Black Literature: Classics, Contemporaries, and Current Reads

Explore Black voices through the decades during Black History Month and beyond!

The Classics: 20th Century

breath, eyes, memory book cover

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Twelve-year-old Sophie Caco is removed from her impoverished village and sent to live in New York with her mother, a woman she barely knows. There she learns about a terrible truth that shadows her family.

Relationship fiction / Lyrical prose / Emotional

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Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

1948, Los Angeles: The mortgage payment’s coming due, so Easy Rawlins accepts the assignment of finding Daphne Monet, a blonde torch singer with a penchant for jazz and criminal black consorts. In his search through a sleazy, fearful city, he is lucky to be under the protection of the murderous Mouse who wants a piece of the action.

Historical mystery / Hard-boiled / Gritty

Their Eyes Were Watching God book cover

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

When Janie Starks returns home, she seeks identity and independence as the small southern black community buzzes with gossip about the outcome of her affair with a younger man.

Southern literary fiction / Moving / Engaging

The Contemporaries: 21st Century

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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

A novel about faith, science, religion, and family that tells the deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief, narrated by a fifth year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford school of medicine studying the neural circuits of reward seeking behavior in mice.

Psychological fiction / Eloquent / Quietly poignant

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Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson is all too aware that her mother, a physician, has a vision for their future together: Libertie will go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it-for herself and for generations to come.

Historical fiction / Richly detailed / Immersive

Vanishing Half book cover

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Twin sisters, inseparable as children, ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.

Relationship fiction / Sharp and rich writing / Character-driven

Current Reads:

What Fiction Staff are Loving Right Now

Blacktop Wasteland book cover

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

Compelled by poverty to agree to a lucrative final heist that will allow him to go straight, a skilled getaway driver finds his efforts complicated by racial dynamics and the ghosts of his past.

Crime fiction / Atmospheric / Action-packed

black cake book cover

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to ‘share the black cake when the time is right’?

Family fiction / Engrossing / Lush

the love songs of W.E.B. Du Bois book cover

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

To come to terms with who she is and what she wants, Ailey, the daughter of an accomplished doctor and a strict schoolteacher, embarks on a journey through her family’s past, helping her embrace her full heritage, which is the story of the Black experience in itself.

Coming-of-age story / Richly layered / Haunting poignancy