The beauty of literature is in its ability to make readers, based on their own past and current experiences, empathize with characters. The gravity in chapters, paragraphs, and words comes from an authors’ ability to get inside their characters’ heads and speak to the people that will relate to that character. For Black women, many characters and authors like them did not exist.
Except recently, it seems, more and more narratives surrounding Black women have risen to the surface. Narratives that do not just focus on trauma. And evil. And hardship. But ones that encapsulate a full human experience.
Black women authors do not naturally have to focus on Black women. But often they do, just as I would likely base a story around an introverted white man. It’s what we know; it’s the body we live inside.
But there aren’t stories out there begging to be told of another white man overcoming an obstacle. We’ve seen that play before. What we haven’t seen enough of is the essence of Black femininity. And with that said, here is a list of five incredibly talented Black women authors making waves in literature.
Yaa Gyasi is far and away my favorite author right now, and I have only read one of her books. That is how absolutely phenomenal Homegoing is.
Homegoing traces the origins of two half-sisters born in modern-day Ghana and their descendants as the trans atlantic slave trade ravages families in Africa, as well as in America.
A fictional account based in historical accuracy, Homegoing is so beautifully written that it feels poetic. And by knowing each characters’ relatives (by reading the previous chapters), the audience is treated to intimate relationships that are starkly similar to those in real life.
Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, has also been welcomed with rave reviews. I am seeking to tap in expeditiously.
Toni Morrison was one of the greatest American novelists of all time. One of a few distinguished authors that explored what it means to be both Black and female, Morrison wrote with purpose and emotion.
Her novel, Beloved, is a fan favorite, and it covers a family of former slaves dealing with a malevolent spirit still haunting them. The story was based on a real-life incident regarding Margaret Garner.
Morrison inspired an entire generation of authors, Black women in particular. Just listen to what Gyasi said about her.
“Toni Morrison blew away everything I thought I knew about literature.”Yaa Gyasi for The Guardian
Morrison won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In 2019, when she sadly passed, she left behind a legacy of acceptance, wonder, and magic for aspiring authors and book-lovers everywhere.
I first came upon Hartman’s name through my historical theory class. Exploring gender history and intersectionality, Hartman and her text Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals was a perfect starting point.
Intersectionality, coined by Black feminist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989, frames how social categorizations such as race, class, and gender interconnect in systems of advantage or disadvantage.
An excerpt of Hartman’s Wayward Lives analyzes a Black girl traveling from Virginia to NYC, and the hardships she faces along the way. While women were given much less freedom than men in general, Black women were particularly discriminated against, be it in the South or North.
What’s even more fascinating, is that the text is birthed from primary sources of Black girls writing in the early 20th century.
Hartman crafts a story from the first-hand accounts, with an explanation of why, yet still provides a narrative for these Black girls so that readers and historians alike can gain a deeper understanding of intersectionality and what it was like to be a Black girl in America years ago.
Alice Walker is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and also activist. Her novel, The Color Purple, released in 1982, won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction along with other awards.
An epistolary work (written in letters), The Color Purple is a harrowing text that explores being Black in the South in the early 1900s. Spanning 40 years, the novel covers unfathomable abuse and trauma, yet still, hope is a theme heavily explored.
While it is important that all texts concerning Black women not revolve around trauma, authors also understand the necessity in sharing accounts of Black women suffering abuse that were, and are, widespread across the U.S. and world.
Walker opened up crucial conversations surrounding femininity. And then, she coined the term ‘womanist’ to describe “a Black feminist or feminist of color.”
Angelou’s name is as famous as any. A poet, memoirist, and activist, Maya Angelou’s words always jump off the page.
Her early work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is an example of her words of hope and courage dealing with racism and hardship. Angelou published several autobiographies, as well as poems that explore her early life.
Angelou worked with Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Malcolm X, and also stood as a respectful beacon of hope for Black creators everywhere.
Authors that capture Black women in their purest essences are of paramount importance
These five brilliant authors are all Black women, and thus stand as models for young girls of color to emulate. But even more than this, their words speak to people everywhere who do not even seek to be authors.
To know Black femininity is to know Black essence. It is to know Black beauty and strength, and it is also to know trauma that Black women deal with.
Gyasi, Morrison, Hartman, Walker, and Angelou are just five supremely talented authors. Thanks to them, many more will follow.
Take their passion, use their guidance, and feel freedom in your prose. You have all the tools to be the next inspiring author.