Fiction is a genre that is close to my heart. This is evident by the towers of books which rest against one another in my apartment. And because fiction is so dear to me, I find it important to share things I’ve learn about novels that I’ve read and authors that I’ve researched. Below, I’ve compiled a list of recognizable black female writers, writing a blurb about them and one of their greatest works. Below that I offer brief insight on other writers.
Zora Neale Hurston
The folklorist, anthropologist and author, Zora Neale Hurston published four novels and more than 50 plays, short stories and essays in her life time. The college educated Eatonville, FL-native constructed stories that resembled the all-black town in which she was raised, and the groups of people she researched during her travels. While Hurston didn’t lead an easy life, she was more privileged than some. She attended Howard University, where she became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta, and she co-founded the student newspaper, The Hilltop. She then received a scholarship to Bernard, where she was the sole black student. The root of Hurston’s writing was her background in anthropology and her desire to create pieces of writing which resonate with the reader.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
This astounding novel by Hurston embraces the human experience, and it embraces a great deal of subject matters: adventure, race relations, women’s issues, natural disasters, survival, relocation, deliverance, love, and devotion. Written in dialect, this novel recaps the dynamic life of the protagonist, Janie. While a great deal of tragedy occurs in this novel, it empowering that Janie is constantly able to evolve in order to find joy. This novel is about the pursuit of happiness and its succession at all costs.
Other works: Seraph on the Suwanee; Mule Bone; “The Gilded Six Bit”; “Sweat”
The 1983 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction (and first black woman winner), Alice Walker is a soulful, invested and politically astute narrative and expository writer. The youngest of eight children, and painfully shy because of a disfigurement as a child, Walker had a great amount of source material when she began to write at the age of eight. Later graduating from high school as the valedictorian, having shed her shy persona, Walker gained a full ride to Spelman College. She attended school in Atlanta before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College. The bulk of Walker’s writing address gender and race. No matter what, she makes the time to comment on privilege, disparity, and access to power.
The Color Purple
Walker writes a beautiful but emotionally jarring coming of age story about a girl who was raised in sexual violence and resubmitted into that lifestyle as an adult. She, in every sense of the word, is a survivor, along with every other female character in the book. The constant battle of submitting and rebelling is prevalent in the novel. The book is unmistakable in its message of hope.
Other works: Meridan; In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens; The Temple of My Familiar
British novelist and multiculturalism’s ‘it’ girl, Zadie Smith settled on her desire to write as a teenager, though she was interested in tap dancing, musical theater and performing jazz. She attended King’s College and Cambridge University, studying English literature. Now based in New York, Smith joined New York University’s Creative Writing Program as a tenured professor. She is also acting as the monthly New Books reviewer for Harper’s Magazine. Smith’s style of writing is fresh and engaging. Without being terribly energetic, her writing is vibrant and fluently beautiful.
White Teeth is a novel which creates bridges through several lives and several cultures. Smith holsters a variety of protagonists, who carry unique but equally devastating issues, and she navigates those troubles with realism and charisma. Characters such as the Jamaican Jehovah’s Witness, the estranged twin brothers, the questioning but devout Muslim, or the unsure adolescent are only example of the terrific ensemble arranged by Smith. The novel is also about friendships, estrangements, intrinsic similarities and differences, and unity.
Other works: On Beauty, Autograph Man, Changing My Mind
The feminist poet, playright and novelist, Ntozake Shange was born in Trenton, New Jersey but now resides in Brooklyn, New York. Shange graduated from Barnard College with a degree in American Studies, and gained her masters in the same field from University of Southern California. Shange creates pieces of writing that constantly assess gender roles. She manages to create moments of astounding truth, unbelievable heartache, and beautiful realizations.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,
The “choreopoem” is a collection of 20 poems written about seven women and their experiences. The expressive and well-written collection engages rape, sex, love, domestic violence, survival and abortions. The seven women mentioned in the work are named after a color (“Lady in Yellow,” “Lady in Purple,” etc.), and the women recant their experiences, sometimes retelling their experiences in sync like a chorus. While this book can be devastating at times, it’s well assembled and finely crafted.
Other works: Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo; Betsey Brown; Nappy Edges; People of Watts (–BTW, this is my favorite poem–); I live in Music
Toni Cade Bambara
The documentary film-maker, social activist, college professor and author, Toni Cade Bambara grew up in Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. She graduated with a degree in B.A in Theater Art/English from Queens College and also attended mime school in Paris, France at Ecole de Mime Etienne Decroux. She gained her Master’s in American Studies from City College before she was made assistant professor of English at Livingston College, then as a visiting professor in Afro-American studies at Atlanta University and Emory. Bambara’s writing reads like a lovely network of words. While her characters always seem to be at a distance, you learn so much about them simply by the way that they interact with others, the way that they speak and way they influence the page by their presence.
Gorilla, My Love
Bambara’s first book is a compellation of fifteen stunning short stories based in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. The collection is expressed in first-person portraits, each focusing on a different characters from children to older men, based anywhere between North Carolina and New York. The writing in the book is always swift and clever brassy text delivered with an upbeat attitude. Her language is informal and friendly, told as if the story is being delivered by an older relative or a close family friend.
The poet laureate, Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas but spent a great deal of her life in Chicago, IL. She published her first poem in a children’s magazine when she was thirteen, and was prolific even before the age of ten. Brooks wrote for the Chicago Defender. Before Brook’s death in 2000, she published over fifty years of writing including: A Street in Bronzeville; We Real Cool; Primer for Blacks and In the Mecca.
Terry McMillan was born in Port Huron, Michigan. She received her BA in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. The New York Time bestseller achieved national acclaim through her third novel, Waiting to Exhale. Her other works include: How Stella Got Her Groove Back; Disappearing Act; A Day Late and a Dollar Short; The Interruption of Everything and Getting to Happy.
Author, activist, producer and recording artist, Sistah Souljah was born in the Bronx, New York. The creative talent attended school at Cornell University, Rutgers University and the University of Salamanca. She is perhaps best known for novel, The Coldest Winter Ever, but she has other astounding novels such as No Disrespect and Midnight: A Ganger Love Story.
Bell Hooks: She wrote her first novel at nineteen. Great works: Ain’t I a woman?; Happy to be Nappy; Killing Rage: Ending Racism; Sister of the Yam.
Octavia Butler: She became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1995. Great Works: Blood child and other stories; Lilith’s Brood; Parable of the Sower; Mind of My Mind
Audre Lorde: She was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Great Works: From a Land Where Other People Live; Between Our Selves; From a Land Where Other People Live; Coal
Gloria Naylor: In 1983, she won the National Book Award for first fiction. Great Works: The Women of Brewster Place, Linden Hills, Bailey’s Caf’ and, Mama Day
Maya Angelou: She was heralded as one of the first Black women to discuss her personal life publically. Great Works: I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water; Gather Together In My Name; and I Shall Not Be Moved.
Teri Wood: Published her first few books herself, and took to the streets selling them. Great Works: B-More Careful; Dutch; Double Dose; Circle of Sin; NY’s Finest.
Sonia Sanchez: She has lectured at over 500 college campuses, and has taught as a professor at eight universities. Great Works: Sista Son/Ji; The Bronx is Next; Black Cats and Uneasy Landings
Zane: She has written over two dozen novel since she began writing in 1997. Great Works: The Sex Chronicles; Shame on it All; Nervous; Total Eclipse of the Heart; Love is Never Painless.