African-American women have always been major contributors to literature in the United States, yet often their stories are overlooked or undervalued.
However, there is an ever-growing lineup of talented black female authors who are reclaiming their space and making waves.
From the earliest days of African-American literature to now, these writers have created powerful works that explore topics such as race, family dynamics, motherhood, freedom and relationships – and their stories are just as important and worthy of being heard as any other.
In this article we celebrate the inspiring work of some of the greatest black female authors in America – from Toni Morrison to Zora Neale Hurston – who have impacted literary history with their captivating stories and enduring messages.
Contemporary Black Female Authors
Brit Bennettis an American novelist.
She is best known for her debut novel, The Mothers, which was published in 2016.
Bennett was born and raised in Southern California, the daughter of African-American parents.
She attended Stanford University, where she studied English and creative writing.
After graduation, she worked as a magazine editor in New York City.
Bennett’s debut novel, The Mothers, was published in 2016.
The book tells the story of a group of teenage girls in a small town in California who become friends with a boy who has recently committed suicide. The book was widely praised by critics and was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Bennett’s second novel, The Vanishing Half, was published in 2020.
The book tells the story of twin sisters who run away from home in the 1950s and live very different lives. One sister passes for white and the other remains black.
The book was a New York Times bestseller and was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Time magazine.
Bennett has also written essays and articles for publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Jezebel.
Kacen Callender is a queer black author who writes about race, gender, and sexuality.
Kacen Callender is an author of young adult, fantasy, and science fiction novels. He is best known for his 2017 novel This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction.
Callender was born in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and raised in New York City.
They graduated from The High School of Fashion Industries in 2006 and studied screenwriting at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Callender’s debut novel, Hurricane Child, was published in 2018 and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Callender is also the author of the middle grade novel Felix Ever After, which was published in 2020 and won the Stonewall Book Award.
Callender has said that they write “to see more queer black people in stories, living their best lives.”
The Gilded Ones is the first book in the Deathless series by Namina Forna.
It tells the story of Deka, a sixteen-year-old girl who is chosen to join the elite group of warriors known as the Gilded Ones.
The Gilded Ones are an elite group of warriors who are sworn to protect the kingdom of Orisha. They are incredibly skilled in combat and possess magical powers that make them nearly invincible.
Deka is distrustful of the Gilded Ones at first, but she soon comes to respect and admire them. She quickly realizes that they are the only ones who can protect Orisha from the coming war.
The Gilded Ones is an epic fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist. It is perfect for readers who enjoy stories about magic, adventure, and courage.
Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American novelist and creative writer.
She was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Nigerian parents, and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Adeyemi graduated from Harvard University with a degree in English Literature.
After working as an assistant editor at a publishing company, she became a youth development specialist.
In 2016, she published her debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in a planned trilogy. The novel was inspired by West African mythology and won several awards, including the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel.
Adeyemi’s writing focuses on stories about young people of color who are coming into their own power.
She has said that she wants her work to be an “antidote” to the stories that tell young people of color that they are not enough.
Jesmyn Ward was born in DeLisle, Mississippi, in 1977.
She left the state to study in Stanford University, and then decided to go back to Mississippi where she still resides today.
Her works focuses on the struggles of being black and poor in the south.
Growing up, her mother worked as a maid and her father was a shipyard worker.
Jesmyn attended public schools in DeLisle and then went on to study at Stanford University.
After college, she returned to Mississippi and began working as a journalist.
In 2010, she published her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds, which tells the story of two brothers growing up in rural Mississippi.
In 2013, Jesmyn published her second novel, Salvage the Bones, which tells the story of a family in rural Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina. The novel won the National Book Award.
In 2017, Jesmyn published her third novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, which tells the story of a family in rural Mississippi struggling with addiction and poverty. The novel won the National Book Award.
Her novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is also the author of the memoir Men We Reaped, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Jesmyn lives in DeLisle, Mississippi, with her husband and two sons.
Ashley C. Ford
Ashley C. Ford is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Brooklyn, NY.
Ashley’s work has been featured in ELLE, Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, VICE, and more.
She is the host of the podcast “Into the Mix” and the author of the memoir “Somebody’s Daughter.”
With vulnerability and humor, Ford explores topics like race, religion, sexuality, and body image, giving readers a glimpse into her complicated relationship with herself and the world around her.
She also opens up about the pain of growing up with an incarcerated father, and how that has shaped her view of relationships and family.
In Somebody’s Daughter, Ashley C. Ford offers a powerful and personal look at what it means to be a young Black woman in America today.
With candor and insight, she shows us that despite the challenges we face, we are all somebody’s daughter – and we are all worthy of love and respect.
See More: Amazing Black Women in History
Growing up, Ashley didn’t know much about her father.
Incarcerated, he was always in and out of her life, and when he was around, he was often angry and distant.
But as she got older, Ashley started to piece together who her father really was—and why he was the way he was.
Somebody’s Daughter is a moving and candid exploration of the complicated dynamics of family, race, and identity, and the impact that mass incarceration has on black families.
It’s a story about coming to terms with the past, and learning to forgive—both others and yourself.
Ford is a powerful voice for change, and her work focuses on topics like race, feminism, and social justice.
She identifies as bisexual, and is currently married to author Kelly Glen Stacy.
Tayari Jones is an acclaimed American fiction writer and professor of English at Emory University.
She was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and received her B.A. from Spelman College before going on to get her MFA from Rutgers University-Newark.
Jones is the author of four novels which are critically acclaimed for their exploration of topics such as race, family dynamics, motherhood, freedom and relationships.
Her debut novel Leaving Atlanta (2003) won the 2003 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the 2002 Southern Book Critics Circle Prize.
Her recent novel An American Marriage (2018) won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction among and was also an Oprah’s Book Club Book Of The Month.
Jones has been awarded fellowships from many organizations including United States Artists, The Lannan Foundation and The National Endowment For The Arts.
She serves as a board member at both MacDowell Colony and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.
Tayari Jones’ thoughtful writing has made her one of the best female black writers working today.
Classic Black Female Authors To Read in 2022 – If You Haven’t Read Them Already [Shame on you]
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was an African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist and anthropologist known for her contributions to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
She was born in Notasulga, Alabama in 1891 and raised in Eatonville, Florida – one of the first self-governed all-black towns in the nation.
Hurston’s writing focuses heavily on African-American culture with themes surrounding race, identity and belonging.
Her most famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) tells a powerful story of female autonomy and empowerment – one which has since become iconic.
Other works include her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road (1942) and two books about southern folklore – Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti & Jamaica (1938).
Hurston had a remarkable impact on the literary world of her time despite facing criticism from many peers. She died in 1960 at age 69.
Since then she has earned great respect as one of America’s most important black female authors – with literature that continues to inspire readers today.
Maya was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4th, 1928.
She was a poet, author, historian, playwright, songwriter, dancer, stage and screen producer, performer, director, singer, and civil-rights activist.
Maya was known for her seven biographical novels
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Random House, 1969)
- Gather Together in My Name (Random House, 1974)
- Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas (Random House, 1976)
- The Heart of a Woman (Random House, 1981)
- All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes (Random House, 1986)
- Letter to My Daughter (Random House, 2008), and Mom & Me & Mom (Random House, 2013).
- The Complete Collected of Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House, 1994),
- Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now (Random House, 1993),
- I Shall Not be Moved (Random House, 1990)
- Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Die (Random House, 1971), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
In addition, she wrote many volumes of poetry.
In 1959, Maya was a northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).
From 1961-1962, she was an associate editor for The Arab Observer in Cairo, Egypt, which was the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East.
In addition, she was feature editor for the African Review in Accra, Ghana from 1964-1966.
Maya returned to the United States in 1974, appointed by Gerald Ford to the Bicentennial Commission and later by Jimmy Carter to the Commission for International Woman of the Year.
In 2000, Maya received the National Medal of Arts.
In 2010 she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
Maya died on May 28, 2014, in North Carolina, where she had served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University since 1982.
She was eighty-six years old.
Roxane is an American author, editor, professor, and social commentator.
She is the author of The New York Times best-selling essay collection Bad Feminist (2014). Additionally, Gay wrote:
- A short-story collection entitled Ayiti (2011)
- A novel called The Untamed State (2014)
- A short story collection entitled Difficult Women (2017),
- A memoir called Hunger (2017).
Roxane was an assistant professor at Eastern Illinois University as well as an associate professor at Perdue University.
In 2018, she left Perdue University to become a visiting professor at Yale University.
Roxane is a contributing opinion writer at The New York Times, founder of Tiny Hardcore Press, essays editor for The Rumpus, co-editor of PANK (a non-profit literary arts collective), and the editor for Gay Mag (founded in partnership with Medium).
Toni Morrison was born Chloe Wofford in 1931. She was born in a small town in Ohio, called Lorain.
Toni was the second of four children, born into a black working-class family. She displayed an early interest in literature and writing.
Toni attended Howard and Cornell Universities, studying Humanities.
After graduation, she began an academic career at Texas Southern University, Howard University, and Yale.
In 1989, she became a chair at Princeton University.
She has worked as an editor at Random House publishing, has given numerous public lectures, as well as specializes in African-American literature.
She debuted her first novel in 1970, titled The Bluest Eye.
This publication soon gained the attention of critics as well as a wider audience. Toni’s works were characterized by her epic power, ear for dialogue, as well as her poetically charged and expressive depictions of Black America.
Since 1981, she was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In addition, Toni has been awarded a number of literary distinctions, such as the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.
Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for her novel Beloved.
Beloved is a novel about a woman named Sethe, who was a slave in America.
The novel tells the story of Sethe’s life after she escapes from slavery and how she tries to find her way back to her family.
The novel is set in the time of the American Civil War and Reconstruction.
Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.
She was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Toni Morrison died on Monday, August 5th, at the age of 88 from pneumonia.
Morrison was one of the most celebrated and respected authors of our time. S
Her novels are known for their honest exploration of the black experience in America, and she is considered one of the most important voices in contemporary literature.
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