Consciously immersing ourselves in African-American literature is important for so many reasons. And celebrating Black authors by intentionally choosing their books to read and study allows for wider discourse, education, and understanding.
As progressive as our society seems, widespread systemic racism persists, which is why we want to shine a light on ways we can support underrepresented perspectives and stories in our industry. Whether it’s adding a new TBR to your book club list, discovering organizations to join, or finding authors to promote online, we hope this article can be a jumping off point.
The Importance of Celebrating Black Authors
The voices of Black storytellers have long been marginalized, especially when it comes to mainstream media and publishing outlets. Less than 15% of books published each year are from BIPOC authors, and an even smaller percentage of Black authors contribute to this statistic.
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In addition to better supporting the author community and increasing our empathy and perspective, here are two more reasons celebrating Black authors is important.
1. It expands our worldview and enhances our understanding
By diversifying our literature we expose our minds and hearts to stories and experiences that we may never come across otherwise. Reading widely and seeking underrepresented voices allows us to engage with different worldviews and histories, adding depth and richness to our lives.
For non-Black readers, learning about what it means to be Black from Black authors is especially important for beginning to do the work of breaking down stereotypes, biases, and inequality.
2. It educates us on the larger story outside of our lived experience
People who are not Black may only be somewhat aware of what it means to be Black from news coverage of protests and rallies. However, the Black experience is so much deeper and wider, which is why reading books written by Black authors is so critical to being informed and aware.
8 Black Authors to Add to Your TBR List
From non-fiction and fiction literature you’ll discover themes of joy, entertainment, relief, culture, and escapism, and much more. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
James Baldwin was an iconic American author who turned his personal battles into best-elling literature, becoming one the most celebrated authors in the world. Baldwin wrote stories about his life experiences, which included growing up during the Great Depression, being the eldest of nine children, his complex relationship with his step-father, and an identity crisis.
Ralph Ellison was born in Oklahoma and raised by a single mother who worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet. Ellison began writing The Invisible Man, which focused on a Black civil rights worker who became alienated due to the racism he faced when moving to New York. It won the National Book Award a year after being published and was an international bestseller.
Ellison’s novel still remains a key literature reference to help people understand marginalized groups in American society.
- The Invisible Man (1952)
Poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou was a pioneer for change for Black women in America. Inspired by Langston Hughes and Paul Lawerence Dunbar, Angelou used her words to talk about the strength of Black women and the need for social justice. Publishing seven autobiographies over her career, Angelou often spoke on her personal tales of trauma, racism, and finding strength within.
Angelou was recognised by many organizations nationally and internationally for her creative contributions to literature and received various awards and honorary degrees in her lifetime.
W.E.B Du Bois
Sociologist, activist, and author W.E.B Du Bois was one of the most well-known and influential authors in the 20th century. As someone who grew up as part of the Black elite, he didn’t notice the issues of racial injustice until he attended university in Tennessee. His experience there inspired his work to put an end to racism.
- The Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Focusing on telling the struggles of African Americans and their experiences throughout time, Alex Haley broke into the industry with a job at a well-known magazine company. He produced a series of interviews with prominent African Americans, which allowed him to meet Malcolm X and write his story.
Haley’s bestselling novel Roots depicts his ancestors’ journey to freedom from slavery. His novel became a global sensation when it was turned into a television series.
Zora Neale Hurston
During the Harlem Renaissance in 1925, Zora Neale Hurston made her way to New York where she would become a prominent Black female writer. Her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, focused on the traditions and culture of African Americans through poetry.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
Storytelling through folktales and literature was a big part of Toni Morrison’s childhood and, after teaching at Texas Southern University, she became a fiction editor and author.
Morrison’s first book, The Bluest Eye, told the tale of a young Black girl longing to have blue eyes. Her stories center around the Black American experience in an unjust society.
- The Bluest Eye (1970)
Famously known for her creative production of Grey’s Anatomy and Princess Diaries 2, Rhimes has released her fair share of books over the years, including her powerful memoir Years of Yes and bestselling novel, Queen Charlotte.
Rhimes is notable for her television screenwriting but her books have a central theme of uplifting the Black community and shining light on stories that often fade into the background.
Organizations and Grants Supporting and Celebrating Black Authors
There’s an array of organizations and grants that work to support upcoming Black authors in the writing and publishing industry. It’s an opportunity for new talent to explore their options and receive guidance along the way!
BWOC Literary Support Program
The BWOC’s support program offers stipends for writers to be used in contests, retreats, fellowships and writing supply expenses. Applications are ongoing and will be reviewed every three weeks. Applicants must be US-based. Find details and guidelines here.
The Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Award
This award is an annual grant of $2,000 for an upcoming writer of color. By writing a powerful crime fiction piece, applicants can win an opportunity to enhance their literary skills and develop their careers. Find more information by visiting their website.
Teaching Fellowship for Black Writers
GrubStreet’s Teaching Fellowship for Black Writers provides professional support to two Black writers each year by giving them the chance to work with instructors and teach classes. The fellowship gives a compensation of $25,000, an artistic mentorship and access to their writer’s community. Learn more and read the guidelines here.
Earnest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
For Black writers based in the US, this is an amazing chance to accomplish professional development and put them ahead in the industry. This grant is designed to help minority ethnic groups level in their creative field once they submit a piece of work to the organization. You can find more information by visiting their website here.
Sustainable Arts Foundation
The Sustainable Arts Foundation offers $5,000 to writers with children. Fifty percent of all applicants who are awarded the grants are Black writers and the grant focuses on young adult fiction stories, illustrated children’s books, creative nonfiction, graphic novels, and poetry. All requirements are stated on their website here.
Summary | Celebrating Black Authors
Literature by Black authors tackles the complex issues faced by the community and helps to spread awareness on what’s happening in the world around us. There’s still a long way to go when it comes to elevating the Black experience but by purchasing and reading books written by Black authors and supporting programs that give aid and guidance to emerging talent, we can play a part in bringing about change.