History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”

Michelle Obama,

First Black First Lady of the United States of America

Celebrating Black History Month

Initially established in the 1920s through the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month evolved from a weekly observation to a month-long celebration of Black history that was officially acknowledged by the United States government under the administration of president Gerald Ford in 1976. And, while Black history shouldn’t be limited to just a single month, the importance of recognizing its significance and impact that has made its mark on American history is crucial.

As we continue to move through February, our LocalHop team continues to honor Black History Month by celebrating incredible books written by influential Black authors. Check out Oprah’s this list of twenty-one books by Black authors that everyone should read at least once.

Black Authors

Recitatif; A Story by Toni Morrison

Within St. Bonaventure, they’re hapless pawns near the bottom of the social pecking order, just above Maggie, the mute, disabled kitchen aide. But the literary queen has a gambit up her sleeve: One girl is white and the other Black, and Morrison jumbles their racial identities through a series of moves that undermine historical hierarchies and simple binaries. When the girls reunite as women, they seek out the truth about what, exactly, went down so many years earlier. Zadie Smith offers an incisive, surprising introduction, limning the burdens the author placed on herself and us all, stepping out of her comfort zone while tirelessly advocating for ‘the African American culture out of which and toward which Morrison writes.’”

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

In what is considered a literary masterpiece and Butler’s most popular novel, Kindred follows a young Black woman named Dana. Though she lives in 1976 L.A., she’s suddenly transported to a Civil War–era plantation in Maryland. Soon, the more frequently Dana travels back in time, the longer she stays, as she faces dangers that threaten her life in the future.”

Black Authors

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Written by a legendary writer, civil rights activist, and one of Oprah’s greatest friends, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a poetic memoir that captures Angelou’s childhood struggles and the freedoms of her adulthood, which allowed her to find strength amid despair.

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The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois jacket cover

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

This powerful intergenerational debut novel and Oprah’s Book Club pick explores the story and history of Black and Indigenous people in the South through the eyes of Ailey Pearl Garfield, the product of a small Georgia town and family lineage that tells the expansive, far-reaching story of Black America’s striving for dignity, respect, and freedom.”

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

The celebrated collection of 15 essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, the famed activist, reflects on themes of ageism, racism, homophobia, and class.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Originally published in 1937 and set in Southern Florida, this story follows main character Janie Crawford on her quest to find independence throughout three different marriages.

Their Eyes Were Watching God jacket cover
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Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

As one of our country’s great Black writers, Baldwin published a slew of books, short stories, and essays in his life time. In his first book, Go Tell It on the Mountain, he penned a semi-autobiographical story of a teen growing up in 1930s Harlem who struggles with self-identity as the stepson of a strict Pentecostal minister. Similarly, Baldwin was raised by a stepfather who served as a Baptist pastor.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Adapted into a Steven Spielberg–directed film that earned Oprah an Oscar nomination, The Color Purple tells the tale of Celie, a young woman growing up in poverty in segregated Georgia. Despite suffering hardship, Celie finds her way back to the ones she loves in a time-tested story.”

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Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Now thought of as essential reading in American literature, this novel won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953. The Invisible Man is narrated by a nameless main character who details growing up in a Black Southern community. He’s eventually expelled from college and then becomes a leader of a Black nationalist group.”

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The Warmth of other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Published in 2010 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Wilkerson’s magisterial work charts the mass exodus of African Americans in the early 20th century from the Jim Crow South into Northern and Western cities, where they built successful lives amid racism etched in softer shades. With consummate skill, Wilkerson braids the stirring stories of her three guides—a pugilistic Floridian turned Harlem activist, a Mississippi sharecropper later rooted in Chicago, and Ray Charles’s personal physician from Louisiana—into a classic of narrative nonfiction, destined to influence writers for generations to come.”

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones

An expanded and largely reimagined version of the August 18, 2019, special issue of The New York Times Magazine memorializing the year–four centuries ago–when more than 20 enslaved Africans first arrived on the shores of England’s American colonies. With new original material, contributors, and rebuttals to some of the controversy the issue engendered, this work offers a definitive account of how racism and Black resistance have shaped the U.S. to the present day.”

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Beloved by Toni Morrison

This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel is arguably Morrison’s most well-known. It tells the story of Sethe, a former slave who escaped to Ohio in the 1870s—but, despite her freedom, finds herself haunted by the trauma of her past. In 1998, Oprah starred in the film adaptation.”

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adapted from her TEDx Talk of the same name, Adichie uses personal experiences and understanding of sexual politics to define what feminism means in the 21st century.”

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A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

“A Raisin in the Sunchronicles the lives of a South Side Chicago family as they dream of life’s possibilities after their matriarch, Lena, gets a substantial insurance check. The dramatic play originally opened on Broadway in 1959, with a recent revival in 2014 starring Denzel Washington.”

A Raisin in the Sun jacket cover
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Becoming by Michelle Obama

“Officially the bestselling book of 2018, the former First Lady tells all in what Oprah called a ”vulnerable” memoir, in which she opens up about her marriage and life before and after the White House.”

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

The Civil War is winding down and President Lincoln has issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which means enslaved brothers Landry and Prentiss can at last leave the plantation on which they’ve spent their lives. And yet danger lurks everywhere around them in Confederate Georgia, even after they are given shelter and employment by an eccentric white couple from the North. This stunning debut novel probes the limits of freedom in a society where ingrained prejudice and inequality remain the law of the land.

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Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

And now, the second Obama on this list. In his own bestselling memoir, number 44 unloads the difficulties of being a biracial American, emphasized by the estranged relationship he had with his late father.”

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry

From the bestselling author and Princeton professor comes a personal and historical reflection on the centrality of the American South’s narratives to our nation’s identity and history. From popular Dollar Store chains to the relatives of some of the United States’ most significant Black activists and historians, the South is home to more than just the stain of slavery; it is a focal point of much of our past because it has much to tell us about our present and our future.

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Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James

From Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land to Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise, world-building is a literary technique du jour, but few authors have had the commercial success of Marlon James, whose Black Leopard, Red Wolf blew up bestseller lists from coast to coast. His epic second installment in the Dark Star Trilogy, billed as an African Game of Thrones, turns on the foibles of Sogolon, a witch-cum-player in the royal court of James’s supernova imagination. His ambition and storytelling prowess are off the charts.”

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Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford

This New York Times bestseller from writer and podcaster Ashley C. Ford centers on her coming of age story in Indiana, and her difficulty of growing up with a father in prison, though it takes many years before she discovers why he is there.”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A 2015 winner of the National Book Award for non-fiction, the renowned journalist and writer pens a profound letter to his son about what it means to be Black in America in the 21st century—a place in which you struggle to overcome the historical trauma of your people while trying to find your own purpose in the world.”