Black Literature Reading List Book Covers

As an organization of writers, readers, and those who believe that words can transform lives, PEN America is committed to the quest for common truths, social progress, and a more just world. We stand in solidarity with writers, artists, and the literary community at large in the fight to confront anti-Black racism and to end police violence.

This week’s reading list is curated by PEN America’s World Voices Festival team and features a mix of classic and contemporary novels, essay collections, and poetry collections. It includes the searing prose of James Baldwin’s 1963 bestseller The Fire Next Time, in which he tells his nephew how to navigate the injustices he will face as Black man in America. We also highlight Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, published more than 50 years later but which exposes the same threats of racial violence that still plague our country and threaten young Black men.

We chose the works on this list because, like Baldwin’s essay and Stone’s YA novel, they are in conversation with one another. They inform one another, build off of one another, and celebrate one another. They do not just detail the plight of Black people. Rather, these works of art, like any example of great literature, are nuanced, challenging, and boundless. History has proven that interest in Black literature surges during periods of social unrest. But the canon of Black literature did not suddenly appear in these moments. Black literature is American literature.