Classic Books for Black History Month

Black History Month is the perfect time to introduce contemporary black authors to our reading repertoire. However we must not forget the black writers of the past that helped paved the way. Without their compelling tales and intriguing narratives, we most likely would not have the amazing contemporary black authors we have at the moment. So if you are interested in broadening your horizons within black literature, why not start with the following books?

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The Woman of Colour: A Tale by Anonymous

In The Woman of Colour, Olivia Fairfield, the biracial heroine and orphaned daughter of an English slaveholder and an African princess, must travel to England, and as a condition of her father’s will, either marry her Caucasian first cousin, Augustus Merton, or become dependent on his mercenary elder brother and sister-in-law. As Olivia decides between these two conflicting possibilities, her letters recount her impressions of Britain and its inhabitants as only a black woman could record them. She gives scathing descriptions of London, Bristol, and the British, as well as progressive critiques of race, racism, and slavery. The narrative follows her life from the heights of her arranged marriage to its swift descent into annulment, destitution, and potential debauchery, only to culminate in her resurrection as a self-proclaimed “widow” who flouts the conventional marriage plot. (Credit: Broadview Press)


Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacolein Many Lands by Mary Seacole

Written in 1857, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands is the autobiography of a Jamaican woman whose fame rivaled Florence Nightingale’s during the Crimean War. Seacole traveled widely before arriving in London, where her offer to volunteer as a nurse in the war was met with racism and refusal. Undaunted, she set out independently to the Crimea, where she acted as doctor and “mother” to wounded soldiers while running her business, the “British Hotel.” Told with energy, warmth, and humor, her remarkable life story and accounts of hardships at the battlefront offer significant insights into the history of race politics. (Credit: Penguin Classics)


Iola Leroy by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

First published in 1892, this stirring novel by the great writer and activist Frances Harper tells the story of the young daughter of a wealthy Mississippi planter who travels to the North to attend school, only to be sold into slavery in the South when it is discovered that she has Negro blood. After she is freed by the Union army, she works to reunify her family and embrace her heritage, committing herself to improving the conditions for blacks in America. (Credit: Penguin Classics)

Consider to be one of the first novels to be published by an African American woman.


Clotel: or, The President’s Daughter by William Wells Brown

First published in December 1853, Clotel was written amid then unconfirmed rumors that Thomas Jefferson had fathered children with one of his slaves. The story begins with the auction of his mistress, here called Currer, and their two daughters, Clotel and Althesa. The Virginian who buys Clotel falls in love with her, gets her pregnant, seems to promise marriage—then sells her. Escaping from the slave dealer, Clotel returns to Virginia disguised as a white man in order to rescue her daughter, Mary, a slave in her father’s house. A fast-paced and harrowing tale of slavery and freedom, of the hypocrisies of a nation founded on democratic principles, Clotel is more than a sensationalist novel. It is a founding text of the African American novelistic tradition, a brilliantly composed and richly detailed exploration of human relations in a new world in which race is a cultural construct. (Credit: Penguin Classics)


A Voice from the South by Anna Julia Cooper

Regarded as the first voice of black feminism, this collection of essays focuses on racial progress and women’s rights. Author Anna Julia Cooper, one of the most prominent African-American scholars in U.S. history, emphasizes the importance of women’s education and discusses African-Americans’ economic roles and their literary representation. (Credit: Dover Publications)


The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave Narrative by Mary Prince

The first black woman to escape from slavery in the British colonies and publish a record of her experiences, Prince vividly recalls her life in the West Indies, her rebellion against physical and psychological degradation, and her 1828 escape in England. A straightforward, often poetic account of a struggle for freedom. (Credit: Penguin Classics)


Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson

Our Nig is the tale of a mixed-race girl, Frado, abandoned by her white mother after the death of the child’s black father. Frado becomes the servant of the Bellmonts, a lower-middle-class white family in the free North, while slavery is still legal in the South, and suffers numerous abuses in their household. Frado’s story is a tragic one; having left the Bellmonts, she eventually marries a black fugitive slave, who later abandons her. (Credit: Penguin Classics)


The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts

Considered to be the first novel written by an African American woman

A riveting story about a young slave woman on a Southern plantation, The Bondwoman’s Narrative follows the title character as she escapes and makes her way to freedom. As a novel, it possesses all the charms and devices of popular mid-19th-century fiction, and the influences of gothic and romantic writers popular in the day are apparent throughout the text. But Crafts accomplishes more than mere mimicry in her book, adding her own voice to established traditions to create a unique style. (Credit: Grand Central Publishing)



Published by karma2015

I was born and raised in New York. I still live in New York but kind of sick of the city and one day I wish to move to the UK.I have a Masters degree in Library Science and I currently work in a special collections library. I loved books ever since I was a little girl. Through the hard times in my life, my love for books has always gotten me through. Just entering another world different from my own intrigues me. As long as I am entering in another universe, I like to create my own as well. I love to write and hopefully I will be able to complete a novel.

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