Popular Fiction & The Black American Experience

February 7, 2024

It’s Black History Month, and this year’s theme is African Americans and the Arts. This theme encourages us to pay homage to the immense contributions and indelible impact of African Americans in the vast world of the Arts, such as the incomparable Alice Walker (pictured above). In honor of and inspired by this theme, we’ve compiled some outstanding recent novels written by African American authors. Spotlighting historical fiction and mostly set within the past century, these impactful works help us all better understand, connect with, and learn from the Black American experience. 

Note: Historical fiction comes under fire from time to time for being potentially misleading. However, we selected these books because of the cultural truth that they tell — and the lessons we can learn from that truth. They provide well-researched windows into the lived realities of Black Americans, offering a rich and nuanced understanding of their experiences.

Historical Fiction Picks

The House of Eve

This novel by Sadeqa Johnson tells parallel stories as young women are coming of age in the 1950s in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Their stories of love, education, and the quest for both are equally as eye-opening as they are heart-wrenching.

Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?

Written by Crystal Smith Paul, this story is an intergenerational saga that intertwines the harsh realities of the world with the glamour of “Old Hollywood.” This intoxicating tale reveals incredibly realistic details about the lengths that people go to, in order to make their dreams come true.

The Vanishing Half

This book by Brit Bennett is a fascinating and sometimes frustrating tale of twin sisters. The pair separates and they end up on very different life paths. Their journeys explore the theme of racial identity and how perception begets reality, offering a compelling portrayal of the Black American experience.

Noteworthy Non-Fiction

Just Mercy

Bryan Stevenson penned this powerful (true) tale about the Equal Justice Initiative and the long road to seeking justice for innocent lives in the American South. It sheds light on the systemic injustices faced by Black Americans and their pursuit of justice and equality. It is written as a documentary so portions can be a bit legalese. But don’t worry — Michael B. Jordan stars in the movie version! This powerful narrative is soul-stirring and moving no matter how it is consumed. 

Murder in Boston

This pick is a podcast, not a novel, but it is a great option for those who love true crime stories. This multi-part podcast is “The Untold Story of the Charles and Carol Stuart Shooting,” hosted by Boston Globe reporter, Adrian Walker. Adrian and his investigative team dig deep into the Boston neighborhoods and unveil explosive new findings that change the perspective of this infamous, and sadly true, story. 

These are just some of the eye-opening and poignant stories brought to us by African American writers. They deserve to be heard, respected, and celebrated. Read them, digest them, and share them with friends!