My Anti-Racism Reading List: 24 Books by Black Authors
24 fiction and non-fiction reads to diversify your bookshelf and educate yourself about anti-racism.
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Let me start out by saying: anti-racism work is not a trend. It’s not a hashtag to be shared one week and forgotten the next. It’s not a cultural moment or a memento of 2020. Just as systemic racism is a lifetime battle for our POC friends and colleagues, anti-racism work is a movement — and it’s for life.
Although our conversations about racial inequality may have amplified over the last week, this work is far from over. For many of us, particularly my fellow white people, it has only just begun.
As the content on your social media feed returns to “normal” this week, I encourage you to keep up the momentum and keep going with your efforts to challenge racism. I’ll be doing the same.
I’m no educator on the subject — and it is definitely not my place to be one — but I thought it might be helpful to use this space to amplify the Black voices leading me in my commitment to anti-racist self-education.
Because Black Lives Matter — today, and every day.
Why we need to diversify our reading material
Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind. Toni Morrison
Since reading is my preferred method of learning, books have been my first response when engaging in anti-racism learning.
No matter how educated you think you are on a topic, there’s always room to learn, and more than anything, room to listen. Now and always, we must listen to the stories of Black people, and to share these voices far and wide. And what better way to listen to these voices than to read their stories?
As readers, we have a long way to go to making the literary space a diverse one.
Representation in literature goes beyond the skin colour of the characters in the stories we read and love. And since most published stories revolve around white characters, we fail to have proper representation for POC even in this aspect.
True change comes with economic consequences. In literature, representation extends out to the authors we support and compensate for their work. This week, the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag proved that authors of colour earn significantly smaller advances than their white colleagues. This doesn’t come as a surprise since the publishing industry is 76% white.
While publishing houses have pledged to take action to bridge this gap, we have a responsibility as readers to bridge a gap of our own. In order to diversify the literary space, we have to show support and demand for the work of writers of colour.
We have to consciously diversify the books we choose to read, review and recommend.
My Essential Reading
In an effort to use this platform of mine to #amplifymelanatedvoices and support the writers of colour I admire, I’d like to share my anti-racism reading list with you.
Many of these works are non-fiction, but I’ve included fiction as well. We learn in various ways, and I believe stories hold a direct path to greater empathy and understanding. Some of these are longtime favourites, others were recent discoveries and recommendations.
Before we begin, I just want to make it clear that the work of Black authors should not be grouped as a genre. While I’ve compiled this list as a collection, these authors’ work spans many genres, generations and literary traditions. There’s so much more to their work than the colour of their skin.
Each book on this list deserves recognition as a great piece of literature in its own right — not just as a great book by a Black author, but a great book, period.
I didn’t include children’s books in this list, but if you have children (or work with them), this list of diverse children’s stories by Brittany Smith is helpful in choosing diverse books and short films.
If you are in the position to buy these books and support the authors, please do. Another great option is to loan them from the library and donate the amount you would have paid for a copy of the book — as recommended by Reni Eddo-Lodge, the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.
And when you’ve read these books, don’t just put them down and forget them. Take time to reflect on their contents and self-evaluate. Lend them to friends and relatives and discuss them together.
Dialogue is a crucial space where change happens.
Essays about racial inequality
Apart from books, here are some essays about racial inequality and white privilege that are available to read online for free:
The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates — a long-read essay forcing readers to face the moral debts compounded by centuries of discrimination.
How to Cool It by James Baldwin — an interview with James Baldwin covering race relations in 1968 that is still scarily poignant today.
The Other Steve Harvey by Steven Harvey — where many of us find ourselves today: staring white privilege in the mirror, knowing that we have a part in a racist society, admitting to microaggressions and wondering where to go from here.
24 books written by black authors to add to your reading list
Kindred by Octavia Butler. Sci-fi meets historical fiction when a black woman travels from the 1970s back to slavery times to keep her white ancestor alive.
2. things fall apart
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The story of an African warrior who despairingly watches the changes to his village after the arrival of white colonisers.
3. why i’m no longer talking to white people about race
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. An essential read about eradicated black history in the UK and the links between class and race.
4. between the world and me
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A powerful narrative told by a father to his son, framing American history and how it has enabled the racial problems of today.
5. the hate u give
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Sixteen-year-old Starr is caught between the community she grew up in and the posh suburban high school she attends. Her world collapses when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend by a police officer.
6. the color purple
The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Set in the deep South, The Color Purple tells the story of Celie, a woman born into segregation and trapped in an ugly marriage. After meeting a glamorous singer, she decides to take charge of her destiny and leave her past behind.
7. the new jim crow
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. A book that challenges the notion that we live in a colourblind society, exploring how the US criminal justice system targets black men.
8. an american marriage
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. A harrowing and beautiful story that follows the marital consequences of a black man’s wrongful conviction.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. A hauntingly beautiful tale of Sethe, who was born a slave and has since escaped to Ohio. Wherever she goes, she is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died and was buried with only the word ‘Beloved’ on their tombstone.
10. i know why the caged bird sings
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. A memoir better described by Angelou herself. “I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it’s like to be a human being. This is how we are, what makes us laugh, and this is how we fall and how we somehow, amazingly, stand up again.”
11. how we fight for our lives
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones. The award-winning coming-of-age memoir of a young, black, gay man from the South. Jones maps out the intersections of the American landscape, his relationships and his identity as a queer black man.
12. me and white supremacy
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad. Not just a book but a workbook, Me and White Supremacy helps readers recognise deeply rooted white privilege. A crucial tool for those of us who want to take an honest look at ourselves and our behaviour in order to minimise racial prejudice and harm to people of colour.
13. the sun is also a star
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Natasha is twelve hours away from deportation to Jamaica when she falls in love at first sight. A story of fate and teenage love set to the backdrop of New York City.
14. red at the bone
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. An unexpected teenage pregnancy brings two families together, opening up an exploration of class, identity, sexual desire. Tayari Jones calls it “an epic in miniature.”
15. the mothers
The Mothers by Brit Bennett. The Mothers revolves around a secret that has been kept and covered up for years. What started as a summer fling for Nadia and Luke has taken over their whole life. Now, they spend it thinking ‘what if?’
16. such a fun age
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reed. A black babysitter is confronted in a supermarket and accused of kidnapping her white employer’s child, starting an unpredictable series of events that upends both their lives. This is a debut novel about race, family and white privilege that I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. An exciting debut compared to Bridget Jones’ Diary, I first heard about Queenie on an author special episode of The High Low. Queenie is a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London and working for a national newspaper. She tackles interracial relationships, workplace harassment, and trying to balance two sides of her culture.
18. the girl with the louding voice
The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. A beautiful and original novel about the power and courage of using your voice. Adunni is only fourteen years old, but already she is a wife and a servant. Determined to gain an education and use her voice to help all the girls who came before her, she embarks on a journey to the city of Lagos.
19. children of blood and bone
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. When a ruthless king comes to power, the magic disappears from Orisha. Anyone who knows how to use magic must hide it or face death. Inspired by West African legends, Adeyemi paints a world of dark magic in this fantasy debut.
20. their eyes were watching god
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Sixteen-year-old Janie is married off to an old, wealthy man. Zadie Smith describes the novel as “a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece of prose, as emotionally satisfying as it is impressive. There is no novel I love more” If you’d like a taste of Hurston’s writing, take a read of her essay, How It Feels to Be Colored Me.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The story of two Nigerians searching for new homes in the US and the UK. For the first time in their lives, they find themselves part of a minority, and face a new identity as black people. After fifteen years, the pair reunite in democratic Nigeria, recalling their experiences and reigniting their love.
22. girl, woman, other
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. The lives of twelve women of colour in modern Britain are intricately woven and interconnected in beautifully poetic prose.
23. silver sparrow
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. Silver Sparrow opens with the unveiling of a secret: the narrator’s father is a bigamist. Caught in the middle of the two families — one public, one secret — are two teenage daughters. When they finally meet, everything could change.
24. born a crime
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. The heartfelt and humorous coming-of-age memoir of one of the world’s favourite comedians. A mixed-race child in South Africa, Trevor Noah was born a crime, growing up in fear of being taken away.
I could list hundreds of titles in this article, but I’ll stop here at 24. Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to read as many of these books as possible. I would love to hear about your favourite books written by Black authors and writers of colour. Let me know in the comments below, or over on Instagram.
And if you’re looking for more book recommendations, why not browse my Books page?