5 Classic Novels by Black Women You Should Have Read By Now

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I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither.... So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.
— TONI MORRISON

Maybe I'm being a little presumptuous, but there are just some books you have to read. Every U.S. high school has a list of Classics they make their students read and if this was my class, this would be my should-have-read-before-graduation reading list. This list is a (short) collection of fiction written by Black women about Black womanhood. Do I really have to say that I recommend them? 

*****

The Color Purple by Aliace Walker (1982)

This book hits you right in the gut on the first page. But watching Celie grow into the woman she becomes over the course of this book changed my life. Her strength and tenacity through all the trauma of her life engulfs the reader and pulls you in like a warm blanket. 

*****

Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

Gave me the biggest book hangover but so worth it. Don't be turned off because it's by a sci-fi author! The only strange world you'll be taken to is the pre-Civil War south. Follow Dana as she vows to protect her ancestors at a cost greater than she expected. 

*****

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Really, any Toni Morrison book could be on this list and I would be just as adamant about your need to read it. Just ask Kitchen Table Literary Arts of Tampa as they read through a year of Morrison' books. Also set in the south, this Pulitzer-Prize winning book should be on your next "to-read" list if you somehow missed it. 

*****

Push by Sapphire (1996)

I learned of this book when the movie, renamed Precious, was being released in 2009. I read this book in 2 days, it was so good. Centered around a 16-year-old girl with a shit home life and failing grades, her life has the chance to turn around because of one dedicated teacher. This book will touch your soul. 

*****

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston (1937)

I have feelings about this book. It isn't one of my favorites but it is a Classic Black girl story. And the story of finding yourself when everyone else has a narrative for you is relatable. Janie is determined to live her life without compromise. Is that even possible for her in the 1930s setting? By the end, she has made more discoveries about what she really wants than she ever thought possible. 

*****

 

Do you have a favorite classic novel that I didn't list? Drop me a note in the comments. 

About the Author

Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to fill your bookshelves with beloved authors of the African Diaspora. When she's not hanging out online, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.