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10 Novels by Black Authors You Can Read to Better Understand the Black Experience

Kara Jillian Brown

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Many people are taking this time to become more educated about Black experiences in America and the insidious nature of systemic racism. Literature offers an excellent way to broaden one’s horizon. And while non-fiction books about racism are flying off the (digital) shelves, there’s an abundance of novels by Black authors that deliver a similar impact.

While many of the best novels by Black authors aren’t directly about racial justice, they often highlight stories about the plight of what it means to be Black in America. Below, you’ll find 10 exemplary books to purchase online from Black-owned bookstores.

10 novels by Black authors

1. The Vanishing Half, $27

novels by black authors

The Vanishing Half tells the story of two identical twin sisters raised in a small Black community in the American South. They run away at the age of 16, and years later, we learn how their different experiences have led to them living very different lives. This novel by New York Times best-selling author Britt Bennet is available to purchase from Bookshop and Pyramid Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Boynton Beach, Florida. If you are a member of the Book of the Month Club, it’s one of the options for June.

2. The Street, $16

Ann Petry tells a heart-wrenching story of Lutie Johnson, a single Black mother raising her son in 1940s Harlem. The novel tells the story about the impact of the street they lived on and how it shaped their lives. Released in 1946, The Street is Petry’s debut novel and it became the first novel by an African-American woman to sell more than a million copies. It’s available for purchase through Bookshop and Black Pearl Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Austin, Texas.

3. American Spy, $16

novels by black authors

By Lauren Wilkinson, this novel is set in 1986 during the heart of the Cold War. Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. The novel shares her journey as a young Black woman working in an old boys’ club. It was nominated for the NAACP Image Award and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. This novel is available for purchase through Semicolon Bookstore, a Black-owned bookstore in Boston.

4.Conjure Women: A Novel, $27

Written by Afia Atakora, Conjure Women tells the story of a mother, her daughter, and their slave master’s daughter. It moves back-and-forth in time, illuminating what it was like in the South before the Civil War. This novel is available for purchase through Bookshop and Black Stone Bookstore and Cultural Center, a Black-owned bookstore in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

5. The Water Dancer, $28

By the prolific Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer tells the story of a Hiram, a young Black man born into bondage whose mother is sold to another master. When his mother is taken, Hiram is left with a mysterious power. Coates illustrates Hiram’s journey to freedom while also coping with the loss of his mother. This novel is available for purchase through Bookshop and Books & Crannies, a Black- and female-owned bookstore in Martinsville, Virginia.

6. The Bluest Eye, $15

novels by black authors

The first novel penned by Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young Black girl who craves nothing more than blue eyes. This story peels back the reality of growing up Black in a society that subscribes to Eurocentric beauty standards. This novel is available for purchase through Bookshop and AfriWare Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Maywood, Illinois.

7. The Nickel Boys, $22

This devastating novel by Colson Whitehead tells the story of Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee. He is unfairly sentenced to a grotesque juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy. The Nickel Boys is based on the real story of an unjust reform school that operated for 111 years. This novel is available for purchase through Bookshop and Frugal Bookstore, a Black-owned bookstore in Boston.

8. A Song Below Water, $18

novels by black authors

Written by Bethany C. Morrow, A Song Below Water is a novel about Black mermaids who have to keep their powers a secret. Rooted in friendship, the story is also set against the backdrop of today’s racism and sexism. This novel is available for purchase through Bookshop and Pyramid Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Boynton Beach, Florida.

9. Such a Fun Age, $26

Written by Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age is about Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old Black woman who babysits the child of Alix Chamber, a successful white woman. One day when Emira is at the grocery store with the child, she is accused of kidnapping. This shocks Alix, and she becomes determined to make things right. This novel is available for purchase through Bookshop and Loyalty Bookstore, a Black-owned bookstore with locations in Washington, D.C., and Silver Spring, Maryland.

10. Their Eyes Were Watching God, $18

novels by black authors

Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel is about how a woman named Janie Crawford grew from a naive teenage girl into a strong woman. The book went out of circulation for nearly 30 years because readers rejected the powerful Black female protagonist. But it’s been back in circulation since 1978 and is now considered one of the most important works of African-American literature. This novel is available for purchase through Bookshop and MahogonyBooks, a Black woman-owned bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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