The Revolution Will Be Written: A New Class of Contemporary African-American Authors

From medicine to the arts and all areas in between, African Americans have contributed to the distinct fabric of the United States of America. The culture’s significance has been nationally celebrated during the month of February since its inception in 1970, however, its impact on literature alone could easily span a complete calendar year.

Frederick Douglass overcame the decree that it be illegal for slaves to read, penning his best-known work, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. W.E.B. Dubois overcame segregated academia to become the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard and produce his acclaimed essay collection, The Souls of Black Folks. Zora Neale Hurston burst onto the scene of the Harlem Renaissance with the classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Nikki Giovanni amplified the frustration felt during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements with the eloquent prose of her collections, Black Judgement and Re:creation…and current African American authors continue to carry the torch, using literature as an expansive tool to express social commentary, celebrate shared experiences, grieve lives assaulted and lost due to ignorance and injustice and inspire new generations to continue to push forward with pride.

 

Below is a mere fraction of our favorite contemporary African-American authors, each of whom are doing their part in securing a place for people of color in the “Best of” literary lists for this era.

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Books Authors Read with Ruthie Baron

We continue our “Books Authors Read” series with author Ruthie Baron, who wrote Defriended, an awesome horror mystery that has zipped its way around the Half Price Books corporate office at lightning speed. Ruthie herself is super funny, smart, and fun — and a huge Veronica Mars fan. We like her very much. Thanks for putting together this list for us, Ruthie! — Kristen D. 

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Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

I’m cheating with this because it’s actually a collection of five books that tell the story of Weetzie Bat, the slinkster-coolest girl in all of LA, and her dreamy, badass clan of friends, lovers, friends’ lovers, daughters, daughters’ lovers, daughters’ band mates, etc. My freshman year of high school, I gave Dangerous Angels to a senior I really wanted to be friends with (she started giving me rides home from school so the plan worked!), and I’ve probably given away 20 copies since then—anyone who likes passion, wonder, or awesome clothes will like these books. 

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

One of my favorite genres of fiction is “protagonist I want to be like whose situation I don’t want to be in.” It’s not that Esch, the 15-year-old newly pregnant narrator of Salvage the Bones, is some sort of saint, but she’s fiercely loyal, deeply loving, and crazy smart, so watching her and her rural Mississippi family prepare for an approaching gulf storm is wrenching… and gripping and beautiful and tender and makes for one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years. 

September Girls be Bennett Madison

I have not been able to stop thinking about this book since I devoured it last month—it’s a coming-of-age story that calls shenanigans on the “today you are a man,” bar mitzvah-y idea of coming of age, because of course change is not a singular event and being a man (or a woman or a teenager or a sex siren sea creature) is not a singular thing.  The writing is sharp and gorgeous and haunting and–best of all–hilarious and an absolute pleasure to lose yourself in.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent lives with a coven of psychic women in a town that houses a posh boarding school, the hot rich guys who go to said boarding school, and at least one big magical mystery.  If you’re not sold yet, let me assure you that it is even more than the sum of its spooky, weird, very funny parts.

Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry

I love a spy novel (I’m seriously considering getting this tattooed on my person), and this one is as thrilling and absorbing as they come.  McCarry was a CIA agent during the 50s and 60s, so his writing about the Vietnam War and his JFK assassination theory are especially believable, but the geopolitical history lesson is just the icing on the good old fashioned intrigue cake.

Ruthie Baron is the author of Defriended

You may follow her on Twitter at @ruthiebaron