The act of reading can take on many forms and meanings. Some people read to find escape from their lives, others read to discover more about themselves. Some of us read to learn something new, while others of us read to forget. No matter the reason we read, books are one avenue in which everyone, regardless of class, color or creed can see through another person's eyes and gain perspective about the varied human experience.
The King County Library System's reading challenge 10 to Try is a great way to read new authors and explore different formats. One of the 10 to Try categories is to read a book by an author of color. I thought this would be a good time to list some powerful and influential African American authors you may want to check out. I also decided to include only eBooks since this challenge is also a perfect time to try out a new format for your reading.
These authors have become classics in their field, opened the minds of thousands of readers, taught us something new about humanity and given hope to those who struggle. No matter the reason you read books, all these authors should be read, enjoyed, and discussed all year long.
(If an eBook is not your thing, most of these books are available in regular book form and can be found by searching our catalog.)
Langston Hughes: Hughes was an American poet, novelist, and playwright. He is best known for his work during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance and was one of the earliest innovators of the literary art form called jazz poetry. This collection of his poems includes some of his most well-known including Dream Deferred. It's a great place to start when reading Hughes.
The Panther & the Lash (eBook)
Richard Wright: Wright was a novelist in the late 1940s whose literature concerns the plight of African Americans during the late 19th to mid-20th centuries and the discrimination and violence suffered during that time period. Black Boy became a best seller and is a memoir of Wrights growing up and personal experiences with racism. Many of Wright's observations about society are still very relevant today.
Black Boy (eBook)
Ernest Gaines: Gaines' work takes place mostly in the South and touches on various issues ranging from slavery, growing up poor, societal violence against people of color and issues surrounding the death penalty. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is one of his most famous works telling the "life story" of a women who grew up in slavery and lived to see the beginnings of the civil rights movement.
Octavia Butler: Butler wrote science fiction books and used this genre to depict and discuss issues facing African Americans. Butler was a master at disguising tough, real life issues under the guise of dystopian settings and offering up solutions to society's problems buried in her plot lines. The Parable of the Sower follows the story of a young women who literally feels the pain of others as she flees a crippling America in search of a new land.
Parable of the Sower (eBook)
Toni Morrison: Morrison has written books since 1970 and has many wonderful titles. She is known for her graceful verse, descriptive settings, moving characters, and epic themes of love and loss. It's hard to choose one book for this list, but Beloved is the title she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for and is one of her most stunning, thought provoking works.
Alice Walker: Walker Is one of the most prolific writers of our time known for her literary fiction, volumes of poetry, and her powerful nonfiction collections. She centers many of her writings on what it means to be a women of color and the racism and sexism they experience daily. The Color Purple is her most well-known work, but We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For is a hopeful look at how each person can create positive change in the world and for themselves. A message many of us need these days.
Walter Dean Myers: Myers was a young adult and children's book author who wrote over 100 books ranging from fairy tales to realistic fiction. He is known for writing about complex children and teen characters and depicting various childhood experiences in urban environments. One of his main goals was to make sure that African American children had books to read with characters that looked like them and he did this in a time when those types of books were not common. Meyers' books appeal to a wide audience of teens and children because they explore the universal issues of hope, redemption, and the power of love and friendship to heal. An example is Scorpions, one of Myers earlier books that follows a boy who is reluctantly thrust into a gang when his older brother goes to jail and the consequences of that action on his close relationships.
Footnote: There are many wonderful African American authors and this list is by no means comprehensive or complete. I have definitely missed some wonderful authors and fully admit to focusing on authors who have books available through OverDrive. My hope is that this list will give readers a place to start and spark an interest in reading more books by authors of color. There are several other lists of great African American authors here and here if you are looking for more to explore. Happy reading!