Books and Poems about Racism and Black Lives

Like many across the globe, we at LitCharts are appalled at the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. We have been learning from the anguish of communities of color, and we’ve been working through internal and external actions we can take to help raise the standard of justice and equality worldwide.

During this time, we’ve received requests from teachers asking for guidance in identifying a range of books that reveal and confront racial injustice and illuminate today’s urgent demands for change. We thought that making such a list was one way we could contribute. 

To that end, we’ve selected 30 books that can help teachers, students, and readers of all kinds gain a deeper understanding of the issues, experiences, and history that have inspired the recent protests and uprisings. The books we’ve chosen are written by a range of authors, the majority Black Americans, a few not. They cover a range of time periods, from contemporary to pre-Civil War. And they’re appropriate for a range of ages, from young adult to higher learning and beyond. We’ve provided a short description for each book to help you navigate the list.

While the 30 books we’ve chosen offer a start, they are just an entrance point, a beginning. We’ve therefore included two more lists—one of poems, and one of many more books—that also focus on Black lives. If you’re interested in purchasing any of the books on this list, consider buying them from one of these Black-owned bookstores or from an independent bookstore on or

30 Books about Racism and Black Lives

An American Marriage —  Novelist Tayari Jones depicts the wrongful imprisonment of a Black man, showing the collateral damage that mass incarceration inflicts on American families. Literary Fiction; Published 2018.

Americanah — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie follows a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to the United States. As she adjusts to her new life, she reflects on American racism and what it’s like to suddenly feel Black. Literary Fiction; Published 2013.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X — Civil rights activist Malcolm X’s firsthand account of his difficult upbringing, coming-of-age, and his fight to dismantle systemic racism and oppression in the United States. Nonfiction; Published 1965.

Becoming — Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir details how optimism and perseverance helped her to overcome the racism and sexism that she faces as an African American woman. Nonfiction; Published 2018.

Beloved — Through magical realism, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison depicts a formerly enslaved woman reckoning with her harrowing experiences on a Southern plantation. Literary Fiction; Published 1987.

Between the World and Me — In this book-length letter to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates details how slavery and Jim Crow still affect African Americans today. Nonfiction; Published 2015.

Black Skin, White Masks — Combining insights from psychoanalysis, sociology, and personal experience, the groundbreaking postcolonial thinker Frantz Fanon explains the dehumanizing violence of anti-Black racism. Nonfiction; Published 1952.

Born a Crime — Comedian and TV host Trevor Noah’s memoir chronicles his early life in apartheid South Africa. As the biracial son of a white father and Xhosa mother, Noah’s very existence defied the strict racial segregation of the apartheid regime. Nonfiction; Published 2016.

Citizen: An American Lyric — Claudia Rankine’s inventive book-length poem portrays the lived experience of African American people enduring constant racism. Nonfiction (and Poetry); Published 2014.

The Color of Law — Historian Richard Rothstein explains that American racial segregation is not the natural outcome of people choosing where they live; it’s caused by racist policy at the federal, state, and local level, which devastates communities of color. Nonfiction; Published 2017.

The Fire Next Time — James Baldwin meditates on family, Black history, and how religion can be weaponized to spread fear and justify hatred. Nonfiction; Published 1963.

The Hate U Give — In Angie Thomas’s best-selling young adult novel, a Black teenager reckons with police brutality and turns to social justice after witnessing a white police officer shoot and kill her unarmed friend. YA Fiction; Published 2017.

Hidden Figures — Margot Lee Shetterly tells the true story of a group of Black women at NASA who did the math that fueled the space race and helped put American astronauts on the moon. Nonfiction; Published 2014.

Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi’s acclaimed novel follows the descendants of a Ghanian woman named Maame, portraying the multigenerational struggles of a Black family on both sides of the Atlantic. Literary Fiction; Published 2016.

How to be an Antiracist — Ibram X. Kendi lays out his notion of antiracism and explains how antiracist ideas can lead to a radically better future. Nonfiction; Published 2019.

Just Mercy — Attorney and activist Bryan Stevenson recounts his decades of fighting for the wrongfully convicted, illuminating the structural injustice of the American legal system along the way. Nonfiction; Published 2014. 

Letter From Birmingham Jail — In 1963, while imprisoned for his role in nonviolent Civil Rights protests, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter explaining the urgency of public protest and castigating white people for their passivity in the face of injustice that they recognize to be wrong. Essay; Published 1963.

The New Jim Crow — Lawyer and scholar Michelle Alexander argues that the Jim Crow era hasn’t really ended: mass incarceration, like the Jim Crow laws of generations past, is meant to oppress Black people, only now it masquerades as justice. Nonfiction; Published 2010.

On the Come Up — In Angie Thomas’s follow-up to The Hate U Give, a Black teenager writes a controversial rap song about the issues that plague her community. It goes viral. YA Fiction; Published 2019.

The Other Wes Moore — This is the true story of two Black boys from Baltimore named Wes Moore. Despite their similar upbringings, one became a Rhodes Scholar, government advisor, banker, and author, while the other serves a life sentence for his role in a murder. In telling their stories, Wes Moore illuminates the toll of systemic racism and the barriers that Black people face when seeking a better life. Nonfiction; Published 2010.

Passing — Nella Larsen’s iconic Harlem Renaissance novel follows the complicated friendship of two biracial women who sometimes pass as white. Literary Fiction; Published 1929. 

Salvage the Bones — Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning novel follows a working-class Black family’s devastating experience of Hurricane Katrina. Literary Fiction; Published 2011. 

The Sellout — Paul Beatty’s acclaimed satirical novel features a Black man who enslaves another Black man and wants to re-segregate Los Angeles, challenging the notion that contemporary America has left its sins in the past. Literary Fiction; Published 2015.

The Souls of Black Folk — In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois published this trailblazing essay collection on race in America, making the prescient argument that the main issue of 20th century America would be racial inequality. Nonfiction; Published 1903.

So You Want to Talk About Race — Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through some of the most important and difficult-to-discuss topics of our day, including police brutality, cultural appropriation, and intersectionality. Nonfiction; Published 2019.

Stamped from the Beginning — Ibram X. Kendi writes an accessible and groundbreaking history of racist ideas, showing their role in American history and contemporary life. Nonfiction; Published 2016.

The Underground Railroad — In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Colson Whitehead imagines that the Underground Railroad was a literal railroad and he traces an enslaved woman’s grueling journey to freedom. Literary Fiction; Published 2016.

The Water Dancer — Ta-Nehisi Coates’ debut novel imagines a formerly enslaved man who discovers that he has a superhuman ability to use his memories to travel through time and space. Literary Fiction; Published 2019

White Fragility — By exploring how some white people feel attacked whenever the subject of racism comes up, Robin DiAngelo helps white readers contribute to racial justice by changing their role in the conversation. Nonfiction; Published 2018.

The Wretched of the Earth — In this influential book from the early sixties, Frantz Fanon explores the dehumanizing psychological effects of colonialism and lays out a strategy for decolonizing people, culture, and nations. Nonfiction; Published 1961.

More Books About the Black Experience

12 Years a Slave — Solomon Northup (Nonfiction; 1853)

The 57 Bus — Dashka Slater (Nonfiction; 2017)

The America Play — Suzan-Lori Parks (Drama; 1994)

Another Brooklyn — Jacqueline Woodson (Literary Fiction; 2017)

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man — James Weldon Johnson (Nonfiction; 1912)

Barracoon — Zora Neale Hurston (Nonfiction; 2018)

Behold the Dreamers — Imbolo Mbue (Literary Fiction; 2016)

Black Boy — Richard Wright (Nonfiction; 1945)

Black Like Me — John Howard Griffin (Nonfiction; 1961)

The Bluest Eye — Toni Morrison (Literary Fiction; 1970)

Brown Girl Dreaming — Jacqueline Woodson (YA Fiction; 2014)

Bud, Not Buddy — Christopher Paul Curtis (YA Fiction; 1999)

Celia, a Slave — Melton McLaurin (Nonfiction; 1991)

The Color Purple — Alice Walker (Literary Fiction; 1982)

The Crossover — Kwame Alexander (YA Fiction; 2014)

Dear Martin — Nic Stone (YA Fiction; 2017)

Fences — August Wilson (Drama; 1986)

Girl — Jamaica Kincaid (Short Story; 1978)

Go Tell It On the Mountain — James Baldwin (Literary Fiction; 1953)

How It Feels to be Colored Me — Zora Neale Hurston (Essay; 1928)

If Beale Street Could Talk — James Baldwin (Literary Fiction; 1974)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — Rebecca Skloot (Nonfiction; 2010)

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl — Harriet Jacobs (Nonfiction; 1861)

Intimate Apparel — Lynn Nottage (Drama; 2005)

Invisible Man — Ralph Ellison (Literary Fiction; 1952)

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone — August Wilson (Drama; 1984)

Kindred — Octavia E. Butler (Literary Fiction; 1979)

The Life of Olaudah Equiano — Olaudah Equiano (Nonfiction; 1789)

A Mercy — Toni Morrison (Literary Fction; 2008)

Monster — Walter Dean Myers (YA Fiction; 1999)

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass — Frederick Douglass (Nonfiction; 1845)

Native Son — Richard Wright (Literary Fiction; 1940)

The Nickel Boys — Colson Whitehead (Literary Fiction; 2019)

Notes of a Native Son — James Baldwin (Nonfiction; 1955)

Quicksand — Nella Larsen (Literary Fiction; 1928)

A Raisin in the Sun — Lorraine Hansberry (Drama; 1959)

Recitatif — Toni Morrison (Short Story; 1983)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry — Mildred Taylor (YA Fiction; 1983)

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace — Jeffrey Hobbs (Nonfiction; 2011)

Sing, Unburied, Sing — Jesmyn Ward (Literary Fiction; 2017)

Song of Solomon —  Toni Morrison (Literary Fiction; 1977)

Sonny’s Blues — James Baldwin (Short Story; 1957)

Sula — Toni Morrison (Literary Fiction; 1973)

Their Eyes Were Watching God — Zora Neale Hurston (Literary Fiction; 1937)

Topdog/Underdog — Suzan-Lori Parks (Drama; 2001)

Up From Slavery — Booker T. Washington (Nonfiction; 1901)

Warriors Don’t Cry — Melba Beals (Nonfiction; 1994)

Some Poems About the Black Experience

__________ my loved blacknesses & some blacknesses I knew — Khadijah Queen (2015)

alternate names for black boys — Danez Smith (2014)

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [“Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous”] — Terrance Hayes (2017)

A Small Needful Fact — Ross Gay (2015)

The African Burial Ground — Yusef Komunyakaa (2014)

The Afterbirth, 1931 — Nikky Finney (1995)

Ballad of Birmingham — Dudley Randall (1963)

Ballad of the Landlord — Langston Hughes (1940)

BLK History Month — Nikki Giovanni (2002)

Caged Bird — Maya Angelou (1983)

Checking Out Me History — John Agard (2004)

Dancing With Strom — Nikky Finney (2002)

Elegy for the Native Guards — Natasha Trethewey (2007)

Enlightenment — Natasha Trethewey (2012)

faithless — Quraysh Ali Lansana (2004)

For My People — Margaret Walker (1989)

Half-Caste — John Agard (2005)

Harlem — Langston Hughes (1951)

Incendiary Art — Patricia Smith (2016)

Interview with a Policeman — Ai (1987)

I, Too — Langston Hughes (1926)

If We Must Die — Claude McKay (1919)

In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr. — June Jordan (2005)

jasper texas 1998 — Lucille Clifton (2000)

Let America Be America Again — Langston Hughes (1935)

Middle Passage — Robert Hayden (1962)

Miscegenation — Natasha Trethewey (2007)

Mother to Son — Langston Hughes (2002)

Mules and Women — Angela Jackson (1998)

my dream about being white — Lucille Clifton (1987)

The Negro Speaks of Rivers — Langston Hughes (1920)

Now More Than Ever — Morgan Parker (2019)

On Being Brought From Africa to America — Phillis Wheatley (1773)

Phenomenal Woman — Maya Angelou (1978)

Poem for My Father — Quincy Troupe (1996)

Power — Audre Lorde (1978)

Riot — Gwendolyn Brooks (1994)

Rosa — Rita Dove (1998)

senses of heritage — Ntozake Shange (1972)

Sorrow Home — Margaret Walker (1989)

Still I Rise — Maya Angelou (1978)

The Sun Came — Etheridge Knight (1986)

Theme for English B — Langston Hughes (1951)

There It Is — Jayne Cortez (2009)

This Is Not a Small Voice — Sonia Sanchez (1995)

Watch Us Elocute — Marcus Wicker (2015)

We Real Cool — Gwendolyn Brooks (1959)

We Should Make a Documentary About Spades — Terrance Hayes (2015)

We Wear the Mask — Paul Laurence Dunbar (1895)

White Lies — Natasha Trethewey (2000)

won’t you celebrate with me — Lucille Clifton (1993)

The Weary Blues — Langston Hughes (1925)


Author: The LitCharts Team

Posts by the LitCharts Team.