It’s February which means it’s Black History Month, so I’ll be sharing content about Black authors. Most of what I’ll be sharing this month will come from Black American authors, as those are what I’m currently most familiar with. But it’s important to read from all over the world. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments below!
I think it’s important both to pay attention to who you’re reading and make sure that you diversify your reading by reading from many perspectives. There are incredible authors of every gender, ethnicity, nationality, and in every era; and each bring their own perspective to their work.
Black History Month
Black History Month is a great opportunity to focus on reading books by Black authors. Or learning more about books by Black authors so that you can add them to your TBR.
Personally, I think it’s great that people are highlighting Black voices this month, because it’s a great chance to educate yourself on what’s out there. There are endless resources available to you, you just need to
If you’re not regularly exposed to Black authors, maybe it’s time to add some new book-influencers into your media experience. But also, the number of people who are talking about Black authors greatly increases during this month, so it’s easy for you to find endless suggestions in every genre. And that’s a wonderful thing.
I don’t think it matters what you read during February, but I would highly encourage you to take this time to discover new authors. It’s also a great chance to take notice of who you’ve been reading, and if you’ve read anything by a Black author recently.
For this month, I’ll be sharing some Black American women that I admire and would recommend reading their works.
All of these women have had a huge impact on society and the literary world, and they’re all incredibly well known. Think of this as more of an introduction to the classics and a starting point, not a deep-dive into the lesser known. But please share any other suggestions you have in a comment below.
I’ll be sharing five women this week, and another five next week. I’ve listed them in order of the year they were born.
Five Black American Women Authors to Read
Here’s a list of five Black American women authors to read for Black History Month.
- Phillis Wheatley
- Zora Neale Hurston
- Maya Angelou
- Lorraine Hansberry
- Toni Morrison – novelist
Keep reading to find out more about each one!
And don’t forget to come back next week to learn about the next five!
1. Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
- Died at age 31
- Genre(s): Poetry
- Key book: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, but was then kidnapped and sold to the Wheatley family of Boston when she was seven or eight. In addition to her domestic obligations, the Wheatley family did provide her with an extensive education and encouraged her to pursue writing. However, she was not emancipated/manumitted (set free) from the family until after she published her book of poetry.
Phillis Wheatley was the first Black American woman to publish poetry, and considered the first to make a living from her writing. Despite having to be interviewed by 18 prominent men in Boston to prove that she wrote her own poetry, no one in the Americas was willing to publish her poetry. She was finally able to publish this collection of poetry in London in 1773.
Despite international recognition, she was unable to find anyone to publish any further volumes of poetry. She was able to publish some poetry in pamphlets and newspapers, but only in limited amounts.
Unfortunately, she ended up dying in abject poverty, with many of her poems lost due to lack of support.
Read more about Phillis Wheatley here.
2. Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
- Died at age 69
- Genre(s): Literature, Short Stories
- Key Play: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston was a central part of the Harlem Renaissance, and wrote about black life in the American South.
She wrote four novels, along with more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays. Their Eyes Were Watching God was her most popular novel.
Barracoon wasn’t publish until 2018, which was her nonfiction book about the life of Cudjoe Lewis (Kossola). Cudjoe was one of the last slaves to be brought to the US on the ship Clotilda (the last slave ship).
She was fairly unknown and barely recognized by the literary world for decades. In 1975, Alice Walker’s article in Ms. magazine, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, sparked interest in her work fifteen years after her death.
3. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
- Died at the age of 86
- Genre(s): Memoirs and poetry
- Key books: I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings
Maya Angelou had a far reaching career, both as an entertainer (singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first Black director), storyteller (writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet), civil rights activist (worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X), and educator (as a lifetime professorship at Wake Forest University).
She wrote 36 books and is best known for her memoirs and poetry. Her first memoir (of seven), I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, was nominated for a National Book Award and overall was very successful.
She won numerous awards and honours, including a Pulitzer Prize nomination, a Tony Award, three Grammys, served on two presidential committees, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama (the highest civilian honor in the USA).
Maya Angelou was not only an incredible author, but also an amazing performer. Here are some videos so you can see her work performed by the author herself.
- Video of “Still I Rise” read by Maya Angelou
- Phenomenal Woman read by Maya Angelou
- At Bill Clinton’s inauguration she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” and you can see her inaugural poem recited here. This made her the first poet since Robert Frost (John F. Kennedy in 1961) to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration.
4. Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
- Died at the age of 35
- Genre(s): Plays/Drama
- Key play: A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry is most known for her play A Raisin in the Sun, but she also wrote for the Freedom (Pan-Africanist = working towards solidarity of all people of African ancestry) newspaper and was an activist.
She was the first African-American women author to have a play, A Raisin in the Sun, performed on Broadway. She was also the first African-American dramatist and youngest playwright (at age 29) to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
Her activism focused not only on American civil rights, but also on international efforts, especially African struggles for liberation. She primarily focused on the impact on women within these larger societal struggles.
Some people consider her an activist for gay rights, but her work in this area was limited. She lived most of her life as a closeted lesbian, but wrote a few letters to the magazine The Ladder (a magazine run by the Daughters of Bilitis, a San Francisco-based lesbian rights organization). Then, near the end of her life, it seemed as though she was becoming more comfortable with her attraction to women. But all her work and personal writings related to being a lesbian was withheld from the public by her ex-husband, until finally released by his daughter in 2013.
5. Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
- Born: 1931
- Died: 2019
- Genre(s): Literature, Fiction, Race
- Key books: Beloved, The Bluest Eye, & Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison is recognized as one of the best authors of her generation and she’s well-known for focusing on the Black experience. She specifically worked to ensure that the “white gaze” was not central in any of her works, and preferred to focus on the black community rather than interactions with white people.
She worked first as a university professor and then as an editor in the publishing industry. Her debut book, The Bluest Eye, came out in 1970 while she was still working as a book editor. She didn’t leave the publishing industry until 1983, after 20 years in the industry and four novels published.
Toni Morrison has won numerous awards and honours, including the National Book Critics Circle Award (for her third book – Song of Solomon), the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved, the Nobel Prize in 1993, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2012.
I hope you found something of interest in this list of authors.
I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books written by these women that you love or would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!
Have you read anything by these authors? What did you think of it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.