There’s a romanticized ideal that somehow the publishing world is above concepts of institutional racism/prejudice. Sadly, that’s not true. Rather than being judged by the basis of their writing many authors find their world being classified based on the color of their skin, their gender, or their orientation. The effect is that outstanding authors who should be a part of the mainstream are pigeonholed into a single category with a niche of readers. Let us begin breaking those stereotypes down. Here we’ve assembled 5 Black Authors whose works vary across category and prove that the basis of one’s skin color does not preordain the category of a writer’s work.
1. James McBride
Need to Read: The Good Lord Bird
The Good Lord Bird is a fictitious tale of the very real abolitionist John Brown, centered around a kidnapped boy-slave mistaken for a girl and all but forced to join the Brown’s army. McBride’s work has been received praise from numerous sources for its comedic historical reconstruction. This particular slave-narrative crosses lines into gender, mixed race slaves, white “hero” complexes, and gives readers a snapshot of life just before the Civil War.
2. Roxane Gay
Need to Read: Difficult Women
Roxane Gay is a New York Times Bestselling author and essayist. Her former works—Hunger and Bad Feminist in particular—have earned high praise among women’s rights activists and feminist studies experts. In Difficult Women she provides a collection of short stories from remarkable women trying to survive in modern America. From female fight clubs to a wife who struggles with the knowledge that the twin she’s married to continually switches places with his brother, Difficult Women is, at it’s core, a collection of stories about the dignity and power of women across the nation. Be ready to cry as often as you laugh.
3. Ta-Nehisi Coates
Need to Read: Between the World and Me
Most of us have received letters from our parents but very few of us can boast that those letters were published as bestsellers. That’s what longtime journalist and black rights activist Ta-Nehisi Coates delivers with his book Between the World and Me. Written in the style of a letter to his son—laden with his hopes for the future, wisdom about the past, and caution for the present—Coates’s openly, and often heartbreakingly, introduces his son to a world of systemic racism, violence, and the inevitability of prejudice that black bodies receive in America today.
4. Nnedi Okorafor
Need to Read: Akata Witch
Science Fiction and Fantasy superstar Nnedi Okorafor has been pulling down the barriers between fiction genres since she came onto the scene. Nigerian born and American raised, Okorafor writes her stunning fiction with predominantly black protagonists and antagonists. Akata Witch—which is often described as the “black Harry Potter”—is an otherworldly tale of the Leopard People, and the fight of one of their youngest “free agents” to find acceptance among her newfound people.
5. Colson Whitehead
Need to Read: The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad boasts what few other books or writers can: the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Heartland Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Hurtson/Wright Fiction Award. This powerful book takes us on the journey of a runaway slave as she rides a subterranean locomotive from station-to-station, dodging danger-after-danger, in the hopes of escaping to the north where freedom waits for her. Whitehead’s writing is crisp and gripping, and his characters are dangerously engaging. Be prepared to believe that a real railroad existed for the power to bend reality resides within the pages of The Underground Railroad.