Despite what year you decide to pick this gem up, it will remain timeless, and at any point you can read it again and still find it relatable. Definitely a book you want to read AND keep on your shelf for a rainy day.
‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama
If you were like me, I couldn’t wait to hear all about how Michelle Obama…became Michelle Obama! In her memoir, she takes us into her childhood all the way through the time she met Barack Obama himself. In this beautiful work, Michelle Obama shares her most inner thoughts and experiences within her family, college, and her romantic relationships. Throughout the many curve balls life thrown her way, becoming Michelle Obama is truly an inspirational one for all. Highly recommend reading it not only by yourself, but with your friends!
‘More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (no matter what they say)’ Elaine Welteroth
If you want to read another inspirational story of just how a powerful woman claims her place in the world, I recommend reading Welteroth’s work. She was previously the FIRST black female editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue and had continued successes all throughout her adulthood. In her memoir, she takes us into her life growing up as a biracial woman.
She explores how in her childhood, she struggled with not fitting in with the black kids, nor the white kids, and how that has translated into her adult purpose of creating safe spaces for all! Trying to navigate her belonging and self-identity, she comes across key influential mentors, relationships, and experiences that shape who she is today and pioneered her journey to success.
‘Parable of the Sower’ by Octavia E. Butler
Ohh we’re on that sci-fi wave too! Black women also write amazing fiction novels that need to be on your shelf (if not already). In fact, Butler was one of the early black women to tackle this genre. She did a hell of a job as she was successful enough to become a full-time writer in the late 70s. Capturing her talents, in this work, Butler writes about the life of a young black woman living in 2025. Somehow the societal, capitalism, and climate challenges Butler predicted back in 1993, are spot on as we approach 2025. I feel like she was speaking to our generation and it is only right to give this one a go!
‘The Fifth Season’ by N. K. Jemisin
Interested in another sci-fi? Well Jemisin has something for you with this one. On a far away planet, the characters live in fear, as they must survive multiple catastrophic climate changes every few centuries. While one serious climate change approaches that may very well wipe out the whole planet, the characters also have to take on the battle of oppression. There’s little to no hope, until 3 unique women join their powers to assist, leaving the readers on edge on just how they might save the planet.
This is a real-life superhero journey for black women; it embodies our real life oppression and challenges, while also tying in the new and profound threat of climate change. It’s real, it’s scary, and the way things are playing out nowadays, it might even hit too close to home for some folks. You won’t know unless you give it a chance, and I highly recommend that you do!
‘Never Tell’ by Selena Montgomery
Need a book full of suspense and mystery? We write those too! Montgomery brings us into the realms of the thriller genre with a heavy dose of romance as well. Without giving too much away, this novel is about a Criminal Psychologist that aspires to have a simple and quiet life, yet one case bleeds into her personal life which flips her perfect life completely upside down. No doubt this one will keep you entertained and make you want more.
For those of you that’re fans of thrillers like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” “Us,” and the upcoming “Nope,” just know that the thrill and suspense are deepened in literature versus film. You get to envision the characters, take breaks if you need them, and tap into this universe whenever you want to. This book provides the perfect chance to explore these same storylines and concepts through reading.
Find anything you liked? I hope so, and if not…that’s okay! Because like I said, we write everything, so with a quick google search I am sure you will come across a body of work that fits you just right. Either way, it’s good to know we continue to recreate, reframe, and bring a new taste readers want. If you do find a good read not on this list, feel free to drop them below in the comments to share!
Thessiana Shama Mesilus merges the art of storytelling and psychology throughout her content. She founded Shama Works that serves as a creative platform to help individuals lead, grow, and heal from within or wherever there is a story to be heard.