I’ve been reading a lot since lockdown started. Sometimes it seems all I do is read, but it turns out I’m a slow reader and can’t quite keep up with all the amazing stories I want to devour. I love getting lost in someone else’s story and see the world through their eyes. This week I realised, like so many people, that I should expand my mind. That I should invite different perspectives into my life, allow them impact me, to change me, to transform me. A good way to start is by reading books written by black women.
I have scoured the internet and found some amazing books – these are only a few of them. They all have rave reviews and I can’t wait to read them all. Unfortunately I have only read An American Marriage so far, a book that’s incredibly raw, complex and heartbreaking. And that I highly recommend.
So here are 8 great fiction books written by black women:
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
An iconic modern classic, The Color Purple follows the lives of two African American sisters in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience. The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible. Joint Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2019.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, 2013.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect? Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2020 by Oprah Magazine.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, the year the marigolds in the Breedloves’ garden do not bloom. Pecola’s life does change- in painful, devastating ways.
What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment. The Bluest Eye remains one of Toni Morrisons’s most powerful, unforgettable novels- and a significant work of American fiction.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future.
The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson
The Birds of Opulence centers on several generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness.
The Goode-Brown family, led by matriarch and pillar of the community Minnie Mae, is plagued by old secrets and embarrassment over mental illness and illegitimacy. Meanwhile, single mother Francine Clark is haunted by her dead, lightning-struck husband and forced to fight against both the moral judgment of the community and her own rebellious daughter, Mona. The residents of Opulence struggle with vexing relationships to the land, to one another, and to their own sexuality. As the members of the youngest generation watch their mothers and grandmothers pass away, they live with the fear of going mad themselves and must fight to survive. At once tragic and hopeful, this captivating novel is a story about another time, rendered for our own.
If you have suggestions for other books to read, please leave them below!