For centuries, Black authors have used their voices and imaginations to birth wonderful inspirational works of literature.
While some of these works addressed critical social situations and injustices which caused radical changes in society, others ushered in a new sense of self-actualization for both the black man and woman.
These tales were written through the eyes of black authors and encompassed the black experience.
In appreciation of the voices that spoke through spectacular literary works and made impacts, both great and small, here are ten bestselling books written by Black Authors you need to know.
1. The Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Genre: Novel, Fiction, Bildungsroman (1952)
In The Invisible Man, Author, Ralph Ellison, tells the story of a nameless young black man narrating the journey of his college years and the times he spent in Harlem. He navigates his way through the 20th-Century, where reality is unreal and he can survive only through pretense.
Ellison’s inspiration came from a story he was told by Gurley while gathering folklore from black New Yorkers for a government-funded Federal Writers Project. The story was about a man in South Carolina called Sweet-the-Monkey, who had achieved the ability to become invisible by cutting out the heart of a black cat, climbing a tree backward, and cursing God. With his newfound power, he robbed banks, houses, and stores and could never be brought to justice.
Invisible Man is the only novel Ellison wrote and published. It won the National Book Award for Fiction, making Ellison the first African-American to win the award; and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
Ellison’s novel cautioned Americans to improve their social and political vision. It also showed how many impediments lay in the path of African Americans from really attaining equality and self-actualization.
2. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
Genre: Novel, Historical Fiction (1958)
Things Fall Apart is a story about Okonkwo, a warrior, and leader of an Igbo community in Nigeria. The story takes readers through his life events leading up to his banishments from the community for inadvertently killing a clansman through his seven-year exile and eventual return.
The book is Nigerian Author, Chinua Achebe’s first literary masterpiece, written to educate readers about the value of African Culture. Through the eyes of the narrator, readers are drawn into Nigerian society before and during the time of its colonization by the British. The book has been translated into over 50 languages and has sold almost 13 million copies. It is the most widely read African novel. In 2006, Things Fall Apart spent four weeks on USA Today’s Best-Selling Books List. Oprah Winfrey declared it one of the Five Books everyone must read once.
Achebe’s premiere book has motivated many African writers to find stirring and effective ways of expressing their literary works about the culture, history, and society of Africa. He is recognized as the ‘Father of Modern African Literature.’
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Genre: Autobiography, Biography (1969)
The book recounts Maya Angelou’s life from when she was 3 years old through to age 16. It describes her coming of age as a bright although insecure Black girl in Southern America.
Angelou published the book as a series of autobiographical works following the advice of her friends and associates to document her stories. The book became a best-seller and was selected for the National Book Award.
It depicts the dynamics of victimization and overcoming it. The book also protests the inequality between Blacks and Whites during the period of segregation in America.
4. Roots – Alex Haley
Genre: Novel, Biography, Historical Fiction, Fictional Autobiography (1976)
Haley’s Roots tells the story of Kunta Kinte, a young Gambian man taken and sold as a slave at age 17. The book follows his life and the lives of seven generations of his descendants in the U.S. down to Alex Haley, who finally traced the very village his ancestor was taken from.
Haley wrote the book out of his inspiration to learn more about his family history. He had always heard tales about his ancestor Kunta Kinte and his abduction from Gambia by slave traders. The novel won many awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awards.
The book caused American society to examine the darker aspects of its culture. It awakened the uncomfortable conversation between black and white Americans that still holds to this day.
5. Our Sister Killjoy – Ama Ata Aidoo
Genre: Fiction (1977)
The book documents the thoughts and experiences of Black-eyed squint, Sissie, who goes to Europe to “better” herself. Her view of the world is shaped by her relentless consciousness of the problems of Africa and in particular, neocolonialism, as well as the corruption and hypocrisy of the African elite.
In her book, Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo, aimed to debunk African myths that the West is the land of opportunity. She demonstrates that the legacy of colonialism follows those Africans who go abroad to seek their fortunes. The novel was her first as an author.
Aidoo’s book identifies the difficult relationship between Africa and Europe. The theme of the book centers on the black diaspora and colonialism and focused on the colonization of the mind.
6. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Genre: Epistolary Novel (1982)
The Color Purple documents the life of Celie, a poor 14-year-old African-American girl who begins to write letters to God following the traumatic events in her life.
Alice Walker wrote the book in part out of inspiration from a story her sister told her about a love triangle involving their grandfather. She also found inspiration to write the book from the lives of the people she knew that weren’t being told. The book sold 5 million copies and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1938.
The Color Purple was seen as a reflection of reality in the 20th Century, as it exposes the evils of racism, sexism, domestic violence, trauma, and abuse faced by the African-American people. It also depicts the way a woman who was oppressed found her way to fulfillment.
7. Waiting to Exhale – Terry McMillan
Genre: Fiction, Romance Novels (1992)
S: Penguin Random House
Getting to Happy is a sequel to McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale. This book tells the story of how best friends Savannah, Gloria, Robin, and Bernadine find strength in each other despite their past rough relationships with men.
Terry wrote this fictional book following her experiences in a divorce with her husband Jonathan Plummer. The book saw great success when it was published. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for 11 weeks. Waiting to exhale turned McMillan, the then-struggling writer, into a millionaire.
The main theme of the novel is self-realization. It gave Black women a voice and brought focus to their ideas on love and marriage.
8. Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama
Genre: Biography (2006)
The Audacity of Hope concentrates on Barack Obama’s core values and visions for America, as well as, his decision to run for president.
Obama’s book encompasses rising above the boundaries of partisan politics, race, geography, and religion, which brings division to take up a new form of equality.
His book is based on a keynote speech he delivered at the 2004 Democratic Convention; this also became part of his 2008 campaign for the presidency.
9. Quiet Strength – Tony Dungy
Genre: Biography, Christian Literature (2008)
Tony Dungy’s Quiet Strength is a book about faith. In the book, he encourages readers to find their gifts and use them to serve others. His literary work also delves into his life growing up in a Christian home.
Author, Tony Dungy, is a former football player and coach who served as a head coach in the National Football League for 13 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. His book, Quit Strength, became a New York Times Best Seller. It was also the 2008 Retailer’s Choice Award winner.
The book goes to show that one can always work through the challenges they encounter in life and emerge a better person.
10. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Fiction, Romance (2013)
The story is centered on a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who migrates to the U.S. to attend University and struggles with issues of racism, identity, and relationships. The book also narrates her love life with Obinze, her Nigerian boyfriend.
Chimamanda was also a Black African Nigerian in America, who experienced what it meant to be a person of color in the United States. She wrote her book Through the lessons she learned as she navigated through issues of race. Her book won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction award and was listed as one of The New York Times’ best ten books of the year. Ex-president Barack Obama also included the book on the list of his African books collection.
The theme of the novel is the importance of authenticity, and deals with issues of gender and race. Americanah also touched on the struggles of a military-ruled Nigeria and the desire of the citizens to immigrate to find better opportunities.