Our Stories

  • lb

    There is not one face to Black literature. From stirring poetry to memoirs to novels, artistic expression among African American authors is as varied as the black experience itself. This leads to a rich treasure trove of possibilities in African American books. From slave narratives to coming of age novels, from poetry to essays, fine black authors abound. This is a broad overview of African-American literature through the years.

Day 12 - L is for Literature

Olaudah Equiano 1789

  • eq

    In 1789, a middle-aged African-born man in London published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, laying the foundations for new genres of literature and new ways of understanding the experiences of enslaved people.

Booker T. Washington 1901

  • ufs

    "Booker T. Washington's rise from slavery to the presidency of the Tuskegee Institute and an adviser to American presidents and tycoons is an extraordinary saga of talent, ambition, and accommodation. As the most visible and widely acclaimed black leader of his era, Washington played a pivotal role in advocating a strategy for the racial uplift of African Americans in an age of intensifying racism and discrimination."

Jean Toomer 1923

  • Cane

    "Cane was published in 1923 and was hailed by critics for its literary experimentation and portrayal of African-American characters and culture. Cane, an experimental collection of stories and poems, is seen as an important part of the Harlem Renaissance."

Ralph Ellison 1952

  • im

    Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is told by an unnamed narrator who views himself as someone many in society do not see much less pay attention to. Ellison addresses what it means to be an African American in a world hostile to the rights of a minority, on the cusp of the emerging civil rights movement that was to change society irrevocably.

Toni Morrison 1970

  • be

     “The Bluest Eye presents a treatise on slavery’s legacy of self-loathing and self-rejection. Toni Morrison channels the generational trauma of a little black girl who internalizes societal norms that devalue her looks, culture, and very existence."

James McBride 2020

  • dkk

    "As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters–caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York–overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion."

Frederick Douglass 1845

  • fd

    "He who can peruse [this narrative] without a tearful eye, a heaving breast, an afflicted spirit, …without trembling for the fate of this country in the hands of a righteous God, who is ever on the side of the oppressed…he must have a flinty heart, and be qualified to act the part of a trafficker in slaves and the souls of men.”


Richard Wright 1940

  • rw

    "Wright's work, particularly Native Son, was an important depiction of 20th century racism and its consequences. His writing showed more than the injustice inherent to the time, but the grave problems "the system" was creating between the oppressors and the oppressed."

James Baldwin 1962

  • jb

    The 1962 classic The Fire Next Time was originally a letter, written by Baldwin to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of the so-called emancipation of black America. In the letter’s penultimate paragraph, Baldwin writes: “This is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.”

Alice Walker 1982

  • cp

     "Some novels contain characters—folks that can live only within the confines of a book—but  The Color Purple  features people—folks that exit the pages and move in with you like relatives from out of town."

Nafissa Thompson-Spires 2018

  • nts

    Heads of the Colored People captures black lives in this current, divided, Facebook-Live-Black-Lives-Matter-#MeToo moment, and catalogues trauma’s impacts on black bodies, minds and souls, female and male, adult and child alike, as perpetrated against us, by us and between us in stunningly myriad forms: systemic racism and unconscious bias, police brutality, double consciousness, body consciousness, self-hatred, and more. 



    Ernie Barnes: The Graduate

Harriet Jacobs 1861

  • hj

     Harriet Jacobs was “the first American woman known to have authored a slave narrative in the United States. An extraordinary account of her life as a slave, Harriet Jacobs's Incidents describes the horrors of slavery in the American South and her struggle for freedom

W.E.B. DuBois 1903

  • web

    Du Bois proposes that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." His concepts of life behind the veil of race and the resulting "double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others," have become touchstones for thinking about race in America.

Zora Neale Hurston 1937

  • zora

    "When first published in 1937, this novel about a proud, independent black woman was generally dismissed by male reviewers. Out of print for almost thirty years, but since its reissue in paperback edition in 1978, Their Eyes Were Watching God has become the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature."

Eldridge Cleaver 1968

  • ec

    Soul On Ice generally outlines the devastating impact of American racism, especially on African American men, and suggests strategies for healing the profoundly wounded African American sense of identity and for bridging the seemingly irreconcilable racial divide in America.

Maya Angelou 1970

  • ikw

    "Maya Angelou's breakthrough memoir forever changed American literature and helped carve a new space for black self-expression." 

Walter Moseley 2020

  • wm

    The Awkward Black Man collects seventeen of Mosley’s most accomplished short stories to showcase the full range of his remarkable talent. Mosley presents distinct characters as they struggle to move through the world in each of these stories—heroes who are awkward, nerdy, self-defeating, self-involved, and, on the whole, odd. He overturns the stereotypes that corral black male characters and paints a subtle, powerful portrait of each of these unique individuals.

  • jb2

Keep Reading