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The 100 Best Books Written By African American Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2020

The editors of ZORA, a publication for women of color, have published a list of the 100 greatest books written by African American women: The ZORA Canon.

To our knowledge, however, no one has ever compiled a comprehensive list specifically featuring the finest literary works produced by African American women authors. We decided to undertake that effort both to honor that still underappreciated group of writers and to provide ZORA readers — you — with a handy reference guide to their work.

Here are a sampling of the books on the list — click through to peruse them all.

Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson. “The first novel written by an African American woman, Our Nig focuses on the fictional character Frado and her servant-girl life in New England during antebellum slavery.”

The Red Record by Ida B. Wells. “This tome by the groundbreaking writer, Mathis says, is ‘an exhaustively researched publication about lynchings in the U.S. after the abolition of slavery.’”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. “This groundbreaking novel by the Harlem Renaissance novelist and anthropologist focuses on the emerging autonomy and maturation of Janie Crawford as she endures multiple marriages, poverty, and various other associative trials to reach a state of clarity.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. “The first of a multivolume series, this much-loved autobiographical tale recounts Maya Angelou’s early life…”

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. “As he grows up, Milkman Dead strives to take flight as he sets out on a pilgrimage to reclaim his family history…”

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. “The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist traces the lives of three people — a sharecropper’s wife, an agricultural worker, and a doctor — who embark upon one of the greatest movements of African Americans within American history: the Great Migration.”

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. “This series of poems chronicles Woodson’s experiences in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and ’70s under Jim Crow and with the civil rights movement.”

I have read several of the more recent books on this list but not enough.