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

After a long delay, here is part two! I know it’s no longer Black History Month, but I wanted to make sure I shared part two of this.

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!

As I mentioned last week in Part 1, I think it’s vital to diversify your reading and read from authors of many different perspectives.

There are great authors in every area of life and every part of the world. Each of them bring their own unique perspective and thoughts, as everyone has a unique experience of the world.

I believe the more you diversify your reading, the more you’ll understand the world and the more empathy you’ll have for everyone around you.

Everyone has their own unique experience of the world, but you can learn so much about others’ experience through the content they create, including books. The more you listen to others, the more you can discover your personal blind spots and unconscious biases. Just because you haven’t experienced it, doesn’t mean that no one else has.

So, for Black History Month, I highly recommend finding books to read by Black authors. You don’t have to read them this month. With so many people talking about Black History Month and focusing on Black voices, it’s easy to find books to buy or add to your TBR list.

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 shared five women last week (see Part 1 here), and I’m back with another five this 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. Audre Lorde – poet & essayist
  2. Dr. Angela Davis – nonfiction, civil rights icon
  3. Alice Walker – novelist
  4. Octavia Butler – science fiction novelist
  5. bell hooks – feminist theorist

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. Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

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

Audre Lorde identified herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”.

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.

Lorde’s work was heavily focused on the area of intersectionality, as she intertwined her personal experience (with all aspects of her identity) with broader social movements. She mostly focused on race, class, and sexuality, and actively confronted issues of racism within feminist spheres.


2. Dr. Angela Davis (1944-)

  • Born: 1944
  • Genre(s): Nonfiction
  • Both an activist and a scholar
  • Key books: Women, Race & Class, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Dr. Angela Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, and author. She studied first at the University of California and completed her doctorate at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

After she completed her doctorate, she moved back to the United States and became heavily involved in activism. She joined the Communist Party and worked with the Black Panther party, along with heavily campaigning against the Vietnam war. She’s an influential though leader from the second-wave feminist movement and is now a key figure in the prison abolitionist movement.

Throughout her life, she has stayed consistent in advocating against imperialism, racism, sexism, and the prison–industrial complex (part of the prison abolition movement), and showing her support for gay rights and other social justice movements. She has been a long time advocate for the freedom of Palestine and understanding the need for international collective liberation.


3. Alice Walker (1944-)

  • Born 1944
  • Genre(s): Literary Fiction, Poetry & Essays
  • Key books: The Color Purple

Important Note: Nowadays, Alice Walker is considered controversial for her anti-semitic comments and support of David Icke (rebuttal here on Al Jazeera Opinions and she’s been posting a lot about Free Palestine on her website), along with her TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) comments as she puts her support behind J.K. Rowling (link to a post about it by Out and her post on her website). I include her here because of her impact through her novel The Color Purple.

Alice Walker rose to fame with her novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982. She was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

She’s been a prolific writer, with 17 novels and short story collections, 12 non-fiction works and collections of essays and poetry, and continues writing on her website (www.alicewalkersgarden.com).

Walker’s work focused on the intersection of being both black and a woman. She has very specific feminist views, mostly advocating for women of colour. She even coined the term “womanist” to mean “a black feminist or feminist of color.”


4. Octavia Butler (1947-2006)

  • 1947-2006
  • Died at the age of 58
  • Genre(s): Science Fiction
  • Key books: Kindred, Parable of the Sower

Octavia Butler is a prominent American science fiction writer, who won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. She’s most known for blending science fiction with African American spiritualism and is associated with Afrofuturism (“speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th-century technoculture”).

She read science fiction from a young age but was disappointed with its portrayals of race and class. As a writer, she intentionally wrote herself into the genre by using her perspective as an African American woman.

Butler has been influential in the science fiction literary world, especially for people of colour. Her works often highlight themes related to race, gender, class, and power.


5. bell hooks (1952-2021)

  • 1952-2021
  • Died at the age of 69
  • Genre(s): Feminist Theory
  • Key books: Ain’t I A Woman?, Feminist Theory, All About Love

bell hooks was born as Gloria Jean Watkins, and her pen name was borrowed from Bell Blair Hooks, her maternal great-grandmother. hooks is an American author and social activist, with most of her writings centred around race, feminism, and class.

hooks authored around 40 books during her lifetime. Most of her work was around the intersectionality of race, capitalism and gender, specifically looking at the systems of oppression and class domination.

She always wrote her name in lowercase letters as an ode to her great-grandmother and to symbolize that the focus should always be on the ideas conveyed not the person sharing them.


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of authors. If you missed it, you can read part 1 here.

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.