7 Black Female Authors & the Books They Penned
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When it comes to books written by black female authors, the stories are as diverse as the women who write them.
Some are funny, some poignant, but unfailingly, the black female authors behind them tell memorable stories that often don’t get the press they deserve.
This is an excellent time to get to know them better. We’ve put together a list of our favorite black female authors to help you discover your new favorite book.
Katie Dowe is a black female author who writes BWWM romances. She is the number one best-selling author for her genre.
BWWM are interracial romances featuring black women and white men in the leading roles. Dowe writes extensively in the romance genre. One of her most celebrated series is the 50-book collection Members for Money. The popularity of the series was tremendous, and Dowe subsequently published an additional 72 books under the heading Members for Money: Season 2.
While some of the later Members for Money books are collaborations between Dowe and fellow BWWM Writers’ Club members, many are attributed to Dowe.
Here are some of her best-loved books.
Lionel: Members for Money Season 2
The latest in Dowe’s Members for Money series, Lionel, tells the story of millionaire Lionel McDermott and Tami Cohen.
Lionel is careening for disaster in his car when Tammi Cohen steps in and saves him. Lionel sees her as a guardian angel and sets out to know her better. But Tammi worries she is a novelty, and the romance won’t last.
Lionel features Dowe’s signature tense teasing romantic writing. It’s also rife with her famous adults-only sex scenes.
Their Convenient Baby Plan
Another Katie Dowe romance, this story comes from the shorter Jessica and Joel series. In The Convenient Baby Plan, Jessica, a high-powered career woman, wants a baby but lacks time to search for the right person.
Prospective client Joel sympathizes. He also wants a child but hasn’t met the right person. And he finds Jessica’s classical beauty appealing. So, Joel makes Jessica a deal. They will create and co-parent a child, no strings attached.
Unfortunately, babies often come with strings. And the farther Jessica and Joel take the charade of the convenient pregnancy, the blurrier the line between business and pleasure becomes.
Big, Mature, and Still Got It
Big, Mature, and Still Got It stands out from other novels in Dowe’s oeuvre in that it tells its love story in reverse. The trilogy opens years in the future, at which point, lead couple Paul and Alexann have enjoyed 18 years of marriage.
When the novel starts, the couple has two grown children whose lives are just beginning.
But conflict is the mechanism of all good stories, and Dowe knows this. So, as the narrative unfolds, Paul and Alexann must face an increasing number of challenges. They’ve never backed down before, and they don’t plan to now.
The couple will need the wisdom and love of a life shared as they grapple with whether they can ever regain their former state of normalcy or accept that sometimes, change is inevitable.
It’s a frank, funny, and sometimes wry look at mature love and its foibles, complete with Dowe’s signature sex scenes. Like other Katie Dowe books, it’s a story for adults only, but one those adults will appreciate.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, An African American Writer
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian-American writer. The Times Literary Supplement celebrates her as a writer of nonfiction and fiction. In her prose, this black female author fearlessly and deftly comments on feminism and the experience of people of color in America and her native Nigeria.
Adichie began seriously considering writing after reading Chinua Achebe’s bestseller Things Fall Apart. In it, Adichie felt her life experience reflected on the page. It was a new and novel experience, and it inspired Adichie to do the same for other readers.
Adichie published her first book, a collection of poetry, in 1997 and a play the following year. She wrote and published her first short story under a pseudonym. By 2002, writing in her own name, Adichie became shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing.
Throughout her work, Adichie circles themes of cultural conflict, especially between her native Nigeria’s traditional attitudes and a more western outlook.
Published in 2013, Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who sets out for American university with her young love, Obinze.
The pair are quickly separated when Ifemelu successfully enters America, and Obinze must settle for the dark underbelly of London, England.
The book is rife with Ifemelu’s observations on what it is to be black in America, from the casual racism of the well-intentioned to the nuances between the African-American community and non-African-but-still-American-Blacks.
Adichie adds depth and insight to her novel by interspersing the narrative with excerpts from the blog Ifemelu keeps. Often funny, always moving, and sometimes poignant, Adichie uses the blog to educate readers on aspects of black culture that don’t always get voiced.
Throughout it all, Ifemelu’s love for her Nigerian home shines through, as does her affection for her new country. But when finally she returns to Nigeria, she finds that she is no more at home in Nigeria than as a journalist in America. She has become what her mother calls Americanah, too American to be Nigerian, but when in America, too Nigerian to feel truly American.
It’s a thoughtful, insightful, and exhilarating read.
Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s first novel, begins by quoting Things Fall Apart. Adichie’s first published novel, the book debuted in 2003. It’s set in post-colonial Nigeria and tells the story of Kambili Achike.
Kambili is fifteen, and in large part, the novel is a coming-of-age story. But it is also a commentary on the political challenges facing post-colonial Nigeria and the dangers of zealotry.
Kambili and her brother, Jaja, live first with their oppressively Catholic father, whose violence and control are an integral part of his religion. They later move to their more liberal-minded aunt’s home, where the family is still Catholic but encourages curiosity and independent thought.
Things reach crisis levels when the children’s mother poisons their overbearing father. Jaja takes the blame, and the ensuing upheaval sends Kambili’s aunt to America.
Despite the weighty subject matter, Purple Hibiscus is an optimistic book. Although their experiences physically and mentally defeat the adults, Kambili and her brother are not. The ending suggests there is hope for the young people to shape a brighter, better Nigerian future.
Half a Yellow Sun
Set during the Nigerian Civil War, Half a Yellow Sun came out in 2006, three years after Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus.
And while Purple Hibiscus has an optimistic ending, Half a Yellow Sun is much more ambiguous. It follows young Ugwu, who is 13 when the war breaks out and spends the time working as a houseboy for Odenigbo.
It also features several other perspectives, including that of Odenigbo’s girlfriend Olanna and a man named Richard later in the novel.
It’s a dense, thoughtful read that wrestles with various themes, including:
- Post-colonial Nigerian politics
- Western vs. Nigerian culture and journalism
In 2007, Half a Yellow Sun won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. But although successful in papers like The Seattle Times, its reception by other publications was more mixed.
That didn’t stop the novel from being adapted to film by Biyi Bendele and debuted at the Toronto Independent Film Festival.
Jacqueline Woodson, A Black Female Writer
Jacqueline Woodson is a diverse black female author whose writing spans several genres. These include:
- Adult fiction
- Middle-Grade books
- Picture books
Woodson describes writing from a young age. She wrote anywhere and everywhere and was surprised but delighted when a class story-writing assignment garnered praise from her fifth-grade teacher.
Others agree, and since then, Woodson has won an incredible number of awards for her work, the most recent being:
- 2020 McArthur Genius Award
- The Hans Christian Andersen Award
- The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (Alma)
Growing up, Woodson regularly traveled between South Carolina and New York. Little wonder
Woodson is a profoundly optimistic writer, and despite the sometimes uncomfortable themes, her books possess a hopefulness that appeals to readers. Optimism notwithstanding, Woodson finds her books’ themes lend them to censorship.
However, she uses curse words minimally and is a believer in the power of literature to encourage critical thinking, especially in young readers.
Red at the Bone
In Red at the Bone, black female author Jacqueline Woodson tackles:
The book, published in 2019, tells the story of two New York families that become irrevocably linked when their children’s romantic entanglement results in teenage pregnancy.
The lyrical narrative prose spans three generations. As the story skips forwards and backward in time, Woodson grapples with the choices people make, sometimes without realizing they have made them, and the ramifications those choices have for the people around them.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award in 2014.
Brown Girl Dreaming is Woodson’s memoir of a childhood divided between New York and South Carolina. It received favorable press from Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, and The NPR Morning Edition.
Set during the Civil Rights Movement, the coming-of-age narrative that readers of all ages can appreciate. Woodson describes Brown Girl Dreaming as a memoir in free verse. It’s part poetry, part love letter to the girl who dreamed of writing and the woman who raised her.
In addition to the National Book Award, Brown Girl Dreaming collected several other awards, among them:
- NAACP Image Award Winner for Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens
- Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner
- Newbery Honor Winner
Woodson’s varied career has earned her acclaim as a writer of children’s literature and poetry. With Another Brooklyn, she published her adult novel in 20 years. Published in 2016, Another Brooklyn is a story about love and loss.
The anthropologist protagonist grapples with the loss of her mother and close friend. Accordingly, the narrative flashes between the immediate present and the 1970s, as it paints a nostalgic picture of childhood friendships.
But there’s more to love and friendship, and even to New York, than the surface of these memories suggests. Another Brooklyn also shines lights into the darker corners of society, one where people lurk in unlit corridors, ghosts are rife, and mothers vanish without a trace.
Favorable reviews included:
- The Washington Post
- Publisher’s Weekly
- New York Times
The Los Angeles Times compared Another Brooklyn with writing by Toni Morrison, ensuring this story of death, love, and friendship will endure for ages to come.
No list of black female authors would be complete without Toni Morrison, whose arresting, lyrical prose was instrumental to securing black literature its place in mainstream publishing.
Morrison wasn’t always a writer. Following university, she taught English before becoming a textbook editor at Random House. After that, Morrison became the first black female senior editor in New York’s Random House fiction department.
Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, debuted in 1970. In a theme that follows Morrison’s writing, the book did not receive the same initial recognition it acquired as time went on.
Morison is perhaps best known for Beloved, which became a 25-week New York Times bestseller.
Despite this, the novel failed to win the National Book Award, and many black female writers protested the outcome vociferously.
Morrison didn’t only write prose. Later in her career, she collaborated with musicians to create librettos for song cycles sung by various black female sopranos, including:
- Kathleen Battle
- Jessye Norman
Part ghost story, part retelling of Margaret Garner’s story, Beloved is one of Morrison’s best-known books.
First published in 1987, Beloved is the story of Sethe, her daughter Denver and mother-in-law Baby Suggs. The family remains haunted by the death of Sethe’s third, nameless child, who Sethe brutally murders when faced with the prospect of a return to slavery.
But when a young woman with palms as unlined as a baby’s, appears on their doorstep, the life Sethe and her family have built gets disrupted. She is the age Beloved would have been having she lived, and her insinuation into 124 puts Sethe’s hard-won freedom at risk.
As the novel progresses, Beloved thrives while the others continue to claw for existence. Her presence unsettles the neighbors, and finally, Sethe must choose between the stranger or the daughter that lived in a scene that recalls the original murder.
Beloved is sometimes described as part of a trilogy that includes Jazz and Paradise. In 1998, Beloved went to film, co-produced by Oprah Winfrey, who also played Sethe. The movie did not perform well, but the combination of Oprah’s endorsement and Morrison’s receipt of a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 caused sales to skyrocket.
The Bluest Eye
Published in 1970, The Bluest Eye was the novel that launched Morrison’s career as a writer.
The novel follows young children Claudia and Frieda MacTeer. They live in Ohio with their parents, and at the start of the book, their family also includes tenant Mr. Henry and a foster child, Piccola Breedlove.
A novel that spans generations, Morrison uses flashbacks to tell the story of the MacTeer parents’ struggle as black Americans in a predominantly white, protestant environment.
A precarious situation escalates when the girls’ father rapes and impregnates Piccola before abandoning the family. As the pregnancy progresses, Piccola’s grip on reality becomes tenuous.
As Morrison did throughout her career, The Bluest Eye asks challenging questions about love, family, and how much a person can endure.
The book didn’t draw as much attention as Morrison’s later books. However, The New York Times was overwhelmingly positive, and it quickly became a staple on university reading lists across America, ensuring it a place in English literature.
Morrison’s Tar Baby was published in 1981. Speaking about the novel’s title, Morrison reflects on the racism many young black girls faced, ‘tar baby’ among them. She also discusses the holiness of tar pits and how, in writing the story of Jadine and Son, the phrase came to take on a new meaning for her. More than a slur, ‘tar baby’ to Morrison conveyed strong, capable women who survived incredible odds.
In Tar Baby, worlds collide when Sorbonne-graduate Jadine embarks on a relationship with Son. Son doesn’t have the wealth or society Jadine is used to, rucking up instead impoverished on an estate on a Caribbean island.
Their love story explores themes of race, class, and societal expectations as they try to create a dignified life in America.
The New York Times and The Kirkus Review praised the book for its dexterity in tackling complex themes through accessible, often lyrical prose.
Nnedi Okorafor, Another Black Female Author
Nnedimma Nkemdili Okorafor did not start as a writer. As a child, she was athletic. But at thirteen, it emerged she had scoliosis, and the progression of the disease began interfering with her athletics.
At 19, she underwent a spinal fusion, but the procedure came with complications that left Okorafor paralyzed. While undergoing physical therapy to regain mobility, Okorafor began reading science fiction extensively. Not only that, she started writing her own stories in the margins of her books.
Encouraged by friends, Okorafor enrolled in a creative writing course followed by an MA in journalism. She then pursued a second master’s and a Ph.D. in English.
In 2001, Okorafor’s short story Amphibious Green received the Hurston Wright literary award. After publishing several short stories successfully, Okorafor began writing longer stories for young adults.
Okorafor is also known to readers as a writer for Marvel Comics. She is strongly involved in the series:
- Black Panther: Long Live the King
- Wakanda Forever
She also writes for the Laguardia comic books, where her contribution as a black female author in science fiction and fantasy helped shape the depiction of an Africanfuturist society.
Akata Witch is the first book in Okorafor’s Nsibidi Scripts Series. The book was retitled What Sunny Saw in the Flames in the UK and Nigeria. Part of this is because the Akata of the title is derogatory in Nigerian dialects, a detail lost on some North American readers.
Akata Witch tells the story of young black athlete Sunny, whose albinism prevents her from going out in the sun to participate in soccer with friends.
But Sunny is also a witch. As the book progresses, Sunny connects with a coven, and together they hone magic and develop close bonds. But things escalate from study to reality when Sunny’s coven must find and stop an equally magical career criminal.
Akata Witch met with controversy in Parts of Nigeria, where conservative factions worried it glorified superstitions and folk belief.
However, it is otherwise a successful book, netting praise from publications such as:
- The New York Times
- The Los Angeles Times
- The Kirkus Review
Time magazine lists Akata Witch as one of the 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time and praises the integration of folk belief into the novel.
In Lagoon, an alien ambassador, a rapper, and a soldier must join forces to eliminate mass panic following an alien landing outside the world’s fifth-largest city. All they have to work with is a myth about what might be a myth of epic proportions.
Meanwhile, everyone from the military to religious zealots and Youtube vloggers have opinions on the aliens.
Like some of Okorafor’s other body of work, she describes Lagoon as Africanfuturist, as distinct from Afrofuturist. Long before Okorafor made the distinction, the book drew scholarly attention for its themes of diversity and inclusion.
In 2014, Lagoon won the James Tiptree Jr Award.
Who Fears Death
Winner of the 2011 World Fantasy Award, Who Fears Death features a post-apocalyptic Africa. Much has changed since the apocalypse, but there are still communities raddled by violence.
When Onye learns someone wants her murdered, she embarks on a mission to find the murderer and learn more about herself in the process. The result is a darkly compelling book about self-discovery, spirituality, and ingrained culture.
In addition to the World Fantasy Award, Who Fears Death also won the 201 Carl Brandon Kindred Award and Best Foreign Novel at Les Imaginales. It also received nominations for:
- 2011 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel
- Nebula Award for Best Novel
Who Fears Death is currently under consideration for development into an HBO series.
Butler began writing as a teenager, and by the 1970s, writing was her career. But success wasn’t instant. Sci-fi especially was still a male-dominated genre, and Butler was determined to stick to the genre she loved.
Her first break came when her work left a sufficient impression on Harland Ellison to encourage Butler to participate in the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop. There, Butler sold her first story.
Her next project was a series of books that became the Patternist series. By the late 1970s. She realized her dream of living off of her novels. But Butler became a recognized name when her short story Speech Sounds won a Hugo Short Story award. A year later, Butler’s novel Bloodchild also claimed a Hugo award. It also won:
- Locus Award
- Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award for Best Novelette
Published in 1979, Kindred continues to be popular with readers. The novel incorporates time travel and a slave narrative to tell the story of Dana, whose trips into the past introduce her to her ancestors.
The longer her stays get, the more Dana becomes involved in the antebellum South. It’s a compelling story about:
It also conveys a powerful message about the past’s ability to haunt the present.
The novel continues to be a bestseller and received critical acclaim from The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It was adapted for theater in 2001 and into a graphic novel in 2017.
Parable of the Sower
Written in 1993, Butler’s The Parable of the Sower is a science fiction novel that explores themes of climate change and social disparity in a post-apocalyptic setting.
It is the first in a series, all with titles that recall Biblical parables, which are apt since protagonist Lauren Olamina invents a new religion, Earthseed, where believers aspire to inhabit other planets.
It was a New York Times Notable Book in 1994 and nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1995. In 2020, it became a New York Times bestseller.
Toshi and Bernice Reagan adapted the novel to a folk/blues opera that debuted in 2015.
Butler embarked on this novel after several failed attempts to further her Parable books. The research required had been challenging and often demoralizing, and she wanted something lighter and more fun to engage with.
Enter the sci-fi vampires of Fledgling. Butler plays with the vampire mythology to excellent effect. Her vampires still need blood to survive, but feeding on humans helps boost the human immune system.
The atypicality of Butler’s vampires turns much of the vampire mythology, especially about sexual deviance on its ear.
In Fledgling, Butler also does what fantasy does best; she turns a real-world issue into a metaphor her protagonists can fight. Because protagonist Shori presents as a young black girl, vampirism becomes inextricably linked to racism. Notably, Shori displaces a long tradition of patriarchal white vampires, and her community suffers for her otherness.
It’s an engaging read that offers insightful commentary on issues pertinent to modern readers.
Tayari Jones decided to become a writer while attending the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta. She went on to Pearl College as their playwright in residence. Her academic career continued, and Jones eventually acquired a Master’s of English and a Master’s of Fine Arts in fiction.
She says that while at Spelman College, she first read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and the book left a powerful impression on her. The book’s themes of race and power resonated deeply. In them, Jones found the worldview in which she had grown up reflected in fiction.
In her own writing, she perpetually circles the theme of family and its many meanings and permutations. Jones is also vocal about the influence Morrison’s writing has had on her characters, especially her black female characters.
In Jones’s first novel, this black female author uses the Atlanta Child Murders as the background of a moving coming of age story.
Each part of the novel has a different point of view, including an atypical second-person Part II. By telling her story through the eyes of three children, Jones keeps her focus on the broader scope of the tragedy while never losing sight of the horror behind her narrative.
But because children don’t always appreciate the finer details, the tragedy moves in and out of focus, painting a complex picture of fallible humanity.
When first published, Leaving Atlanta was considered one of the top 25 books of the decade. It became Novel of the Year for Atlanta Magazine later the same year.
Showcasing Jones writing on family at its best, Silver Sparrow tells the story of two families inextricably linked by a bigamist father.
Sisters Dana and Chaurisse unexpectedly meet while shopping without realizing they are sisters. When a flat tire forces the truth into the open, the ramifications are catastrophic.
Despite the book’s complicated treatment of family, Silver Sparrow ends optimistically, with Dana’s daughter acknowledged by her own father.
The book garnered praise from:
- The Washington Post
- The Chicago Tribune
An American Marriage
In 2018, An American Marriage became a bestselling novel for black female author Tayari Jones. In this novel, newlyweds Celestial and Roy’s perfect marriage fractures when Roy is arrested and imprisoned.
The novel explores themes of:
The novel’s reception following publication was excellent. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Atlantic all gave positive reviews. It also won several awards, some of which included:
- 2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize
- 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction
- 2019 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Fiction
Additionally, An Arranged Marriage: A Novel was longlisted for the National Book Awards.
Best Black Female Authors, Final Thoughts
There are many more black female authors out there, and this is only the tip of a considerable iceberg. Hopefully, it helps you find a new favorite black author or reconnect with an old favorite. New or old, here’s to curling up with a good book and enjoying the experience.