It is an opportune time to celebrate Black voices, and literature is one of the best ways to become familiar with some of the community’s most illuminating stories. Thanks to the work of these authors, the world can better understand both the struggles and triumphs of Black people in America. Here is a selection of ebooks (available on Overdrive) by Black authors covering classics, fiction, memoirs, and contemporary reads to enlighten yourself about the Black experience and join the urgent and critical conversation about race and discrimination.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Coates attempts to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.
In these twelve deeply personal, connected essays, Bernard details the experience of growing up black in the south with a family name inherited from a white man, surviving a random stabbing at a New Haven coffee shop, marrying a white man from the North and bringing him home to her family, adopting two children from Ethiopia, and living and teaching in a primarily white New England college town.
Historian Sorin reveals how the car—the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility—has always held particular importance for African Americans, allowing black families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and to enjoy, in some measure, the freedom of the open road. At the same time, she shows that the car, despite the freedoms it offered, brought black people up against new challenges, from segregated ambulance services to unwarranted traffic stops, and the racist violence that too often followed.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, this book galvanized the nation and gave a passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Follows the parallel paths of two sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. This extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and re energizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Written in 1952, this is a milestone in American literature. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now. This story centers around Dana, a young writer in 1970s Los Angeles who is unexpectedly whisked away to the 19th century antebellum South, where she saves the life of Rufus Weylin, the son of a plantation owner.
Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
In this beautiful rendering of a brutal world, Ward contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the risk of being a black man in the rural South.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
With dazzling candor, legal scholar Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. This tenth-anniversary edition has a new preface by Michelle Alexander that discusses the impact the book has had and the state of the criminal justice reform movement today.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Thia 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
Policing the Black Man Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment by Angela J. Davis
This thought-provoking and compelling anthology explores and critiques the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process, from arrest through sentencing. Essays range from an explication of the historical roots of racism in the criminal justice system to an examination of modern-day police killings of unarmed black men.
Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin—A Parents’ Story by Sybrina Fulton & Tracy Martin
Trayvon Martin’s parents take readers beyond the news cycle with an account only they could give: the intimate story of a tragically foreshortened life and the rise of a movement.
Say It Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches by Catherine Ellis & Stephen Drury Smith
This unique anthology collects the transcribed speeches of the twentieth century’s leading African American cultural, literary, and political figures, many of them never before available in printed form. It is a vivid, moving portrait of how black Americans have sounded the charge against injustice, exhorting the country to live up to its democratic principles.
Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
A profound new rendering of the struggle by African-Americans for equality after the Civil War and the violent counter-revolution that resubjugated them, as seen through the prism of the war of images and ideas that have left an enduring racist stain on the American mind.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
This electrifying, hallucinatory novel is at once a keen satire of surviving racism in America and a profoundly moving family story. At its center is a father who just wants his son to thrive in a broken world, and it fearlessly shines a light on the violence we inherit, and on the desperate things we do for the ones we love.
An inspiring collection of essays by black women writers, curated by the founder of the popular book club Well-Read Black Girl, on the importance of recognizing ourselves in literature.
For further expressions of Black voices, check out these ebooks and audiobooks on Hoopla.
-Archana, Adult Services &Acquisitions Librarian