In honor of Black History Month and to celebrate the quality and diversity of black literature, we have selected a variety of contemporary black authors we hope you enjoy. These authors are redefining black literature with their view of the world and the rich history they bring to their work. Their contributions to literature as a whole are immense and impactful. Some authors here are well known such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Americanah, and Ishmael Beah for his memoir A Long Way Gone which describes his childhood as a soldier in Sierra Leone. Others here are emerging as great storytellers like authors, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Dinaw Mengestu—both are longlisted for the 2015 Folio Prize.
A new wave of talented black authors is on the rise. With positive immigration changes around the world and especially in African nations, superb, international writing is surfacing. Regardless of where these authors are from, their work is about being a member of the world.
Although we did not include classics on this list, if you’re interested in digging up the greats, reach for James McBride’s timeless contribution, The Color of Water. And of course, this will be the first year Maya Angelou is not actively involved in Black History Month celebrations; however, the 36 books she published in her lifetime are each worth reading as they tell the story of her rich past.
Thank you for considering our list. We hope you enjoy it. Tell us what you think about this year’s selections in the comments below.
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor was named “Woman of the Year” in 2004 by Kenya’s Eve Magazine and won the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing. Previously writing short-stories, the Kenyan author published her first novel, Dust, in 2014.
The novelist and poet often uses lyrical language and a playful tone when writing about the lives of African Americans in his work. His latest novel, Song of the Shank, tells the symbolic story of a nineteenth century slave and musician.
The tenured professor in NYU’s Creative Writing Program had her first novel, White Teeth, featured on Time’s 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 list in 2006. She has been an editor and author of both fiction and non-fiction, with her latest novel, NW, published in 2012.
Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American author and photographer who loves to travel. His latest book, Every Day Is for the Thief, was previously published in Nigeria and came out this year in the United States. His novels include real memories, as well as illustrations to illuminate the experiences.
The Nigerian novelist and short story writer has published five books including Americanah, which was selected as one of The Best 10 Books of 2013 by the New York Times. Her TEDx talk “We should all be feminists” in 2012 received much attention, with part of it being used in Beyoncé’s song “Flawless”.
The impressive London-born author’s first novel, Ghana Must Go, was named one of The Wall Street Journal’s 10 Best Books of 2013. Additionally, Toni Morrison gave Selasi a one-year deadline in 2006 to come up with a short-story—which she met with “The Sex Lives of African Girls.”
Roxane Gay published two of her three books this past summer, creating her prominent place amongst contemporary writers. Her novel, An Untamed State, tells the narrator’s story of being kidnapped for 13 days.
Ishmael Beah became known for his memoir, A Long Way Gone, which detailed his youth in Sierra Leone as a child soldier. His first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow was released last year and describes the homecoming of two people in Sierra Leone’s Imperi village after a brutal civil war.
Although not new to the writing scene, Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming this year. The author has also written numerous other children’s and young adult books.
In his third novel, All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu explores the relationship between a foreign exchange student from Ethiopia and the social worker assigned to his case. Although the book may seem like it’s about an immigrant on the surface, it’s much more about finding yourself and how much of that is affected by where you come from.