5 Black American Women Authors to read for Black History Month – Part 1

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.

This month

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.

  1. Phillis Wheatley
  2. Zora Neale Hurston
  3. Maya Angelou
  4. Lorraine Hansberry
  5. 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)

  • 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.


2. Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

  • 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)

  • 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.


4. Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)

  • 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.


Final thoughts

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.

Five modern classic American women poets

Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?

For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.

For this week, I wanted to share five American women poets that are considered classics from the last 100 years or so.

This is the last week of poetry month and me sharing poet recommendations. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! Please let me know your thoughts in a comment below.

All five of the women poets mentioned below were born in the 1900’s, and unfortunately none of them are still with us today. Each of them are significant both for their literary contributions and their impact on society.

Five women poets

Here’s a list of five women poets who lived in the last 100 years or so:

  1. Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
  2. Sylvia Plath (1923-1963)
  3. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
  4. Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
  5. Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I’ve listed them in order of when they were born. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

  • 1917-2000
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950
    • First African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize
  • Won the Robert Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement in 1989

Gwendolyn Brooks was an American poet, author, and teacher. She is considered one of the most widely read and influential poets from American poetry in the 1900s.

Brooks started writing poetry young, and by 16 she had already written and published around 75 poems!

She born in the south, but was a lifelong resident of Chicago. Living in Chicago was a huge part of her life and greatly influenced her work.

Her work often centers around the lives of ordinary people, with characters commonly a reflection of her life in the inner city of Chicago. She also conveyed a political consciousness through her work, with reflections of the civil rights activism from the 1960’s onwards.

Over her life, she received many public recognitions of her work. In 1950, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Annie Allen, which made her the first African American to ever receive a Pulitzer. She was also inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and became the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, being the first Black woman to achieve either of those.


Sylvia Plath (1923-1963)

  • 1932 – 1963
  • Credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry
  • Died by suicide when only 30 years old

Sylvia Plath is considered one of the most admired and dynamic 20th century poets. She’s best known for her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar (1963), and her two published collections of poetry, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960) and Ariel (1965).

When Plath was only 30 years old (1963), she died by suicide. She suffered from depression for most of her life and had tried several times to commit suicide. At the time of her death, she already had a significant following in the literary community and has since inspired countless readers and other poets.

In 1956, she married fellow poet Ted Hughes. Their relationship was tumultuous and Plath said he was abusive in her letters. They separated due to Hughes’ affair with another woman.

Horrifically, Plath died by suicide before their divorce was finalized and thus her entire estate and all her written work were inherited by Hughes. When Ariel was published after her death, Hughes changed the arrangement and selection of poems to be included from what Plath had already chosen. He has also admitted to destroying some of her journals and even lost (probably “lost”) another journal and an unfinished novel. He’s been repeatedly condemned for his censoring and controlling of her work.


Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

  • 1928-2014
  • Died at the age of 86
  • Genre(s): Memoirs and poetry
  • Key books: I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings

She 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).

Over her life she wrote 36 books, with her most famous being her series of memoirs. Her book I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, the first in the series of seven memoirs, was incredibly well received and nominated for a National Book Award.

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.

She has received so many medals and public recognition for her work that I’m sure I won’t do it justice, but here’s a short, selective list:

  • Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie
  • Tony Award for her role in the play Look Away
  • 3 Grammys for her spoken word albums
  • National Medal of Arts given by President Bill Clinton in 2000
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom given by President Barack Obama in 2010
  • Served on two presidential committees (Gerald Ford in 1975 & Jimmy Carter in 19977)

Videos of her performing her poetry


Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

  • 1934-1992
  • Died at the age of 58
  • Key books:
    Sister Outsider, The Black Unicorn
  • Key Essay:
    The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House

Audre Lorde was a self described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She includes all these aspects of her identity in how she described herself, because she focused a lot on intersectionality and how each area of her life contributed to her overall experience.

A lot of her efforts were related to social activism, working to confront and address various areas of injustice, including racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, both through political activist work and as a thought leader. Her written work centered around feminism, lesbianism, illness and civil rights, all of it as an exploration of the black female identity.

She contributed significantly to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory. Her iconic essay “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House” was an early discussion of the intersectionality of race, class, and gender.

Lorde was very vocal about her issues with the first world/white feminist movement and actively worked to confront race-related issues.


Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

  • 1935 – 2019
  • Won the National Book Award  and the Pulitzer Prize
  • Her work is inspired by nature

Mary Oliver is a well renown American poet. She was declared America’s best-selling poet in 2007. She also won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for her 5th collection of poetry called American Primitive).

Most of her work focuses on themes of nature and the natural world. Oliver was influenced by both Whitman and Thoreau, as is seen in her clear and poignant discussions of nature. She’s also been compared to Emily Dickinson, as Oliver’s work leans toward solitude and inner thoughts, with a combination of dark introspection with joyous release.

Mary Oliver would often go for walks for inspiration and to help her writing. She rarely gave interviews and preferred for her work to speak for itself. But in a rare interview she said, “When things are going well, you know, the walk does not get rapid or get anywhere: I finally just stop, and write. That’s a successful walk!”

In the late 1950’s, Oliver met Molly Malone Cook, a photographer, and they became life long partners.

One quote that was all over the internet a while ago was:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

It’s from her poem The Summer Day (you can read it here), and it’s much more about strolling through nature and appreciating the little things than grand adventures.


Final thoughts

All these women are incredible and I encourage you to check out their work. All of them shaped the literary world and how we view the world.

Have you read any of these poets’ work?

I hope you’re learned something new and maybe discovered a new poet to read. Now that it’s the last week of Poetry month, what new poets did you discover this month?

Who would you add to this list of classic women poets?

I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below

You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met

Photo by Sai De Silva | Accessed on Unsplash.com

This is an excerpt from the book Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou.

We reached the middle of the block and were enveloped in the stinging acid aroma of vinegar from the pickle factory on the corner of Fillmore and Fulton streets. I had walked ahead. My mother stopped me and said, “Baby.”

I walked back to her.

“Baby, I’ve been thinking and now I am sure. You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met.”

I looked down at the pretty little woman, with her perfect makeup and diamond earrings, and a silver fox scarf. She was admired by most people in San Francisco’s black community and even some whites liked and respected her.

She continued. “You are very kind and very intelligent and those elements are not always found together. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and my mother-yes, you belong in that category. Here give me a kiss.”

She kissed me on the lips and turned and jaywalked across the street to her beige and brown Pontiac. I pulled myself together and walked down to Fillmore Street. I crossed there and waited for the number 22 streetcar.

My policy of independence would not allow me to accept money or even a ride from my mother, but I welcomed her and her wisdom. Now I thought of what she had said. I thought, Suppose she is right? She’s very intelligent and often said she didn’t fear anyone enough to lie. Suppose I really am going to become somebody. Imagine.

At that moment, when I could still taste the red rice, I decided the time had come to stop my dangerous habits like smoking, drinking, and cursing. I did stop cursing but some years would pass before I came to grips with drinking and smoking.

Imagine I might really become somebody. Someday.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Mom & Me & Mom – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

For the first time, Angelou reveals the triumphs and struggles of being the daughter of Vivian Baxter, an indomitable spirit whose petite size belied her larger-than-life presence—a presence absent during much of Angelou’s early life. When her marriage began to crumble, Vivian famously sent three-year-old Maya and her older brother away from their California home to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. The subsequent feelings of abandonment stayed with Angelou for years, but their reunion, a decade later, began a story that has never before been told. In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou dramatizes her years reconciling with the mother she preferred to simply call “Lady,” revealing the profound moments that shifted the balance of love and respect between them.

Delving into one of her life’s most rich, rewarding, and fraught relationships, Mom & Me & Mom explores the healing and love that evolved between the two women over the course of their lives, the love that fostered Maya Angelou’s rise to the heights.

Copyright © 2013 by Maya Angelou.

More details on Goodreads can be found here.