Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Historical novels by Black authors: some recommendations

On June 14th, Amistad Press, the HarperCollins imprint for multicultural voices, began the #BlackoutBestsellerlist campaign on social media to lift up Black voices in the publishing industry and encourage readers to purchase two books by Black authors this week.  I'm participating in this initiative and would love to see other readers do so.  Read more about the background to the campaign at Publishers Weekly.

For those who enjoy reading historical fiction and discovering new writers and books, there's an abundance of choices available. The graphic below is just the tip of the iceberg, but here are a dozen that I've read and would recommend checking out. Mostly these are newish releases, but I couldn't resist including a few notable older titles I admire. More details and review links below.

Images in order:

Namwali Serpell, The Old Drift, a genre-defying epic of Zambian history.

Jeffrey Colvin, Africaville, a generational saga centered on a Black settlement in Nova Scotia.

Natashia Deon, Grace, an affecting novel of freedom and motherhood in the pre-Civil War South.

Ayesha Harruna Attah, The Hundred Wells of Salaga, about women's lives and internal slavery in 19th-century Ghana.

Beverly Jenkins, Tempest, historical romance set in the American West.

Rita Woods, Remembrance, about four women and a special place called Remembrance in pre-Civil War Ohio.

Sharon Ewell Foster, Abraham's Well, which focuses on the Black Cherokee along the Trail of Tears.

Maryse Condé, Victoire, My Mother's Mother, a fictionalized story of the author's light-skinned grandmother and her life in Guadaloupe.

Lalita Tademy, Citizens Creek, focusing on people of African descent in the Creek Nation.

Deborah Johnson, The Air Between Us, a saga set in 1960s small-town Mississippi.

Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes (also called Someone Knows My Name), a young woman's journey from Africa to enslavement in South Carolina to freedom up north.

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad, the Pulitzer winner and Oprah pick that imagines the Underground Railroad's physical reality.

I also recommend Edward P. Jones' The Known World, Margaret Cezair-Thompson's The Pirate's Daughter, Piper Huguley's romantic fiction (especially the Home to Milford College series), Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone, and other novels by Lalita Tademy and Beverly Jenkins.  For other ideas, see the list of Best Black Historical Fiction on Goodreads, though be aware that some of the titles there are not by Black writers.  

Please leave other recommendations in the comments.


  1. I highly enjoyed The Underground Railroad and Grace. I would recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, and Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

  2. Thanks, Christie, for the suggestions! I've been meaning to read those three for some time. Sherri L. Smith's The Blossom and the Firefly is one I bought this morning, one of my purchases for the initiative.

  3. I recently found Wench by Dolen Perkins Valdez on my bookshelves. Haven't read it myself, but heard good things about it.

  4. Me, too. She was a keynote speaker at the last Historical Novel Society conference and gave a terrific talk.

  5. Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone is a great read about the first quarantine hospital near Philadelphia. Post-civil war.
    Cynthia Bond's book Ruby is an amazing but also harrowing story.
    From your list I've read and much enjoyed The Book of Negroes and The Underground Railroad.

  6. Thanks for those recommendations, Kate! They both sound amazing.

  7. Wench is unforgettable, one of the best books I've ever read. I also recommend Homegoing and Flygirl. Let me add Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.

  8. Hi Elizabeth, thanks for recommending all of them.

  9. Excellent post. Thanks for the recommendations. Let's not forget Toni Morrison. Though she is often thought of as more of a literary fiction writer, so many of her stories are rooted in the past.