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Diverse Voices

Classics by Black Authors

Although the established canon of classic literature has historically excluded marginalized voices, Black authors have continued to write artful, influential works. Check out these classics by Black authors that you might not have read in school. 


Invisible man / Ralph Ellison

This book's nameless narrator describes growing up in a Black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood" before retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.  



Native son / Richard Wright

Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's novel tells the story of this young Black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. 



Amiable with big teeth / Claude McKay

At once a penetrating satire of political machinations in Depression-era Harlem and a far-reaching story of global intrigue and romance, Amiable with Big Teeth plunges into the concerns, anxieties, hopes and dreams of African-Americans at a moment of crisis for the soul of Harlem.



Their eyes were watching God / Zora Neale Hurston

Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person--no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.




Passing / Nella Larsen

Light-skinned, elegant, and ambitious, Clare is married to a racist white man and has severed all ties to her past after deciding to "pass" as a white woman. Clare's friend, Irene, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, and is both allured and repelled by Clare's racial masquerade. Clare's interest in Irene turns into a homoerotic longing for Irene's Black identity that she can never embrace again.


Selected poems of Langston Hughes

Hughes' poetry celebrates the experience of invisible men and women: of slaves who "rushed the boots of Washington"; of musicians on Lenox Avenue; of the poor and the lovesick; of losers in "the raffle of night." Hughes' voice blends the spoken with the sung and turns poetic lines into the phrases of jazz and blues.



Behind the scenes / Elizabeth Keckley

Born into slavery, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley rose to a position of respect as a talented dressmaker and designer, and a confidante of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley's memoir offers a window into her experience as a Black woman interacting with the political elite of Washington, DC.



Twelve years a slave / Solomon Northup

Kidnapped into slavery in 1841, Solomon Northup spent 12 years in captivity. This autobiographical memoir presents a harrowing, vividly detailed, and utterly unforgettable account of slavery.






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