There are so many incredible Black authors who have inspired us, educated us, and uplifted us.  While we’re all working on our summer reading lists, we want to highlight some of our favorite books by Black authors. 

We asked our Thrive community to share their favorites, and to explain how each book moved them. Which of these great reads will you pick up this summer?

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

“This was one of the most emotional, eye-opening books I’ve ever read about our criminal justice system. It illustrates how broken our system is, and its devastating impact on our Black youth. I never realized how little I knew until reading this book.”

 —Nicki Anderson, program director at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

“This was one of the few books I read in high school concerning Black individuals and our identity. The language and rhetoric in this book was full of a jazz-inspired tone and rich metaphorical language, which I felt so masterfully encapsulated the feeling of erasure I had experienced first-hand as a Black woman.”

—Ashley Cooper, student, Cherry Hill, NJ

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou 

“In this book, Angelou shares her experiences as an African American woman in a way that so many of my students, regardless of their race and ethnicity, could find points of entry. More privileged students can experience life inside a racist or sexist cage and feel its harmful effects on the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Angelou does not, however, allow herself or her readers to remain entrapped. She invites her readers to join in the struggle, and the joy.”

—Diane Gillespie, emerita professor at the University of Washington Bothell, Seattle, WA

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Owuor

“When I think about identity, and the issues being highlighted around the world today, I come to the realization that we are all connected. Looking around, the anti-Black and anti-Asian sentiments linked to the spread of the coronavirus seem to hold parts of society together, both for the oppressors and purporters, and for those who seek to change the world. This book brings those two identities in a beautiful way, linking China to Africa, and bringing to life a story of history that needed to be told, through the eyes of one woman. I hope that whoever reads this also finds beauty in the connection between us all, and the need to move beyond set identities and beliefs, because we never really know how much more we as humans are connected.”

—Reshma Khan, executive coach in training, organizational development and culture specialist, Kenya

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

“This book explains the importance of cultivating a sense of self through our thoughts and feelings. Unless we voice our opinions, we cannot be confident in who we are, which is a crucial part of developing self-worth. One thing that I took away from this novel is that no person is purely good or evil. Understanding the cyclical nature of racism and sexism, where perpetrators are themselves victims, opens your eyes to the naive idea we have of labeling people. The novel opened my eyes to the harsh realities of the world but at the same time taught me never to give up on hope.”

 —Chahat Aggarwal, brand strategist, New Delhi, India 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“When I first started working in Diversity and Inclusion, my husband gifted me this book. Coates shares with us his story in the form of a letter to his adolescent son on his revelations on his place in our country. Coates writes about what it is like to inhabit a Black body and find a way to live within it.  It is a must-read for anyone who wants to stand up as an ally for the Black community.”

 —Mita Mallick, head of diversity, Jersey City, NJ 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

“This has to be one of my all time favorite books. I was truly sorry to see it end. It frames the Great Migration from the South to the North during the height of Jim Crow by focusing on several individuals. Behind the numbers are real people with real stories, and this book is a glory to read and to learn from. Wilkerson’s writing involves you in the lives of the people she thoughtfully profiles, and makes you feel real emotion for them.”

—Jennefer Witter, CEO and public speaker, New York, NY

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“I love this story because it’s timeless, and is every bit as relevant today as it was when it was written over eighty years ago. It’s about Janie, a Black woman in search of her own voice in the Jim Crow South. Hurston’s use of dialect makes the narrative come alive as Janie discovers the power of her words, as well as her silence. It’s so rich with symbolism that defines a woman’s spirit and power and vulnerability. I’ve re-read it a handful of times over the last thirty years because it feels transformative.”

 —Katie Wright, freelance writer,  Bellingham, WA

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

“If you need some serious motivation and a great example of resilience and the strength of a human mind, this book is for you. David Goggins is an American ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete, motivational speaker, and author. He is a retired United States Navy SEAL and former United States Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member who served in the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. This book has impacted me far beyond when I closed its back cover. When I am in a gym session and need that last big push to finish, I literally picture David cheering me on, and he has become my internal cheerleader.”

—Lori Milner, author, transformational speaker and trainer, Johannesburg, South Africa

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

“This book has been my favorite summer read. It is a novel about the marriage of a middle-class African American couple who live in Atlanta and the impact on their lives when the husband, Roy, is wrongfully convicted of rape — a crime he did not commit. The author is a compelling storyteller. You get to see and feel the souls of the characters. While the message is not necessarily new, it is inspiring and hopeful about achieving the American dream.”

—Gerry J. Tucker, educator, Austin, TX

Kindred by Octavia Butler

“This is my favorite book of all time. The main character time-travels to the South in the days of slavery, pre-Civil War. She is there to save a young white boy the first time, and goes back and forth in time each time Rufus is in danger. It is a fascinating book and gives insight into how it was to be a slave in the pre-Civil War days, and the problems and trials they faced. Dana fights for her life and hopes to return to Los Angeles in 1976. This book was written in 1979 but has stood the test of time.”

—Kim Cook, registered nurse, Montrose, CO

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“This book offers a multifaceted view into the lives of Black Nigerian immigrants in America and the UK, with the backdrop of a poignant love story that is woven throughout the book. Prior to reading this book, I hadn’t appreciated how supposedly trivial decisions, like how a Black woman wears her hair or speaks, can influence how people view them. This book resonated on so many levels. As an immigrant myself who moved from an emerging economy to the West, it brought back memories of how hard I had to work to stand out in my home country where competition was fierce, and then had to prove all over again when I moved to the UK. It reminded me of how hard all immigrants have to work to not just do the job at hand but to ‘fit in.’”

—Priyanka Banerji-Bhatia, people and culture leader, London, UK 

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

“Bernardine Evaristo’s book is a fantastic read in so many ways, through its richly drawn characters, evocative places, and deep struggles. Especially meaningful for me was the journey of one character as ‘she’ becomes ‘they,’ grappling with the meaning of gender and the power of words, and finding acceptance and home in love. Reading this book was the first time I began to better understand transgender identities and struggles.”

—Nancy Jackson, fundraising consultant, Lawrence, KS

Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin 

“Baldwin should be read by anyone and everyone. The more I read this book, the more I appreciate his voice, and his understanding of the issue of race, which even the most ‘liberated’ of us only poorly grasp. Even more, knowing this collection of essays was written nearly fifty years ago, it is hard to imagine how deeply we have sunk back into a sense of complacency regarding racial issues and discrimination. We can only dream and keep trying, and perhaps one day, we will. This book shares experiences about topics ranging from race relations in the United States to the role of the writer in society, and offers personal accounts of Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, and other writers. I really recommend everyone read this book at least once, especially considering the present situation.”

 —Dipesh Purohit, blogger and founder of Blogging Kraft, Indore, India

Monster (and other works) by Walter Dean Myers

“From ages 12 to 14, my favorite author was Walter Dean Myers. I read every single book of his. His stories took me to an unfamiliar world with familiar problems. I learned so much about others and myself through his novels.”

—Mareo McCracken, sales and marketing, Boise, ID 

Contrast: A Biracial Man’s Journey to Desegregate His Past by Devin C. Hughes

“This book delivers insight into the upbringing of someone raised by a Black father and a white mother, who were married just two years after interracial marriage was legalized in America.  I found myself not being able to put this book down as he described the difficulties and challenges he faced growing up in this situation.  The book made me sit back and think about how, although growing up, for me, presented its own challenges, it was nothing like what it was for so many Black or mixed kids such as Devin. I think this book is a must for everyone in order to really understand how it is for so many people, even today.”

—Holly Dalton, marketing manager, Denver, CO

Queen Imani: Queen of Love and Smiles by Imani Moaney

“This is a children’s book written for young kids, and it is such a fun read. They will love reading about the world of Queen Imani!”

 —Imani Moaney, student and airline scheduler, Atlanta, GA

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

“This richly woven story follows the life of a young man born to slavery on a Southern plantation. Edugyan’s thoughtful prose gently guides the reader through Washington’s relationship with Titch, the plantation owner’s brother. Through Titch, a scientist of sorts, Washington discovers his ability to capture the natural world like no other. These talents are juxtaposed with the horrific challenges he endures as he follows Titch away from the South. Edugyan masterfully takes us into a story where one cannot avoid becoming emotionally invested and question our own motives of white privilege.”

—Eve Gaudet, executive coach, Victoria, BC, Canada

My Good Life by Eraina Ferguson

After giving birth to her daughter Taylor at age twenty, Eraina decided she would live a good life despite her circumstances. Even after receiving a diagnosis of profound hearing loss and autism for her daughter Taylor, she went on to earn three academic degrees, including one from Yale University. In the process of living in three different cities and navigating educational and personal hurdles, she discovered something profound and universal: This isn’t a normal life, it’s a good life. The book is the story of perseverance, faith, and hope. It is a story wrapped in goodness and love.”

 —Eraina Ferguson, author and founder, Torrance, CA

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

“This book helped me finally have a tangible language and lens through which to understand my own pain and discontent with Eurocentric beauty standards in the world.”

—Ashley Cooper, student, Cherry Hill, NJ

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

“This is the story about a boy who grows up in a small town next to Los Angeles with the influence of this father’s obsession with institutional racism. Then, his father is shot by the police. The author goes deep into the meaning of being Black in America, with the un-glorified free violence that surrounds it, alongside the lack of accountability by police. Narrated with candid honesty and sometimes brutal realism, it delves into a society where Black lives have little to no expectations, and where a calamity waiting to happen at every crossroad is expected on any street corner. It further proves that such a delicate, yet explosive subject can be treated with humor and a lack of complexes. Beatty’s genius throws the reader into deep insight of a hard-hit community. The relevance to the appalling events recently is almost prophetic here, with the father’s outrageous death at the hands of the police. It brings to the forefront the tragedy of institutionalized racism and general systematic impunity in the face of Black people’s deaths in America.”

 —Véronique Letellier, translator, Valencia, Spain 

Abundance Now: Amplify Your Life & Achieve Prosperity Today by Lisa Nichols

“I host a monthly book club for business entrepreneurs in my community, and a few months ago we read Lisa Nichols’ book.  Her stories of growing up and raising her son on her own captured my heart. When I started my business, it was because I was a single mom, and I wanted to give more to my son than I felt like I could while working over sixty hours a week in retail management, so I completely resonated with her.  Her teaching, ‘shift your mindset, change your life,’ helped me so much. Thanks to her teachings, I was able to shift a few limiting beliefs I was experiencing and was able to take the action I needed to step into who I am meant to be. Her story is so inspiring and I highly recommend it to everyone I meet.”

 —Darlene Hawley, online business coach, Murrieta, CA

Is there a book by a Black author that you love? Share your favorite with us in the comments!

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.