100 Great Books From African American Women

Ida B. Wells, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston are just three of the authors whose works appear in the Zora Canon.

From the earliest days of American literature, Black women have made invaluable contributions—although their work was often discounted, criticized, or ignored. To counter this history, the online publication Zora (named for author Zora Neale Hurston) created The Zora Canon, a collection of the 100 most prominent books written by African American women. Even better, most of these books are available to check out for free on the Internet Archive!

“To our knowledge,” write the editors of Zora, “no one has ever compiled a comprehensive list specifically featuring the finest literary works produced by African American women authors. We decided to undertake that effort both to honor that still underappreciated group of writers and to provide [readers] with a handy reference guide to their work. ”

The books were compiled in consultation with a panel of academics, critics, authors, editors, and authorities on African American women’s literature, who each added to the final list. The result was 100 works spanning more than a century and a half in a huge variety of genres and styles, including novels, plays, poetry, memoirs, anthologies, and scholarly works. “Taken together,” write the editors, “the works don’t just make up a novel canon; they form a revealing mosaic of the Black American experience during the time period. They’re also just great reads. ”

As part of our commitment to offering Universal Access to All Knowledge, the Internet Archive works to share literature from diverse perspectives—which is why we were pleased to discover that most of the books in the Zora Canon are already available in our collections. Many of them are available for checkout—all you have to do is sign up for a digital library card—while a few are in the public domain, allowing anybody to download them without limitation. Some of the books that aren’t yet available can be added through our Book Sponsorship program, so that future readers can discover and enjoy them. 

If you’d like to read some of the books on the list, check out the links below! If you want to expand your reading further, you can also browse our #1000 Black Girl Books Collection (which features a range of books with Black girls and women as the protagonists) or our full list of works by Zora Neale Hurston. Happy reading!

The Zora Canon

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A Voice From the South: By a Black Woman of the South by Anna Julia Cooper

African American Music: An Introduction by Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby

Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900 by Martha S. Jones

All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith

Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks

Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith

Blue-Chip Black by Karyn R. Lacy

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Corregidora by Gayl Jones

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory by Michele Wallace

Iola Leroy by Frances Harper

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

Killing the Black Body by Dorothy E. Roberts

Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Meridian by Alice Walker

Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Oreo by Fran Ross

Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Passing by Nella Larsen

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School by Monique W. Morris

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

81. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin

Radiance From the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art by Sylvia Ardyn Boone

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange

Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Sula by Toni Morrison

Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston

The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas

The Black Woman: An Anthology by Toni Cade Bambara

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction Into Ethnic Factions by Vilna Bashi Treitler

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

The Flagellants by Carlene Hatcher Polite

The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The Red Record by Ida B. Wells

The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara

The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni: 1968–1995 by Nikki Giovanni

The Street by Ann Petry

The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman

We a BaddDDD People by Sonia Sanchez

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings

Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

17 thoughts on “100 Great Books From African American Women

  1. Pingback: Die 100 bekanntesten Bücher von afroamerikanischen Autorinnen | digithek blog


    amazing post, I love the african american history
    I enjoy your beautiful site, thank you very much for your good feelings towards the great users.

  3. Jacqueline F. Casey

    Hi Jenica! Great post! Thank you for taking the time to list these books and provide links. Also, thank you for contributing to the diversity of America! Best, Jacqueline

  4. Travel Juanda Malang

    Outstanding literature can be for the commonality of nations throughout the world

  5. پارسی موزیک

    The history of Africans is very interesting
    And I think this article is worth reading

  6. ایران نوا

    Thank you for taking the time to list these books and provide links. Also, thank you for contributing to the diversity of America! Best, Jacqueline

  7. Ms thelma

    Since we’ve been mostly home this period, I’ve been doing some reading on Black American experience during the medieval periods. It’s been entertaining and horror at the same time. I’d give some of your recommendations a try. I have a feeling “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry would offer some depths and perspectives. Also, I read “The Heart of a Woman” by Maya Angelou a while back and I must say Maya never disappoints.

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