13 Books by Black Authors That Explore Race in America
By Liz Calvario
One World/Spiegel & Grau/Simon & Schuster/Basic Books
There has been a shift in America following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Their wrongful deaths, as well as those of many other Black lives, have sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality, shining a light on racial injustice and oppression.
With more people having conversations about race, many are looking to works of literature to better help them understand the issues that Black people face in the United States. From powerful essays, personal stories, non-fiction accounts of mass incarceration and police violence, Black authors have shared their experiences through the written word. While all wide-ranging, they all have one thing in common, highlighting the perils of racism in the U.S.
Here is a collection of books by Black authors that explore race in America.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Among the most popular books in the current climate, historian Kendi looks at how racist thoughts take root in one's life through self-reflection, critical thinking and history. With the concept of antiracism, he reshapes the conversation about racial injustice in America, pointing people toward liberating new ways of thinking about oneself and others.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates' 2015 non-fiction book is written as a letter to his teenage son after the killing of Eric Garner and explores the feelings, symbolism and realities associated with being Black in the United States. Sharing his personal life story, Coates hopes for a better future for his son, amid the discrimination that Black people continue to face.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This YA novel follows Starr Carter as she moves between two worlds: her poor neighborhood and the rich suburban prep school she attends. Her worlds shatter when a police officer fatally shoots her unarmed childhood friend in front of her. After his death makes national news, she is torn between people calling him a thug and drug dealer and others protesting police brutality.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
"This is NOT a history book. This is a book about the here and now. A book to help us better understand why we are where we are. A book about race," Reynolds and Kendi write about their book. Stamped shares history of racist ideas in America and inspires hope for an antiracist future.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Nickel Boys is based on the real story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Florida where boys were beaten and killed over the course of 111 years. Set in the fictional Nickel Academy, the story follows two Black students and their tragic experience at the school.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
This book offers a "user-friendly" examination of race in America, touching on aspects of white supremacy, police brutality, mass incarceration of African Americans, white privilege, having difficult conversations with other people about race, and more.
Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires by Shomari Wills
Black Fortunes is a collection of stories about six pioneering African American entrepreneurs, including Annie Turnbo Malone and Robert Reed Church, and the challenges that they endured to gain success and become millionaires.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Baldwin's 1963 non-fiction book consists of two essays. "My Dungeon Shook -- Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation" is written as a letter to Baldwin's 14-year-old nephew and touches on the role of race in American history. "Down at the Cross -- Letter from a Region of My Mind" details Baldwin's personal experiences with race and religion.
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Cottom's 2019 book is an honest collection of essays about Black womanhood, body image, beauty, a Black woman's representation in the media, as well as BBQ Becky and more. Thick was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
This coming-of-age memoir tells the story of a young Black gay man from the South as he fights to find his place in the world, within his family, as well as his hopes, dreams and fears. The book explores race, queerness, power and vulnerability as one grows.
Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves edited by Glory Edim
From the founder of the Well-Read Black Girl book club, Edim curates essays by powerful Black writers Jacqueline Woodson, Jesmyn Ward and Tayari Jones and others to share the importance of recognizing oneself in literature.
Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
This collection of poetry is a beautiful and heartbreaking look at being Black, queer, and living with HIV. Among Smith's most moving poems is "Summer Somewhere," in which he imagines a paradise for all the Black men who have been killed by police violence.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Co-written by one of the Black Lives Matter movement's co-founders, the book shares the story of the creation of the organization, as well as how activism, protesting and speaking out makes a difference.