5 Black Women Authors Everyone Should Be Reading

by Anna Gibson

It is no secret that black women are left in the margins of the publishing industry. This is most readily apparent when black women attempt to write novels of various genres outside of the “urban” section. If you go into any bookstore, more often than not, the African American section is replete with stories set in the inner city that involve drugs and gangs.

This is not to say that the urban genre does not help carve a valuable niche within the black community to get published or reflect the lived experiences of a number of people who experience the circumstances of these situations. However, it should be noted the genre is not an accurate representation of all the different aspects of our lives, nor is it an accurate representation of the genres we continue to slay on a regular basis.

If you like “urban” novels, as they would call them, that is wonderful. The moment you decide to check out other genres, I would like to introduce you to five black women authors whose books will keep you reading all night. It should be noted, I’m going to stray from authors we hear about all the time—Octavia Butler or Nalo Hopkinson, for instance—in favor of authors relatively few people have heard about.

Check out these authors below:

N. K. Jemisin — Afro-Futurism 

N. K. Jemisin is a perfect starting point for those who are interested in science fiction but who cannot see themselves in it. Afro-Futurism, which is Jemisin’s genre of choice, takes Black protagonists and creates a fantasy or science fiction universe either set in Africa or based around Afrocentric ideals. While there are a number of amazing authors that delve into this genre, very few people know the name of one of the most critically acclaimed Afro-Futurist authors of our time.

The lush landscape of her Dreamblood Duology is replete with political intrigue, and a deeply fleshed out cultural foundation she says is based largely on Ancient Egypt. In her Inheritance Trilogy, (now being sold in one book called an Omnibus) the reader is introduced to a complex mythos complete with power struggles between the common people, social elites and deities. Jemisin touches on a number of issues in her novels, from religion and colonialism to classism and politics within the framework of Afro-Futurism.

Kiini Ibura Salaam — Science Fiction/Fantasy

Salaam’s book Ancient, Ancient is a strange combination of science fiction and fantasy. It interweaves 13 short stories that touch on a number of issues surrounding indigenous cultures and spiritual mythos. Gradually, the stories begin to lead the reader through a loosely connected story spanning everything from spirituality to Creole culture and everything in between. The underlying pulse that connects each of the stories is the intersectionality between sexuality and race, which proves to be the force that drives each of the stories home to the reader.

Sharise B. Moore — Fantasy/Erotica

If you want a break from Zane, Sharise B. Moore’s novel Taste is a great place to start. The story is set on the island of Ido and pulls the reader into a world where the youth of the island are at war with their Elders. These Elders attempt to stop the rites of Taste, a ceremony spanning years in which the youth of the island experience sexual initiation. In the novel, Moore follows the characters until they finally gain transcendence and enlightenment, becoming one with the Ancestors after death. Taste is Moore’s only novel, but it’s probably one of the best I’ve read that melds eroticism with fantasy. The novel is truly unique and reading it is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Jewelle Gomez — Horror

In her novel, The Gilda Stories, Jewelle Gomez takes the reader through a vampire story set in the Old South during the times of slavery. The vampires in this novel are different than what you’ll find anywhere else. In exchange for blood, they plant in men seeds of potential in the minds of their ‘victims’. After these men remember what they’re capable of, they proceed to follow their dreams and impact the world in a positive way. At the center of the story are two vampiric clans fighting against each other. The novel touches on a number of issues including rape, coming to terms with one’s sexuality, and understanding the importance of family.

Sheree Renee Thomas — Various Genres

If you’re looking for an introduction into Afrocentric Sci-Fi and Fantasy but don’t know where to start, Sheree Renee Thomas has compiled an anthology of Afro-Futurist writing called Dark Matter: A History of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora. The stories in this anthology span a number of genres and authors, from an alternative history short story by W.E.B du Bois (Who knew he wrote fiction?) to a short story centering on the theme of colonialism by Octavia Butler. Thomas also helped to compile a second anthology called Dark Matter: Reading the Bones
, which focuses on a number of little known authors and short stories rarely seen from famous people of color.

All in all, writing should be diverse. Black people should be able to carve out spaces for ourselves that reflect our lived experiences and immense creativity. Representation is important. By seeing ourselves reflected in these writings, perhaps we will be inspired to create dynamic worlds ourselves and become a force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University majoring in Journalism. She’s also a Theravada Buddhist who focuses on creating a space for the marginalized to tell their stories. If you would like to get in touch, you can follow her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa or on Facebook where she’s hiding under the name Introspective Inquiries.