Revolutionary Black Women Authors

Black female author-activists of the past and present

by Janna Jesson

David Fenton/Getty Images

In the fight for equality, whether gender or racial equality, Black women have always been at the forefront. However, Black women rarely if ever receive credit or advancement in society regardless of their hard work to push others forward.

“Black women have had to develop a larger vision of our society than perhaps any other group. They have had to understand white men, white women, and black men. And they have had to understand themselves. When black women win victories, it is a boost for virtually every segment of society.” — Angela Davis

Today and every day, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of Black women, especially in the literary realm where they have been overlooked for centuries. Join us in reading the following titles written by revolutionary Black women of today and yesterday, who have not only had to fight their own battles, but have had to bear the struggles of others.

Note: This is by no means a comprehensive list. If you would like us to call attention to another work, please leave a comment in the comments section.

Angela Davis: An Autobiography by Angela Y Davis

Angela Yvonne Davis is a prominent and outspoken political activist, academic, and author. Davis reflects on her own powerful story up to 1972 — including her arrest, imprisonment, trial, and acquittal — that influenced her commitment to the liberation of the oppressed.

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a writer, feminist, librarian, and Civil Rights activist whose writing often reflected her outrage at civil and social injustices. In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change.

A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Stor by Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown is a prison activist, writer, singer, and former Black Panther Party chairwoman. Stunning, lyrical, and acute, Brown pens an indelible testimony of a Black woman’s battle to define herself as the first and only female leader of the Black Panther Party.

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

Assata (“she who struggles”) Shakur (“the thankful one”) is an author, political activist, and ex-political prisoner living in exile since 1984 due to racist government persecution. With wit and candor, Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism.

Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers

Charlene Carruthers is a Black queer feminist activist and organizer who aims to create young leaders in marginalized communities. Drawing on Black intellectual and grassroots organizing traditions, Unapologetic challenges all of us engaged in the social justice struggle to make the movement for Black liberation more radical, more queer, and more feminist.

The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader by Ida B. Wells

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, more commonly known as Ida B. Wells, was an investigative journalist, educator, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the NAACP. This volume covers the entire scope of Wells’s remarkable career, collecting her early writings, articles exposing the horrors of lynching, essays from her travels abroad, and her later journalism.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is a novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, professor emeritus at Princeton University, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.

Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston was an influential author, folklorist, and anthropologist who portrayed racial struggles in the early 20th century American South, and published research on Haitian voodoo. Dust Tracks on a Road is the bold, poignant, and funny autobiography of her life.

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King (and Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds)

Coretta Scott King was an author, activist, Civil Rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Her life story, as she told it to the Rev. Dr. Barabara Reynolds, is a love story, a family saga, and the memoir of an extraordinary twentieth-century Black leader who, in the face of terrorism and violent hatred, stood committed, proud, forgiving, nonviolent, and hopeful.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

Brittney Cooper is a Black feminist scholar, author, and professor. Her areas of research and work include Black women organizations, Black women intellectuals, and hip-hop feminism. In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting.

Liberation, Imagination and the Black Panther Party by Kathleen Cleaver (and George Katsiaficas)

Kathleen Neal Cleaver is a professor of law, known for her involvement with the Revolutionary movement and the Black Panther Party. This fascinating unbook gathers reflections by scholars and activists who consider the impact of the Black Panther Party, the most significant revolutionary organization in the later 20th century.

Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Anita Chisholm was a politician, educator, and author who became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress in 1968. Unbought and Unbossed is Chisholm’s account of her remarkable rise from a young girl in Brooklyn to America’s first Black Congresswoman.

Complete Writings by Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley was the first published Black female poet and was enslaved for 20 years of her life. This volume collects both Wheatley’s letters and her poetry: hymns, elegies, translations, philosophical poems, tales, and epyllions.

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes and speaks on Black politics, social movements, and racial inequality in the United States. In this collection of essays and interviews, founding members of The Combahee River Collective, a group of radical black feminists that developed out of the anti-racist movements of the 1960s and 70s, reflect on the legacy of its contributions to Black feminism and its impact on today’s struggles.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was an evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and author who escaped slavery with her daughter after nearly 30 brutal years. Truth’s landmark narrative chronicles her experiences as a slave in upstate New York and her journey to becoming an abolitionist, feminist, orator, and preacher.

Killing Rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks

bell hooks is an author, professor, feminist, and social activist whose work focuses on race, capitalism, and gender. This collection of 23 essays addresses race and racism in American society, including the psychological trauma of racism, anti-Semitism, and the internalized racism of the media.

Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel by Alice Walker

Alice Walker is a novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Walker writes of her personal encounters with cruelty and horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel and of finding her voice again after a period of speechlessness.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a poet, singer, memoirist, and Civil Rights activist with a prolific career spanning over 50 years. Her book captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right.

Song in a Weary Throat: Memoir of an American Pilgrimage by Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray was a civil rights activist who became a lawyer, a women’s rights activist, Episcopal priest, and author. In her prophetic memoir, Murray shares her journey navigating Jim Crow south as a civil rights and women’s rights advocate — who may have identified as transgender given the access/ability to.

In My Place by Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is a journalist who became part of the Civil Rights movement in 1961 when she and Hamilton Holmes became the first two Black students to enroll in the University of Georgia. In My Place is a moment-by-moment account of her walk into history when, at 19, she challenged Southern law, Southern violence, and the brutal realities of segregation.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf: A Choreopoem by Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange was a playwright and poet. As a Black feminist, she addressed issues relating to race and Black power in much of her work. Her revolutionary, award-winning play focuses on the experiences of women of color.

The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir by Daisy Bates

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates was a Civil Rights activist, publisher, journalist, and lecturer. She dealt with the murder of her mother at the hands of white men and later became president of an NAACP chapter where she historically mentored the Little Rock Nine. Her harrowing account of the 1957 Little Rock School Crisis was banned throughout the South after its publication.

Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir by Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height was an administrator and educator who worked as a Civil Rights and women’s rights activist, specifically focused on the issues of African-American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. In her memoir, Dr. Height reflects on a life of service and leadership.

Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets by Feminista Jones

Feminista Jones is an author, activist, and advocate for Civil Rights, gender equality, workplace diversity, mental health advocacy, poverty advocacy, and neighborhood revitalization. In Reclaiming Our Space, Jones explores how Black women are changing culture, society, and the landscape of feminism by building digital communities and using social media as powerful platforms.

The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was a poet, author, and teacher who was the first Black individual to receive a Pulitzer Prize. The Near-Johannesburg Boy uncovers the nuances of apartheid and amplifies though poetry the frustration and fears of South African children.

Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who Changed a Nation by Rosa Parks (with Gregory J. Reed)

Rosa Parks was an activist in the Civil Rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Quiet Strength is her poignant account of her infamous stand against injustice as well as the lasting impact it has made.

Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era by Ashley D. Farmer

Ashley D. Farmer is a historian of black women’s history, intellectual history, and radical politics. In this comprehensive history, Farmer examines black women’s political, social, and cultural engagement with Black Power ideals and organizations.

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