In today’s world where we hear chants of “Black Lives Matter” from every nook and corner, it is exceptionally important to start reading about the great minds of the history who belonged to the black ethnicity. Inclusivity is a must in today’s grim times. To make our mark, here we have listed some of the most inspirational and influential black authors everyone must read today and be motivated by. So, without further ado let’s get started.
1. Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, filmmaker, and anthropologist. She was immensely gifted with the talent of writing and above all the love for humankind.
Being black is not easy for anyone, no matter you are famous or not. Hurston once shared her feeling about this matter by saying, “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
She thoroughly understood the need of speaking up for justice and your rights. She said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
Here are a few of her most celebrated works of all time, Mules and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Mule Bone, Every Tongue Got to Confess, The Sanctified Church, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, and the list goes on and on. She penned down more than 50 short stories, essays, and plays.
The most famous of her work was “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. It was published in 1937 and grabbed instant attention from people of all walks of life.
In ” Their Eyes Were Watching God” she wrote, “If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keep if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all.” and in the same book she wrote,
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some, they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”
She was a gem of a person and an incredibly talented and enormously skilled writer.
2. Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
Hughes is among the most prominent and important black authors everyone must read today. Among his topmost appreciated book, “The Ways of White Folks”, “Best of Simple”, “The Weary Blues”, “The Panther and the Lash”, “Tambourines to Glory”, “Black Nativity”, are surely on the top.
Here is his poem, “Down Where I am” from his book, “The Panther and the Lash”,
“Down Where I Am
Too many years
Beatin’ at the door–
I done beat my
Both fists sore.
Too many years
Tryin’ to get up there–
Done broke my ankles down,
Too many years
Climbin’ that hill,
‘Bout out of breath.
I got my fill.
I’m gonna plant my feet
On solid ground.
If you want to see me,
His tone was relatable and resonate with every reader.
3. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
Douglass’s work is immensely inspirational and he surely is one of the greatest black authors everyone must read today. Douglass was an African American orator, writer, statesman, and social activist. His remarkable antislavery writings immersed in his own terrible life experiences made him a great social reformer. He said, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
“The Heroic Slave”, “Why is the Negro Lynched?”, and “Abolition Fanaticism in New York” are among his most loved and inspirational writings. Abolition Fanaticism in New York is an amazing speech by Douglass, one which we all must-read in today’s chaotic world.
Here is an excerpt from this speech,
“Weapons of war we have cast from the battle: Truth is our armor—our watchword is Love; Hushed be the sword, and the musketry’s rattle, All our equipments are drawn from above. Praise then the God of Truth, Hoary age, and ruddy youth. Long may our rally be Love, Light, and Liberty; Ever our banner the banner of Peace.”
4. Richard Wright (1908-1960)
Richard Nathaniel Wright was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet. With his gifted talent, he wrote about the social injustice of African Americans, especially in the period between the 19th to mid 20th century. Some of his most amazing works include, “Native Son”, “12 Million Black Voices”, “Lawd Today “, “Black Power”, “American Hunger”, “White Man, Listen!”, “Nightfall”, “Cuckoo” and “The Long Dream”.
Here is an excerpt from his book, “White Man, Listen!”, “Hence, there is no such thing as absolute objectivity of attitude. The most rigorously determined attitude of objectivity is, at best, relative. We are human; we are the slaves of our assumptions, of time and circumstance; we are the victims of our passions and illusions; and the most our critics can ask of us is this: Have you taken your passions, your illusions, your time, and your circumstance into account?”
His books dig deep into the daily lives of black people living with hardships in America.
5. Ralph Ellison (1914-1994)
Ralph Waldo Ellison was an exceptionally talented novelist and scholar. His novel, “Invisible Man” made him famous in the literary circle as well as in the hearts of the people. With this novel, Ellison won the National Book Award in the year 1953. Other notable works of Ellison include, “Going to the Territory”, “A Party Down at the Square”, “The Black Ball”, and “The Nation”.
Here, have a taste of his writing from “Invisible Man”,
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.” and “I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself.”
6. Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)
Achebe is one of the most important black authors everyone must read today. He was among the first ones who described the African living style and introduced the world to this colorful, vibrant and somewhat daunting culture. Achebe’s name is recognized by his most famous novel, “Things Fall Apart” which has been read all around the world. This book is considered a masterpiece when it comes to reading modern African literature.
Here, in this excerpt from this book, Achebe is masterfully describing the turbulence of human emotions through his main character, “Perhaps down in his heart, Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness.
It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw.
Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself.”
It is a must-read for a keen reader.
7. Octavia Butler (1947-2006)
Octavia Butler was an outstanding American write. She is one of the most famous authors who wrote in the science fiction category. She was the first-ever science fiction writer to have been honored with MacArthur Fellowship.
Here is a list of some of the most interesting and entertaining books by Octavia Butler; Kindred, Wild Seed: Book 1 in “The Patternist” Series, Parable of the Sower: Book #1 in the “Parable” Series, Bloodchild, Fledgling, Dawn: Book #1 in the Xenogenesis Trilogy, and Unexpected Stories. Get your hands on any of them and you’ll fall in love with her amazing writing style and storytelling right away.
I would love to share some of the most beautiful quotes from her book, “Kindred”,
? “That educated didn’t mean smart. He had a point. Nothing in my education or knowledge of the future had helped me to escape. Yet in a few years, an illiterate runaway named Harriet Tubman would make nineteen trips into this country and lead three hundred fugitives to freedom.”
? “Time passed. Kevin and I became more a part of the household, familiar, accepted, accepting. That disturbed me too when I thought about it. How easily we seemed to acclimatize.”
? “in an interview, Butler has stated that the meaning of the amputation is clear enough: “I couldn’t really let her come all the way back. I couldn’t let her return to what she was, I couldn’t let her come back whole and that, I think, really symbolizes her not coming back whole. Antebellum slavery didn’t leave people quite whole.”1 Time”
Once in hands, you will surely be hitched to these books, and won’t want to keep them aside.
8. Alice Walker (1994-Date)
The whole literary world is in awe of the great work of Chinua Achebe, and among the black authors everyone must read today, it’ll be best to start with her. Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker is a short story writer, social activist, and a poetess. Some of her most appreciated works include “The Color Purple”, “The Temple of My Familiar”, “Possessing the Secret of Joy”, “The Third Life of Grange Copeland”, “You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories”, “By the Light of My Father’s Smile”, “In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women”, “The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart”, and the list goes on and on.
Here, are a few quotes from her one of the most incredible works, “The Color Purple”, “I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way…I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to… We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful…We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this if they choose.” and “People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
Her writing is so influential and mesmerizing that the reader can’t resist but dive into the magical world of the story right away. She truly is a gem of a person in every regard.
9. Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison lived an exceptionally inspirational life. She was an American essayist, novelist, college professor, and book editor. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her critically acclaimed book, “Song of Solomon”, published in 1977. She wrote her first novel, “The Bluest Eyes” in 1970 and soon became a notable figure in the literary circle. In 1987, Morrison won Pulitzer Prize for her beautiful book, “Beloved” that was published in the same year, 1987. Then, with her exceptionally massive contribution to the world of literature, Morrison was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature in the year 1993.
In addition to the above mentioned great writings, Morrison also got popular for, “Jazz”, “Tar Baby”, “Playing in the Dark”, “A Mercy”, “The Big Box”, “God Help the Child”, “Poppy or the Snake?”, and “The Lion or the Mouse”.
Morrison wrote in “Song of Solomon”, “You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you? And neither does he. You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.”
She touched human emotions and all aspects related with marvelous taste, she wrote “Perhaps that’s what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? or would you take it?” Morrison’s books are surely a must-read.
10. James Baldwin (1924-1987)
The list of black authors everyone must read today can never be completed without mentioning the name of James Baldwin. He was a novelist, essayist, activist, and poet. He explored sexual, racial, and financial distinctions in society through her deep, thought-provoking, and charismatic writing. His collection of essays called, Notes of a Native Son, published in 1955, made his mark in the society and the hearts of people. His work includes, “Another Country”, “Going to Meet the Man”, “Giovanni’s Room”, “Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone”, “Blues of Mister Charlie” and “If Beale Street Could Talk”.
Once you start reading his amazing work, you’ll keep on inspiring yourself with his other work as well. Here, I am sharing some of my favorite lines from “If Beale Street Could Talk”. “Those kids aren’t dumb. But the people who run these schools want to make sure they don’t get smart: they are teaching the kids to be slaves.”, “I guess it can’t be too often that two people can laugh and make love, too, make love because they are laughing, laugh because they’re making love. The love and the laughter come from the same place: but not many people go there” and “One of the most terrible, most mysterious things about life is that a warning can be heeded only in retrospect: too late.” Reading these lines, you’ll realize that he intricately touched minor details of everyday life with finesse and clarity.
11. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
Maya Angelou was a phenomenal American memoirist, civil rights activist, and poetess. She penned down seven autobiographies, several poetry books, plays, three books of essays, and also wrote for movies and television. She was not just a star but had a whole galaxy of her own. Following are her seven autobiographies,
i. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
ii. Gather Together in My Name
iii. Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas
iv. The Heart of a Woman
v. All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
vi. A Song Flung Up To Heaven
vii. Mom & Me & Mom
In her book, “Letter to My Daughter” she wrote, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
And here is a pretty poem from Maya Angelou for all the pretty women out there,
“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Maya Angelou was truly an inspiration in every regard. She urged children to read and read a lot. Once she said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” And you must follow this saying as well.
12. Wole Soyinka (1934- Date)
Wole Soyinka is one of the greatest and most inspirational black authors everyone must read today. Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka was born in Nigeria and with his immensely amazing writing, he became popular all around the globe. He won Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, and he is the first sub-Saharan African person to be honored with this award.
Some of his notable works include “Death and the King’s Horseman”, “The Interpreters”, “The Lion and the Jewel”, ” The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness”, and “A Dance of the Forests”. He is a realist. He said, “Well, some people say I’m pessimistic because I recognize the eternal cycle of evil. All I say is, look at the history of mankind right up to this moment and what do you find?” and at another place, he said, “Well, I think the Yoruba gods are truthful. Truthful in the sense that I consider religion and the construct of deities simply an extension of human qualities taken, if you like, to the nth degree. I mistrust gods who become so separated from humanity that enormous crimes can be committed in their names. I prefer gods who can be brought down to earth and judged if you like.”
He is a living legend, and we all must drink from his well of wisdom through his work.
There you have it. The list can certainly go on and on. However, we are pretty sure that you must have enjoyed reading about these black authors everyone must read today and you must be feeling inspired and enthusiastic to have your hands on the brilliant works of these great authors. Do share your favorite black author from the past and the present down below. And, of course, don’t forget to tell you about these names with your family and friends. In today’s times of divisiveness, we need love, kindness, and inclusivity more than ever.