There has been a “significant effort made to diversify” the books read in schools since the 1960s, according to Joanne Hyppolite, a supervisory curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. However, she said, “selections were focused almost solely on well-known authors” — which meant some students didn’t get to read works from lesser-known Black writers in school.
“Diversifying what we read, what we watch, where we eat and where we shop can save us from ignorance.”
- Abbigail Glen, owner of Shelves Bookstore in Charlotte, North Carolina
“Diversifying what we read, what we watch, where we eat and where we shop can save us from ignorance,” Abbigail Glen, owner of Shelves Bookstore, told HuffPost Finds. “That’s why I encourage my customers to become comfortable with being uncomfortable because growth can’t happen in your comfort zone.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to diversify your reading list?” she said.
We wanted to find recommendations for both old and new classics by Black authors that everyone should have on their bookshelves. We asked Hyppolite, Glen and the literary experts at Goodreads for their takes on the books we should be bookmarking right now.
As always, you should first check to see if your local independent bookstore has these titles in stock and support Black-owned bookstores in your neighborhood and nationwide.
Here are the 16 books our experts recommended:
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead
"The Underground Railroad" is one of Goodreads' most popular “new classics" byBlack authors.
Cybil Wallace, senior editor at Goodreads, said it's a "Pulitzer Prize-winning dark and nightmarish reimagination of the underground railroad."
Jesmyn Ward was one of the authors Glen recommended. Her novel "Sing, Unburied, Sing" is one of Goodreads' most popular books right now. Wallace described it as "beautiful and haunting story of a family coming undone."
Edwidge Danticat is one of Hyppolite's favorite contemporary writers — and she especially recommends "Brother, I'm Dying," an autobiography about leaving Haiti for New York City. Find it on Amazon.
"Plum Bun: A Novel Without A Moral" by Jessie Redmon Fauset
"Plum Bun: A Novel Without A Moral" is one of the older classics that's been popular with Goodreads members. The novel tells the story of Angela Murray, who decides to pass for white and move to New York City.
"Flyy Girl" is one of Glen's recommendations. She first read it when she was in the eighth grade, when she otherwise saw a lot of "chapter books written by white authors."
"And although I enjoyed those stories, it's nothing like being able to see yourself in a story," she said. Find it on Amazon.
"Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi
"Homegoing" was on Glen's list of recommendations and is popular right now among Goodreads members. The novel follows two sisters — one who is sold into slavery, and another who marries an Englishman — and the generations that come after them.
"While science fiction fans already know and love the groundbreaking work of Octavia Butler, she should be a household name for all book lovers," Wallace said. This book is among the most popular older classics on Goodreads.
"The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears" by Dinaw Mengestu
Hyppolite's a fan of Dinaw Mengestu. "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears" is a novel that tells the story of Sepha Stephanos, who fled Ethiopia after the country's revolution and now finds himself running a grocery store in D.C.