In celebration of Black History Month, be sure to check out our list of Black Canadian writers which includes a great mix of new titles and classics.
After enjoying that list, let’s talk about several beloved older classics containing several fiction and nonfiction books by Black American authors.
There are a couple classics that follow the stories of Black women in the first half of the 20th century. The Color Purple by Alice Walker which has recently had a musical adaptation follows the life of two sisters separated as teenagers trying to make their way back to one another. The other novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston which takes place a small southern community. From the very start, you realize how great Hurston was at writing character relationships with the friendship between Janie and Pheoby being so enjoyable to read.
Toni Morrison is best known for her novels but what you might not know is that before she ever wrote her first novel the Bluest Eye in 1970, she had already got her master’s degree in American Literature and spent a few years as the editor of Random House. In addition to the Bluest Eye, her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved is now in the collection as well.
There are two classic titles by James Baldwin including Giovanni’s Room which is also an early study of masculinity and homophobia with a story about an American struggling with his sexual identity in Paris. Go Tell it on the Mountain takes place in a community in Harlem, New York and follows a teenager learning about his identity as the stepson of a minister.
There are two books which look at Black history through the lens of music. Blues People by Amiri Baraka has been a classic among musicians since its publication in 1963 and is great for anybody who wants to learn more about music history in North America. Another great book about music is Flyboy 2 by Greg Tate which covers a staggering amount of music history that happened after the publication of Blues People including James Brown, Hip-Hop, Afrofuturism, Sade, Wu-Tang Clan and so much more.
Another nonfiction book we have is Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson. This Pulitzer Prize winning book is a nonfiction classic about the great migration where approximately six million Black residents in the American South moved north to major cities of New York, Detroit, Chicago etc. The author conducted thousands of interviews and did extensive research. The book also consists of personal stories that in addition to being informative is great storytelling.