Five Must-Read African American Authors (Who Aren’t Toni Morrison)

As an avid reader and the creator of this book blog, I am often asked to provide reading recommendations. I won’t lie to you, I live for those moments. There is nothing I love more than to impose my reading agenda share my thoughts and bookish favorites with beloved readers, family, and friends.

Each time I’m asked this question, particularly in regard to African-American authors, I start by listing the pre-requisites – Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray, Zora Neal Hurston, and others of the Afro-literary canon. But I always make it a point to throw in new or lesser known authors and titles.

In this post, I eliminated many of the above-mentioned canonical works by excluding non-living Afro-American authors. I also removed (living) author Toni Morrison because, although she’s brilliant and worthy of high praise, there lots of other talented and noteworthy authors on the afro-literary scene.

The authors listed below are making a huge impact on the contemporary Afro-literary genre and on literary fiction in general. They are bold, creative, imaginative, ambitious and simply brilliant. These are the authors whose work I recommend you get acquainted with, if you haven’t already, and those whose careers you should definitely should follow.

Without further ado, I present my list of the five authors you must read if interested in contemporary Afro-American literary fiction:

Colson Whitehead
In 1999, Whitehead wrote a brilliant piece of speculative fiction entitled “The Intuitionist”. The novel mixes afro-futurism with issues of morality, race and politics. Hailed as an innovative and poetic debut novel, Whitehead’s allegory has already been compared to such classics as “The Bluest Eye” (okay, one Morrison reference . . . sue me!) and “Invisible Man”. As if this weren’t reason enough to read his work, his second novel, John Henry Days, an epic American narrative, was a Pulitzer And National Book Critics Award finalist. Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal . . .

Edward P Jones
Award winning short story author, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, and self proclaimed hermit, Edward P Jones has all the makings of a literary genius. In 2009 The Washington Post published a rare interview with Jones in which the journalist was surprised to learn that the author had yet to type a single word of the book he has been “writing” for the last ten years. Jones revealed that he constructs his novels in his head – entirely, punctuation included – and, once finished, sits at a computer, types the finished version and sends it directly to his publisher. For that reason alone, you should read his epic novel “The Known World”.

James Mcbride
There is a natural harmony between literature and music. Cadence, lyric, and tone are descriptive of both melody and prose. Perhaps this is why McBride’s novels are written so beautifully – he is both an author and jazz musician. He received the National Book Award for “The Good Lord Bird”, a hypnotizing novel about a slave living in Kansas territory who befriends abolitionist John Brown. But prior to receiving this award (and catapulting to fame), McBride wrote noteworthy literary gems such as “The Color of Water”, “The Song Yet Sung”, and the novel adapted to film “Miracle at St. Anna”.

Jessmyn Ward
National Book Award winner for Salvage the Bones, a novel about a Mississippi town ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Ward weaves one heck of a tale. I believe that a strong opening line is an indication of good fiction and “Salvage the Bones” begins with: “China’s turned on herself. If I didn’t know, I would think she was trying to eat her paws”. Ward also wrote the next book on my TBR list, the widely acclaimed memoir, “The Men We Reaped”. It’s a haunting account of black male pathos and southern family histories that is accessible to readers both within and outside of the ivory tower.

MK Asante
Born in Zimbabwe to American parents, Philadelphia raised Mk Asante is a highly respected professor, filmmaker as well as a critically acclaimed author. “Buck: A Memoir” is currently being adapted into a screenplay by Asante himself. Uber-talented and ambitious, Asante has received high praise from the likes of Poet Laureate Maya Angelou. The novel is unique in language, immersing the reader in the visceral and verbally assaulting world of “Killadelphia”. Asante will entertain you and, if you aren’t careful, he may also teach you something about urban America.

2 Comments

Filed under Afro-American Lit

2 responses to “Five Must-Read African American Authors (Who Aren’t Toni Morrison)

  1. Thanks, I just requested Colson Whitehead’s first novel, looking forward to reading it.

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