In light of the recent events surrounding racial and social injustice around the country, knowing our history, as part of our eternal quest to “stay woke,” is more important than ever. While many of us are experiencing a new movement unfolding right before our eyes, scholars, experts and even regular folks with stories to tell, have been putting their experiences to the page to enlighten generations.
The literature industry suffers from the same lack of diversity and racial biases that plague society. While many books don’t make our school reading lists or even the New York Times Bestsellers List, there are countless classics that break down the Black experience in America.
#TeamBeautiful is made up of literature junkies, and, as so, we’ve compiled a must-read list for the modern Black woman. It’s hardly a complete list, which could go on for volumes, and let’s face it, you don’t have all day. But it’s a great starting point:
1. The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson
This book is of primary importance in understanding the legacy of slavery and how it affects Black Americans’ perspectives in society. The book essentially argues that Black Americans are not educated, but rather conditioned in American society. It challenges Black Americans to “do for themselves” outside of the constructs that are set up for them.
2. And Still I Rise, Maya Angelou
This is one of the most affirming books you will ever read. Technically, it is a collection of poems which focus on hope, determination and overcoming struggle. It contains one of Angelou’s most famous poems, Phenomenal Woman.
3. The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois
One of the most important books on race in sociology and African-American studies, it is a collection of essays that Du Bois wrote by drawing from his personal experiences. Two of the most profound social concepts – The Veil And Double Consciousness were written about in this book which have come to be widely known as part of the experience of being Black in America.
4. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
You may have seen the movie from Steven Spielberg or the recent Broadway musical, but I highly encourage you read this powerful novel, too. The book explores in depth the low position Black women are given in society through the lens of a particular group of women. The story explores both interpersonal turmoil and socially-inflicted violence toward Black women, as well as the bonds they share.
5. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
This book is among the most critically acclaimed ever written by an African author. Through the character Okonkwo, his family and the experiences of his village, Achebe tells the tale of colonization and its effects on African communities, particularly in Nigerian traditional social life.
6. Go Tell It On The Mountain, James Baldwin
In this book, Baldwin looks at multiple sides of the effects of Christianity on Black Americans, while also examining racism. He explores controversial topics, such as the hypocrisy and oppression Black Americans have been indoctrinated with as part of their faith in the Christian Church, as well as how it provided a source for overcoming many struggles.
7. Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Widely-known as one of the world’s greatest modern leaders, the late Nelson Mandela retells the story of his youth growing up in apartheid South Africa, as well as his time of spending 27 years in jail in this autobiography. Mandela also provides one of the best in-depth examinations of the political and social implications of apartheid as well.
8. Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama
In this heartfelt memoir, President Obama shares deeply personal accounts from his youth as he examines his life growing up biracial in the country. The book chronicles his experience up until attending Harvard Law School, and offers an inside look at the man who would make history as the first African American president of the United States.
9. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
Through one of the most important books in understanding the fallacies of colorblindness and the concept of a post-racial society, Alexander explains how the “War on Drugs” is a racist tool that the country uses to create a prison industrial complex, which is highly-racialized and adversely affecting Black Americans.
10. Americanah, Chimamanda Negozi Adichie
Americanah is a tale of love, race, and the essence of being an African living in America. It breaks down the experience of being an outsider in terms of nationality and race, all through a complicated, vivid and emotional love story of two Nigerians living outside of their homeland.
11. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
One of the finest works written on race this year, Coates tells his story through letters to his son. The letters, both personal and profound, detail his experiences and feelings about being a Black male in America. Seen as the successor to Baldwin’s thoughts and ideas, Coates writes bluntly about the lack of racial progress in modern America.
12. Sula, Toni Morrison
Winner of the Nobel prize, Sula tells the story of two friends who meet in their small town in Ohio. As they go through their lives, bound by love and a terrible secret, the women take profoundly different paths. The book — beautiful, funny and devastating — chronicles the painful experiences Black women often endure through their personal and social experiences.
13. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
The 1952 masterpiece of author Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man chronicles the depths of socio-political issues facing African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. The crux of his work is the complicated dynamics of Black nationalism, Marxism and bigotry. His work was unparalleled in its examination of the minds of the victims of racism, as well as its aggressors.
We could go on for hours with so many more! Which books had a profound impact on you? Share your favorites with us below.