Books: 50 Indispensable African-American Novels

Books: 50 Indispensable African-American Novels

One of the things I need to do is read more books by black authors. Truth be told, I’ve typically come across most black writers’ works through either assigned classroom coursework or a quick perusal of who shows up on bestseller lists. I know, I know, I’ve got to do better.

"I'm just sayin' ... do better ..."

"I'm just sayin' ... do better ..."

Fortunately, Kaplan University’s Accredited Online Colleges blog has put together a rather comprehensive list of what they feel are the 50 indeispensable African-American novels. They state in their article:

The ones listed here were picked based on general consensus, an eye for genre diversity and a desire to make sure some highly important reads don’t entirely flounder in obscurity … taking offense to any exclusions or inclusions isn’t really going change much of anything. Just try to have fun and not think too hard about how a specific author or book received no recognition. It doesn’t mean they have nothing to say, just that there wasn’t enough space to mention everyone.

The list is arranged chronologically, from 1845 right up to the present day, and includes the usual names (such as Frederick Douglass, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, and Colson Whitehead) as well as a few who may have slipped under the radar (like Ann Petry, Tananarive Due, David Anthony Durham, and Kalisha Buckhanon).

I’ve read a good number of the books on this list but, as I mentioned before, it’s mostly been because it was on someone’s syllabus. Not only am I to try to read (or re-read) as many of these books as possible, I’m also going to seek out some of these authors’ other works.

Check out the complete list below:

  1. NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE (1845) BY FREDERICK DOUGLASS
  2. CLOTEL: OR, THE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER (1853) BY WILLIAM WELLS BROWN
  3. OUR NIG (1859) BY HARRIET E. WILSON
  4. INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL (1861) BY HARRIET JACOBS
  5. THE MARROW OF TRADITION (1901) BY CHARLES W. CHESTNUTT
  6. THE UNCALLED (1901) BY PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
  7. UP FROM SLAVERY (1901) BY BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
  8. AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EX-COLORED MAN (1912) BY JAMES WELDON JOHNSON
  9. CANE (1923) BY JEAN TOOMER
  10. THE BLACKER THE BERRY (1929) BY WALLACE THURMAN
  11. NOT WITHOUT LAUGHTER (1930) BY LANGSTON HUGHES
  12. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (1937) BY ZORA NEALE HURSTON
  13. NATIVE SON (1940) BY RICHARD WRIGHT
  14. IF HE HOLLERS LET HIM GO (1945) BY CHESTER HIMES
  15. THE STREET (1946) BY ANN PETRY
  16. THE LIVING IS EASY (1948) BY DOROTHY WEST
  17. INVISIBLE MAN (1952) BY RALPH ELLISON
  18. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN (1953) BY JAMES BALDWIN
  19. SOUTH STREET (1954) BY WILLIAM GARDNER SMITH
  20. I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS (1969) BY MAYA ANGELOU
  21. SOUNDER (1969) BY WILLIAM H. ARMSTRONG
  22. MAMA BLACK WIDOW (1970) BY ICEBERG SLIM
  23. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MISS JANE PITTMAN (1971) BY ERNEST J. GAINES
  24. NEVER DIE ALONE (1974) BY DONALD GOINES
  25. ROOTS: THE SAGA OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY (1976) BY ALEX HALEY
  26. ENTWINED DESTINIES (1980) BY ELSIE B. WASHINGTON
  27. THE COLOR PURPLE (1982) BY ALICE WALKER
  28. BETSEY BROWN (1985) BY NTOZAKE SHANGE
  29. BELOVED (1987) BY TONI MORRISON
  30. MAMA DAY (1988) BY GLORIA NAYLOR
  31. DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1990) BY WALTER MOSLEY
  32. MIDDLE PASSAGE (1990) BY CHARLES JOHNSON
  33. BILLY (1993) BY ALBERT FRENCH
  34. IN SEARCH OF SATISFACTION (1994) BY J. CALIFORNIA COOPER
  35. THE BETWEEN (1995) BY TANANARIVE DUE
  36. COFFEE WILL MAKE YOU BLACK (1995) BY APRIL SINCLAIR
  37. THE COLOR OF LOVE (1995) BY SANDRA KITT
  38. THE CATTLE KILLING (1996) BY JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN
  39. PUSH (1996) BY SAPPHIRE
  40. AND THIS TOO SHALL PASS (1997) BY E. LYNN HARRIS
  41. FRIENDS AND LOVERS (1997) BY ERIC JEROME DICKEY
  42. PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (1998) BY OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
  43. MONSTER (1999) BY WALTER DEAN MYERS
  44. A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT (2001) BY TERRY MCMILLAN
  45. GABRIEL’S STORY (2001) BY DAVID ANTHONY DURHAM
  46. JOHN HENRY DAYS (2001) BY COLSON WHITEHEAD
  47. THE KNOWN WORLD (2003) BY EDWARD P. JONES
  48. THE UNTELLING (2005) BY TAYARI JONES
  49. UPSTATE (2006) BY KALISHA BUCKHANON
  50. INCOGNEGRO (2008) BY MAT JOHNSON AND WARREN PLEECE

What do you think of the list? Have you read any of these novels or any works by some of these authors? LMK—please share your thoughts below.

[ACO]


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