Nothing complements the relaxing days of summer like a great book to entertain, educate and inspire. In honor of the 40th anniversary of ESSENCE magazine we've come up with 40 books that have captured and shaped the experiences of African-Americans. We look to selections that have helped guide us in examining the past and prepared us for the future.
40 Summer Books
"Waiting to Exhale" by Terry McMillan
Terry McMillan tells it like it is with four 30+ women who are desperately trying to find men to match their success, drive and love.
"The World Is Round" by Nikky Finney
A collection of beautiful poems about some of life's most touching moments.
"Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe writes a story about a well respected Nigerian warrior with a temper, who looses everything during the colonization in Africa.
"The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison
Stuck in a world where her beauty isn't valued, Pecola Breedlove, wants her brown eyes to turn blue so she can receive the same treatment as her White blue-eyed friends.
"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neal Hurston
Gaining independence isn't easy for free-spirited Janie Crawford. She marries three different men through whom she learns about love and spiritual redemption.
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
A powerful autobiography about sexual abuse and triumphant.
"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
A story of two southern sisters, Celie and Nettie, who share a deep bond that cannot be destroyed despite attempts by the novel's villain, Mister.
"White Teeth" by Zadie Smith
Smith steals the show in her first novel about a London family dealing with race, gender and culture.
"Gorilla, My Love" by Toni Cade Bambara
A collection of short stories focusing on the experiences of several African-American characters dealing with betrayal and loss.
"The Souls of Black Folks" by W.E.B. Dubois
A collection of essays, often autobiographical, about race in America at the turn of the 20th century.
"The Coldest Winter Ever" by Sister Souljah
Sassy and bold, Winter Santiaga, the first born daughter of a prominent drug dealer in Brooklyn, is pushed to her limits and challenged in ways she never imagined.
"What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day" by Pearl Cleage
Testing positive for HIV is never an easy pill to swallow, but Ava Johnson manages to do so with grace and poise. She quits her job in Atlanta and moves back to her hometown in Idlewild, Michigan.
"Race Matters" by Cornel West
A deep and thought-provoking analysis of the history of Black folks and where we stand today.
"The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Alex Haley
The transformation of Malcolm Little, prisoner to Malcolm Little, then icon Malcolm X.
"Tar Beach" by Faith Ringgold
A poignant children's book about Black culture set in Harlem.
"Thomas And Beulah" by Rita Dove
This 1987 Pulitzer Prize book tells a beautiful narrative that can almost be mistaken for realistic.
"The Big Sea" by Langston Hughes
An autobiography of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes as he worked in a Paris night club to walking the streets in Harlem, as a young poet during the roaring twenties.
"Dreams From My Father" by Barack Obama
A touching memoir about President Obama, growing up as a biracial child to his college days.
"The Fire Next Time" by James Baldwin
An edgy book about race in America.
"Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison
A story of a nameless Black man who goes through several trials and tribulations as he searches for himself in a racially intolerant America.
"Your Blues Ain't Like Mine" by Bebe Moore Campbell
A moving novel about the rural Mississippi to the present-day street gangs in Chicago's housing projects.
"The Women of Brewster Place" by Gloria Naylor
A great book tracing the strength of seven diverse Black women who live in a beaten-down rented house.
"Devil In A Blue Dress" by Walter Mosley
A Black war veteran looses his job and wonders how he will make ends meet and is later faced with a tough challenge.
"Colored People: A Memoir" by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes a memoir of his youth years in West Virginia in a time where everything was racially charged.
"Jubilee" byMargaret Walker
A story of a Black child, who's father is a White plantation owner and mother a Black mistress, set in the pre-civil war era.
"A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines
A young teacher comes in contact with a young black man on death row for a crime he didn't commit.
"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" by Frederick Douglass
A Maryland born slave, who taught himself to read and write among learning to free himself.
"The Mis-education of the Negro" by Carter G Woodson
A power book that challenges all African-Americans to really "do for themselves."
"Betsey Brown" by Ntozake Shange
A lyrical master piece that tells a story about a little Black girl growing up in St. Louis, Missouri.
"Defending the Spirit" by Randall Robinson
A brilliant memoir that traces the successful life of a warrior committed to fighting racism.
"Tumbling" by Diane Mckinney-Whetstone
A snapshot of a Black community in South Philadelphia in the 1940s.
"Native Son" by Richard Wright
A powerful tale about a young Black guy who recognizes he is trapped by poverty and his race.
"The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South" by Nikky Finney
A collection of powerful poems about Black families, relationships and life.
"Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism" by bell hooks
hooks bravely writes about how Black activism and criticizes certain areas in feminism.
"Ugly Ways" by Tina McElroy Ansa
This novel is about three Black sisters who reunite in their Georgia hometown to share their feelings while preparing for their mother's funeral.
"The Healing" by Gayl Jones
A gentle novel about a Black beautician's long journey in the world.
"Daddy Was a Number Runner" by Louise Meriwether
This inspirational classic tells a powerful story of a spirited little girl coming to grips in depression era Harlem.
"Wounded in the House of a Friend" by Sonia Sanchez
Gifted poet Sonia Sanchez presents a homage to Blacks, both past and present.
"Cane" by Jean Toomer
A brilliant portrait of the Harlem Renaissance.
"Ego Tripping And Other Poems For Young People" by Nikki Giovanni
A collection of twenty poems by Nikki Giovanni for young people about African American life.