When it comes to African American Fiction, there are undoubtedly many notable ones to read at least once in your lifetime. You might have read quite many among them for sure, but if you are looking for some more to add to your collection, then you have come to the right place because this article will be featuring some of the must-reads you just cannot miss.
African American Fiction mainly focuses on racial history and prejudice, the Civil War, the existential crisis of Blacks in a White-dominant America, and so on, and revolving around these themes are captivating plots that leave an everlasting impression. Here are some of the best African American Fiction that you must read:
An epic milestone of African American Literature, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is a ground-breaking Fiction dealing with the issues of racial prejudice and the survival of the unnamed narrator in a “White-dominant” land. Invisible Man is a bestselling novel that was published in the year of 1952 and received immense fame for its narrative style and plot.
The novel begins with an unnamed narrator, who justifies being “invisible,” hence, “unnamed.”The narrator’s point of view is inspired by T.S. Eliot’s celebrated poem The Waste Land and other modern writers like James Joyce and Dostoevsky. The narration focuses on the life of a negro in America who feels nothing but “invisible” while traveling across the country. This journey across the country features the hellish levels of American intolerance and cultural blindness, and this leads to an existential crisis. The unnamed narrator portrays the original picture of America so through his captivating narration and wins hearts. The Invisible Man is undoubtedly a notable work of African American Fiction that is brutal and captivating at the same time.
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is a heart-touching novel focusing on the character of Pecola Breedlove, who goes through a difficult childhood, right from being the ugliest girl in her classroom to being raped by her drunkard father at the age of 11, the novel keeps on featuring racial issues throughout the plot. Told from the point of view of Claudia McTeer, who is Pecola’s friend and the only one who defends her when others are misbehaving with Pecola, Claudia presents the reader with Pecola’s journey from her insecurities and the incessant yearning for “blue eyes” to descending into a world of frenzy where Pecola believes she had attained those “blue eyes.” Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is undoubtedly one of the finest works of African American Fiction that will make you emotional.
Hemingway award winner and one of Oprah’s “Best Books of the Year,” Homegoing follows the story of two black sisters with parallel paths, blessed with different fates, where one is living her life merrily, while the other is surviving in the dungeon as a sold slave. Effia is Maame’s first daughter who is cruel to her, but she decides to get her married to a White man called James Collins, who has come to Africa as part of the British slave trade.
While Effia is indulged in an affectionate marriage, her younger sister Esi is sold into slavery in the United States. The novel draws a parallel between the lives of two black sisters who witness the period of “Slave Trade” differently and face it differently. Both of them have some shocking truths to discover and survive the racial prejudice in their ways.
An important book in the genre of African American Fiction, Colson’s The Nickel Boys, is a National Bestseller that became an instant hit among readers for featuring a unique plot revolving around a young black boy, who is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, where survival is itself a struggle.
Elwood Curtis, the protagonist, is found trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors at the Nickel Academy, this place is a living hell, and to survive, one must avoid troubles. From featuring the history of Civil Rights, by focusing on the character and actions of Elmwood, who is driven by the speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, to diving in deeper into the times when Blacks were fighting for their rights, this novel takes you through some dark times of America. Elmwood being a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the mid-1960s, things are not easy for him, nor does he have much freedom to make his own decisions. Elmwood leads readers to many heart-touching events in the novel that depicts the true pictures of the shameful past of America.
Winner of the Gotham Book Prize, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction, and an Oprah’s Book Club Pick, Deacon King Kong is set in Brooklyn neighborhood during September 1969 and can be regarded as an example of near-historical fiction written about American cities and social issues. The main focus of the plot is an elderly Black man named Cuffy Lambkin, nicknamed Sportcoat, who lives in a housing project called the Cause Houses.
Now an alcoholic who was once a Baseball coach, Sportcoat’s life begins to take a different turn when he approaches a young drug dealer from the Cause named Deems Clemens and attempts to kill Deems by shooting him. Deems is not killed, thanks to the intervention of an undercover police officer named Jet, but he is injured, and everyone in the Cause is shocked by this incident. The novel then takes readers into the deeper past of Sportcoat and returns to the present, but in between, there are a lot more interesting events and characters taking the lead and giving the novel its unique form.
A number 1 New York Times Bestseller, The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates is the first novel of the author and features the tale of Hiram Walker, born into bondage when his mother was sold into slavery. When Hiram is separated from his mother, he is robbed of all his memories about her; he does not even remember a wee bit of her face. But what is special is that Hiram is gifted with a mysterious power by his mother, a power that he recognized when he was about to get drowned in a river. This is escaping from a near-death experience leads Hiram to escape from the only home he has ever known and find out who he is.
Will Hiram be able to trace his roots being a Black in the White dominant country? Hiram’s quest leads him to unexpected places, from Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North; there is so much more to explore through the quest of Hiram.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is another New York Times Bestselling novel that deserves a place on your bookshelf. The Vignes are identical twin sisters growing up together in a small, southern black community; when they run away at the age of sixteen, things are not the same as they thought to be. From their duties of adulthood to building their identities amongst the prevailing racial prejudices, these two twin sisters are on different paths years later. One holds on to her black identity, while the other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. The Vanishing Half is captivating; its plot is weaved beautifully in the most engaging way and is emotional. You surely wouldn’t regret reading this novel.
Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground features Fred Daniels as the protagonist who is black and married, expecting a baby soon. When one day, he is accused of having committed multiple murders that he did not commit, he is taken into captivity by force and is tortured unless he signs a confession.
The novel proceeds to the time when Fred escapes the prison and takes refuge in a lock through the manhole; the cover is heavy, and the water below is swift and deep, but he must survive this near-death struggle.
A remarkable work of African American Fiction, The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, is set during the waning days of the Civil War and focuses on two brothers Prentiss and Landry, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. The freed brothers seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle, and begin to work on their farm; it is only from this point, the lives of the two freed brothers begin to change. They even plan to save money for their journey towards the North with a hope to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were much younger.
The novel features the Civil War, racial history, and also a forbidden romance that leads to unexpected events in the town of Old Ox. The Sweetness of Water is truly a heart-touching novel and is a must-read.
Alice Walker’s The Color Purple plays a vital role in African American Literature because it revolves around the evils of racism and features the story of characters who are victimized by it. Celie is the main focus of the novel, and throughout the novel, the readers get to witness a woman’s quest for freedom and becoming economically independent in a white-dominant nation. Celie is poor, surviving in an abusive marriage, and does not recognize her talent unless she meets Shug, the bold, black woman with a job and status.
Celie’s husband has been hiding the letters that her sister Nettie kept sending all these years to prevent her from reuniting. When Celie bonds with Shug- while making quilts, she learns about the pleasures of life, including love, sex, passion, and freedom. The Color Purple is the finest example of racism and the rise of a victim to freedom.
That’s all for the list of best African American Fiction that you must read at least once in your lifetime. These books have been listed in this article because they portray some of the finest plots that take you back to the times when America was witnessing its most shameful periods in the history. These books are bound to leave an everlasting impression on each one of you.