African American History Month: Fiction & Literature

Updated: February 29, 2024

A selected list of novels, short stories, poetry and essays about African American history and the African American experience.

Book cover for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Gaines, Ernest J.
Call Number: Ed.d

This is a fictionalized autobiography of a 110-year-old former slave woman who witnessed more than a century of African American history and struggles, from the time of the southern confederacy to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Book cover for Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Evans, Danielle

Evans's debut collection of short stories, mostly about the experiences of young African American and mixed race women, is filled with funny, wise, readable gems.

Book cover for Belle Greene
Belle Greene
Lapierre, Alexandra

Belle da Costa Greene was a rare books librarian, best known for developing the personal library of J. P. Morgan. She was beautiful, intellectually brilliant, loaded with charisma, and knew what she wanted out of life. Born to Black parents, she could and easily did pass for white. This illuminating, compelling fictionalized biography brings to life the times in which she lived, the early part of the 1900s, and her life.

Book cover for Between Father and Son: An African American Fable
Between Father and Son: An African American Fable
Copage, Eric V.

A coming-of-age tale about 13-year-old Jordan Garrison who has issues: lectures from his widowed father about how to be a man; becoming distanced from his younger siblings; entering high school; and then the sudden death of his father. Jordan’s hip, warm grandmother seems to be his only support, until a shopkeeper, Snackman, provides guidance by giving the young man a frayed, stained piece of kente cloth. This brings knowledge of his rich African-American heritage that culminates in a Kwanzaa ceremony.

Book cover for Black Angels
Black Angels
Brown, Linda Beatrice

An eleven-year-old runaway slave, a nine-year-old freed by her master, and a seven-year-old son of a plantation owner find themselves alone during the Civil War and must rely on each other to survive.

Book cover for Black Deutschland
Black Deutschland
Pinckney, Darryl

Jed, middle-class, black and gay in 1980s' Chicago, hopes to find freedom and acceptance in Berlin, as did William Bradshaw in Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. Darryl Pinckney's writing style and plot structure weave stream of consciousness, reflection and critical commentary, into a uniquely modern story.

Book cover for Black, White, Other
Black, White, Other
Lester, Joan Steinau
Call Number: YA

After her parents' divorce, biracial teenager Nina Armstrong doesn't feel like she fits anywhere; however, she finds meaning and inspiration when she learns about her great-great grandmother's escape from slavery in the 1850s.

Book cover for The Bluest Eye
The Bluest Eye
Morrison, Toni
Call Number: YA

The Bluest Eye (1970) is the first novel written by Toni Morrison. It is the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove—a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all otherswho prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment.

Book cover for Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel
Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel
Oyeyemi, Helen

In 1953, pale, watchful Boy Novak flees her abusive rat-catcher father, alights in the small New England town of Flax Hill, and warily settles into an almost happy marriage with widower Arturo Whitman. She cannot, however, shake her inherent distrust of his uncannily beautiful gentle daughter, Snow, and after the birth of her own daughter, Bird, she sends Snow to live with relatives in the South. A mesmerizing Snow White reimagining that incisively explores the history of race relations in America, the complexity of parental love, and the mutability of appearance and perceptions. Oyeyemi's writing is assured and natural and her storytelling masterful.

Book cover for Calling Me Home
Calling Me Home
Kibler, Julie
Without a word of explanation, 89-year-old Isabelle asks her hairdresser, Dorrie, to drive her from Arlington, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend a funeral.  Dorrie agrees to this outlandish request because it will provide her with much needed time apart from her teenage son and the new man in her life.  Isabelle is white and Dorrie is black, but this is not Isabelle’s first interracial interaction.

Book cover for Can I Kick It?
Can I Kick It?
Goodwin, Idris
Call Number: 811 G6557

This poetry has the full-hearted voice of rap, beat, hip-hop, and will pull you in, as Goodwin firmly, beautifully shatters everyone's assumptions and preconceptions.

Book cover for Cane River
Cane River
Tademy, Lalita

Inspired by research into her own family's history, Tademy created this epic family saga about four generations of women living in 19th and early 20th century Louisiana.

Book cover for Chains: Seeds of America
Chains: Seeds of America
Anderson, Laurie Halse

Isabel, a young American Revoluntionary-era slave, wades through the dangerous shoals of staying loyal to her disabled sister, spying for the rebels, and facing her Tory master's cruelty. This book was a National Book Award finalist. Be sure to check out the sequel, Forge, as well.

Book cover for Collected Poems: 1974-2004
Collected Poems: 1974-2004
Dove, Rita
Call Number: 811 D743-9

A compilation of poetry (1974 - 2004) by Rita Dove, who was the first African American United States Poet Laureate, 1993-1995. The subject matter and form of her work are diverse and expansive.

Book cover for The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, 1968-1998
The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, 1968-1998
Giovanni, Nikki
Call Number: 811 G5115-11

This book of poetry is a snapshot of African American society as seen through the eyes of Nikki Giovanni and is a great introduction to her work. Her poems, written in the 1970s, make you feel like you're living through the era along with her, and pack an emotional punch.

Book cover for Contemporary Plays by African American Women: Ten Complete Works
Contemporary Plays by African American Women: Ten Complete Works
Call Number: 812.08 C7615-2

Ten plays by prominent and emerging African American women playwrights. Reflective of modern issues, many of these plays are in formats which are theatre breakouts 

Book cover for Erasure
Everett, Percival

Thelonius “Monk” Ellison is a serious Black novelist whose books barely sell. Depressed by family problems and the rejection of his latest manuscript, he overcomes his tendency to “write white” and produces a parody of ghetto fiction using a pseudonym. To his horror, no one recognizes it as a parody, and it becomes a huge bestseller, forcing Monk into further deceptions.

Book cover for Falling in Love With Hominids
Falling in Love With Hominids
Hopkinson, Nalo

This collection of short stories by celebrated fantasy author Nalo Hopkinson is incredibly original and beguiling. The stories throw you straight into new and fantastic worlds that you will wish to stay in longer.  Whether it be the quirky and adorable world of “Miss Emily Breakfast,” or the chilling coming of age “The Easthound,” this is a collection you will not be able to put down. 


Book cover for Fences: A Play
Fences: A Play
Wilson, August
Call Number: 812 W7464-1

Two garbage men argue about and explore the links between the aftermaths of slavery, the legalized discrimination of Jim Crow America, and African American lives during the 1950s. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Book cover for Flygirl
Smith, Sherri L.

During World War II, 18-year-old Ida Mae Jones passes for white so she can join the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), serve her country, and fulfill her lifelong dream of flying. Smith tells a riveting story about a little-known chapter of World War II history, set against the backdrop of Jim Crow America.

Book cover for Ghost Summer: Stories
Ghost Summer: Stories
Due, Tananarive

In Tananarive Due’s first short story collection, the reader is presented with a combination of haunting speculative fiction and horror that will astound. Intense and packed with emotion, these tales truly take advantage of the short story format, fitting mystery, despair, death and hope into tightly wound and rich worlds. Whether you find yourself lost in Gracetown, Florida or flung into a sparse apocalyptic future, Due’s stories will transport you far away from the everyday.


Book cover for Glorious: A Novel
Glorious: A Novel
McFadden, Bernice L.

McFadden tells the story of a fictional Harlem Renaissance writer named Easter Bartlett (loosely based on Zora Neale Hurston) who flees the Jim Crow South to pursue her dreams, but encounters her fair share of hardship along the way.

Book cover for Go Tell It on the Mountain
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Baldwin, James
Call Number: Ed.d

A 14 year-old boy is both attracted and repulsed by the church, his father, and everything his father represents; he longs to experience all the world has to offer, but he is terrified by sin. Ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

Book cover for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Jemisin, N. K.

After a war in the distant past between rival gods, the losing deities were forced to become slaves to mortal humans. A young woman, named possible heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, finds her life increasingly complicated by these subjugated gods.

Book cover of Let us descend : a novel
Let us descend : a novel
Ward, Jesmyn

In lyrical, elegiac prose, Jesmyn Ward writes hauntingly about the inner power achieved by a teenage slave, Annis, whose parents were a Black mother and the white man who enslaved them. 

Book cover for A Life Apart: A Novel
A Life Apart: A Novel
Marlow, L. Y. (Lydia Y.)

Just as his strength is about to give out, Morris, a young U.S. Navy enlistee, is pulled out of the waters of Pearl Harbor by a sailor who later perishes from one of the relentless Japanese Imperial Army torpedo attacks.  When Morris returns home to Boston, he calls upon his rescuer's sister, Beatrice, to pay his respects.  The comfort they offer each other is a godsend, while the sexual attraction they feel is as compelling as it is forbidden.  Beatrice is black and Morris is white, and during the early 1940s Beatrice’s friends and relatives believe that nothing but trouble will come from this liaison. Morris tells no one about Beatrice because he is married and has a young baby that he has yet to get to know.

Book cover for Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose
Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose
Giovanni, Nikki
Call Number: 811 G5115-16

Poet and writer Nikki Giovanni's insights and words are as sharp and precise as ever. She speaks truth not only to power, but to all of us, and in language that is clear, bold and cannot be misconstrued.

Book cover for The Necessary Hunger: A Novel
The Necessary Hunger: A Novel
Revoyr, Nina

When Raina’s African-American mother and Nancy’s Japanese-American father fall in love and move in together, the grown-ups’ peers object to the relationship. The daughters, on the other hand, are highly competitive basketball players totally immersed in the rivalry between their South Central Los Angeles high schools.  And Nancy quietly grapples with her one-sided attraction to Raina.

Book cover for The Nickel Boys: A Novel
The Nickel Boys: A Novel
Whitehead, Colson

Whitehead's previous genre explorations are synthesized into a lean and horrifying prison novel ripped from the pages of history. His writing has become so even and cool that you don't feel the shank sliding into your gut as you finish the story.

Book cover for Parable of the Sower
Parable of the Sower
Butler, Octavia E.
Call Number: SF Ed.b

In a decaying America society, set in the not-too-distant future, 18-year-old empath Lauren Olamina leads a band of refugees from Southern to Northern California, sustained by belief in their new philosophy, Earthseed.

Book cover for The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers
The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers
Call Number: 810.8 P8395-4

Essays, poetry, memoirs and fiction comprise this collection of writings by African American Women, who lived during the nineteenth-century. There are familiar and well-known women: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, however there are many more who deserve attention.

Book cover for The President's Daughter
The President's Daughter
Chase-Riboud, Barbara

At the age of 21, Harriet Heming leaves behind her Monticello home and her life as a slave. With her fair skin and red hair, she is able to pass as a white woman, but without being granted emancipation by her father, Thomas Jefferson, she must guard this secret for the rest of her life because of the laws of slavery and miscegenation. This is a sequel to Chase-Riboud’s landmark novel, Sally Hemings, which documents the relationship between President Jefferson and his slave mistress.

Book cover for A Raisin in the Sun
A Raisin in the Sun
Hansberry, Lorraine, 1930-1965
Call Number: 812 H2485 1994

The Youngers, a working-class black family, struggle against economic hardship and racial prejudice. Winner of the New York Drama Critic's Award and the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway.

Book cover for A Rock Against the Wind: African-American Poems and Letters of Love and Passion
A Rock Against the Wind: African-American Poems and Letters of Love and Passion
Call Number: 811.08 R6825

Poems about desire, new love, lost love, and enduring love.

Book cover for Sag Harbor: A Novel
Sag Harbor: A Novel
Whitehead, Colson

Colson Whitehead's semi-autobiographical novel about two teenage brothers navigating between black and white worlds and coming of age in 1980s New York is clever, funny, and drenched in pop culture nostalgia.

Book cover for Salvage The Bones: A Novel
Salvage The Bones: A Novel
Ward, Jesmyn

Set in a rural Mississippi town on the Gulf Coast, a pregnant teenage girl and her family eke out a precarious existence in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Winner of the 2011 National Book Award.

Book cover for Sing, Unburied, Sing
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Ward, Jesmyn

Thirteen-year-old Jojo lives in southern Mississippi with his baby sister, their neglectful mother, their grandfather, and their dying grandmother. When their mother Leonie gets a call that their father Michael is being released from prison, they embark on a road trip full of revelations that may harm, as much as heal.

Book cover for Thrall: Poems
Thrall: Poems
Trethewey, Natasha D.
Call Number: 811 T799-3

Award-winning poet Natasha Trethewey's collection explores race through the history of the United States. The poems are personal and historical. Natasha Trethewey was United States Poet Laureate, 2012 - 2014.

Book cover for The Time of Our Singing
The Time of Our Singing
Powers, Richard

In 1939 with the reluctant blessing of her Philadelphia Negro family, classical singer Delia Daley marries David Strom, a German Jewish émigré, who teaches physics at Columbia University. Delia masterfully transmits her musical gifts to their three children, but the seething racial hatred of the era constricts and jeopardizes their lives to such a degree that the family’s Jewishness becomes totally eclipsed.

Book cover for Trading Dreams at Midnight: A Novel
Trading Dreams at Midnight: A Novel
McKinney-Whetstone, Diane

McKinney-Whetstone examines three generations of South Philadelphia women, and the impact that mental illness, a mother's secrets, and a daughter's disappearance have on their lives.

Book cover for An Unconditional Freedom
An Unconditional Freedom
Cole, Alyssa

Daniel Cumberland was a free Black man studying law in Massachusetts when he was kidnapped and sold as a slave in the South. Unable to settle into his old life after a friend buys his freedom, he becomes a Loyal League operative, fighting undercover. Janeta Sanchez is a proud Cubana living with her father in Florida until he is arrested, and she believes that she can secure his release by gathering information for the Confederacy from the Loyal League. This unlikely pair is forced to work as a team, and their prickly relationship is complicated by their growing attraction to each other.


Book cover for The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad
Whitehead, Colson

A fantasy and historical novel that explores the experience of American slavery through the eyes of Cora, who escapes on a railroad that runs underground in antebellum America. Her experiences as she journeys from Georgia to the north are amazingly portrayed by Whitehead. The book often lurches from the gruesome violence that defined slavery to a world of fantasy, with all of it grounded in the horrific reality of slavery.

Book cover for Understand This
Understand This
Tervalon, Jervey

Based on his experiences teaching at Locke High School, Tervalon's powerful first novel is told in the voices of young people living in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

Book cover for An Untamed State
An Untamed State
Gay, Roxane

 Roxane Gay levels a breath-taking punch with the story of Mireille Duval Jameson,  who is kidnapped and held for ransom where she is beaten, raped and mentally abused.  When released, she is in severe shock and suffering from PTSD, all of which brings up unspoken family issues.  Without sensationalism and with great truth, the novel is a response to the notion of closure and complete healing for victims of PTSD, but also about a type of healing that allows a victim to have a life.  A therapist tells her that she will get better, but she will never get over what happened.

Book cover for Vintage Baldwin
Vintage Baldwin
Baldwin, James
Call Number: 818 B181-1

A compilation of the greatest work by one of the most significant writers of the Civil Rights Era. Includes essays and works of fiction.

Book cover for Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems
Voyage of the Sable Venus: And Other Poems
Lewis, Robin Coste
Call Number: 811 L675

Robin Coste Lewis, Los Angeles Poet Laureate, uses words, metre, rhyme and format to examine the artistic representation of black female enslavement through the millenniums.

Book cover for Washington Black
Washington Black
Edugyan, Esi

It is not very often that a book merits being called brilliant--this one does. A historical novel about slavery, adventure, dashed dreams, and unexpected possibilites, all portrayed in language that is lush, evocative and revelatory. Edugyan has the ability to meld plot, characterization and language to perfection.

Book cover for What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction
What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction
Morrison, Toni
Call Number: 818 M882

A collection of essays, speeches, numerous types of reviews, which examine and celebrate African American heritage. Her ability to see and express unique perspectives on many subjects will make readers think and see the world around them in a new way.

Book cover for Who Fears Death
Who Fears Death
Okorafor, Nnedi

In a post apocalyptic Africa, Onyesonwu is born as a product of powerful magic and shameful rape. Ostracized by both local tribes, Onye and her mother live a quiet life. But Onye soon comes to realize that the circumstances surrounding her birth have imbued her with unexpected magical power. As she fights to learn to wield her natural gift, she must also break free from the confines of her expected role in life.

Book cover for Zone One: A Novel
Zone One: A Novel
Whitehead, Colson

In this near future post Zombie apocalypse, civilian troops are sent into Manhattan to flush out the remaining undead after the major firefights decimated their number.  Mark Spitz is a member of one such three person squad, scouting out old office buildings and trying to come to terms with the trauma of having survived the worst of it. But reconstruction of everyday life is not going as smoothly as the reports would have the general populace believe and Spitz may soon be in store for something a lot worse than the drudgery of straggler patrol.