Racial division in the United States is at an all time high, and it is seemingly becoming more and more difficult for people on opposite sides of the aisle to understand each other's perspectives. Literature is such an easy way to learn about someone else's life, and black literature is rich with descriptions of what it is really like to exist as a black person in the United States. Through reading works by these widely known (and not as widely known) black writers, we can all begin the process of opening our minds to things we will most likely never experience ourselves.
This short list does not even begin to encompass all that falls under the umbrella of black literature, but it does contain many of my favorite black writers, and it might be a good place to start if you're just beginning to educate yourself.
1. Maya Angelou
While she is a very well-known black writer, not all of her works, and in particular her poems, garner the appreciation they deserve. Her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is widely known and loved for good reason, but her poems "Still I Rise", "Phenomenal Woman", and "Kin" are some of my favorites by her, and they are all incredibly relevant.
2. Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde is one of my favorite black poets. While she isn't widely known outside of the literary community, her work is powerful and thought-provoking. Her poem "Power" is one of my all-time favorite poems.
3. August Wilson
August Wilson wrote a series of plays about different aspects of black life. Arguably the most famous (and my personal favorite) is his 1985 play Fences. This particular play was also adapted into a film starring Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in 2016.
4. Amiri Baraka
Amiri Baraka was the founder of the Black Arts Movement and was a well-known writer and political activist during his lifetime. His poems, although often described as polarizing, are incredibly powerful, not to mention well written. Some of my favorites include "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note" and "Short Speech to My Friends."
5. Alice Walker
Alice Walker is also a fairly well-known black writer. You may have even read her novel The Color Purple at some point during high school or college. However, I think it is also beneficial to examine some of her shorter works, such as her short story "Everyday Use".
6. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is one of my all-time favorite writers. She wrote extensively on growing up as a black woman, and her works are timeless and disturbingly relevant. Toni Morrison doesn't sugarcoat anything in her writing. My favorite novel of hers is The Bluest Eye.
7. Ernest Gaines
Ernest Gaines is another black writer that isn't often discussed outside of the literary context. However, his works and in particular his subtle use of metaphor are worth the read. My favorite piece of his is a novel called The Sky is Gray.
8. Zora Neale Hurston
Similar to Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston was well-known for her depictions of life as a black woman in the United States. While her most famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is fantastic and worth the read, her short story "Sweat" is my favorite of her writings.
9. Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry is recognized as the first black woman to ever have a play produced on broadway, and there is no question as to why her most famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, is a powerful illustration of systemic racism and housing discrimination, amongst other issues the black community faces on a daily basis.
10. Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison is another black writer you may have never heard much about before, but his novel Invisible Man is more than worth the read.
11. James Baldwin
James Baldwin's writing is also focused pretty heavily on illustrating how and why systemic racism exists, and his short story Sonny's Blues is a powerful example of this.
12. Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes is without a doubt one of my favorite writers. All of his poetry is worth taking a look at, but his poems "I, Too," "Harlem," and "Freedom" are incredibly powerful and relevant to what is happening in the United States today.