20 Books to Honor and Celebrate Black History Month

updated Feb 13, 2021
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Books on a red background: The Vanishing Half, Black Futures, and Four Hundred Souls
Credit: Amazon

While there are many ways to celebrate Black History Month, one of the best is through literature. Alongside music, film, and television, literature is one of the most powerful mediums around, granting you the opportunity to thoroughly explore a culture via its rich stories told by powerful voices. The works of Black authors are key to understanding the Black experience, both in its most brutal and beautiful moments. In honor of Black History Month, we compiled a list of books by Black authors worthy of a spot on your reading list, not only this month, but any time of the year. From beloved voices like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou to rising star novelists like Brit Bennett and Yaa Gyasi, there’s something for everyone on this list — even your little one! Below, check out 20 books that’ll have you celebrating the Black experience through the power of words all year long.

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Chronicling the decades-long migration of six million Black Americans who fled the South in search of a better life, "The Warmth of Other Suns" is both a classic immigration story and a unique tale, encompassing the stories of those seeking refuge both from and in their own country.

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An essential read if ever there was one, Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is the legendary writer and activist's searing childhood memoir (the first in a seven-book series Angelou published about her own life). It serves as both a gut punch of reality and a work of inspiration that feeds any soul longing to be free.

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It was hard not to be moved by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman's poem at this year's inauguration, reminding the world of the power poetry holds. So what better way to celebrate Black History Month than by immersing yourself in the words of the Shakespeare of Harlem himself, Langston Hughes, in this definitive collection of one of the Harlem Renaissance's greatest voices?

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What does it mean to be Black and alive right now? Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham set out to answer this question in this collection of works — featuring an array of images, photos, essays, memes, dialogues, recipes, tweets, poetry, and more — by some of today's most imaginative Black creators.

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Released just days before her death in January, Cicely Tyson's long-awaited memoir is nothing short of a gift. Touching on every aspect of the groundbreaking actress's long and extraordinary life and career, it's a moving read that's quite clearly written from the perspective of someone who, through both the good and the bad, was blessed with a life well lived.

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Ask most readers about the book they devoured the quickest in 2020, and you'll find many people have the same answer: Brit Bennett's "The Vanishing Half." The bestselling novel shares the story of the identical Vignes sisters, their upbringing, and the vastly different paths each one takes in adulthood. Tackling the American history of "passing," this book is also an examination of the lasting influence of the past to shape one's future.

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Those looking for an educational read this Black History Month will find what they're looking for in "Four Hundred Souls." Breaking down the 400-year journey of African Americans (from 1619 to the present), this is a “community” history book featuring over 90 brilliant contributing writers exploring the journey of the African American experience through essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and fiery polemics.

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An essential read for every American, President Barack Obama's highly anticipated memoir, "A Promised Land," was one of the biggest books of last year. The 768-page bestseller offers an illuminating look into both his personal and professional journey to the White House.

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Yaa Gyasi's "Homegoing" tells the story of half-sisters Effia and Esi, who are born in two different villages in 18th-century Ghana. While one marries a British slaver, another is sold into slavery and shipped to America. The ensuing tale follows each sister's generational line, from the Gold Coast to Jazz Age Harlem, illuminating slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed.

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America's musical soul has long been shaped by the Black American experience. In "The Meaning of Soul," Emily J. Lordi explores American soul music (particularly that of the 1960s), examining the complex heart of the movement as well as the leading role women played in it.

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Get your kids in on the fun this Black History Month with Matthew A. Cherry's "Hair Love." Highlighting the special bond between father and daughter, this tender story is an ode to loving your natural hair — as well as the basis of the 2019 Oscar-winning short film of the same name.

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Winner of the 2015 National Book Award for non-fiction, this book (written as an open letter from father to son) movingly dissects the complexities of the 21st-century Black American experience, where one can find themselves working to break barriers as well as cycles of generational trauma in the pursuit of happiness.

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In her stunning debut "The Bluest Eye," the late Toni Morrison brilliantly weaves a tale of the intersecting struggles of growing up as a Black girl in America through the eyes of 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Tackling issues of beauty, race, colorism, sexism, and classism, this moving yet tragic story will awaken you in only the way Morrison's words can.

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When Ifemelu and Obinze depart military-ruled Nigeria for New York and London, respectively, readers are left to see how these protagonists deal with their uprooted lives. While tackling themes like race, the promise of the American dream, and living life as an undocumented citizen, at the heart of this book is a story about love and the distances we will go for the people we care about.

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From the heart and mind of rapper and activist Sister Souljah comes "No Disrespect." This candid autobiography is broken down into chapters, each devoted to someone who made a difference in her life — whether positive or negative. Serving as a pseudo-survival manual for African American women determined to keep their hearts and integrity intact, this book is frank about the Black American experience regarding everything from familial and romantic relationships to gender constructs and the ever-potent power of race.

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Tackling the intersection of race, fame, and food, Kwame Onwuachi's inspirational memoir is a culinary coming-of-age story examing the highs and lows of being a person of color making their way in the food world. It's an honest account of chasing your dreams — even when they don’t turn out as you expected.

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Adapted into a 2018 film, this novel tells a story that's all too familiar: the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager. After Starr Carter witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend, she's thrust into chaos when the story becomes national news, and she must decide whether or not she wants to become the face of a movement for justice.

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This biography of the iconic journalist, suffragist, and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells comes from none other than her great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster. Exploring everything from her humble beginnings to her anti-lynching crusade and the co-founding of the NAACP, this book is a moving remembrance of a transformational leader and a pioneering woman who was steadfast in her commitment to her community.

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In this fun reimagining of "Pride and Prejudice," Ibi Zoboi brings us to modern-day Brooklyn, where the tale of love and romance we know is balanced against clashes of cultural identity, class, and gentrification. It's a book that's hard to put down.

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A stunning coming-of-age memoir about a young, gay Black man from the South and his fight to find his place in a world that is at odds with every facet of his being, "How We Fight for Our Lives" is Saeed Jones' hauntingly honest testimony. It examines some of the most impactful dichotomies of life, including race and queerness, power and vulnerability, and love and grief.