The Best African American Literature for Bookclubs

TalkAfrican/African American Literature

Join LibraryThing to post.

The Best African American Literature for Bookclubs

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Sep 9, 2007, 9:00 pm

I am always in book clubs, and would like to expand the list of books I draw from when it is my turn to suggest what to read. Would you help me?

What book (African American subject or author) generated (or would generate) a really great discussion at a book club meeting? Your book suggestion can be either a classic or contemporary fiction or non-fiction book. Please make your suggestions based on the club being a co-ed group of adults in your own age group.

I hope your answers will get my reading groups out of a reading rut. Thanking you in advance....

Edited: Sep 15, 2007, 11:12 pm

The Destruction of Black Civilization by Dr. Chancellor Williams would be an excellent book for those who knew a little about our history and those who think they know it all. The book is easy to read and he has a preview which tells you what he's going to tell you, the actual telling , then rhe review of what he's told you. In addition he has a master plan for the benefit of african americans which will elicit a lot of discussion.Its a book we used in our study group and you find yourself highlighting so many pages.Some people will not like his point of view and will get angry. Which makes for quite a discussion. non-fiction

Edited: Sep 26, 2007, 4:27 pm

Their Eyes Were Watching God is ideal for a book club, I think. (I think Oprah may have had it for her book club once, but it's a good book.) Same with Breath, Eyes, Memory and Mama Day which I loved.

Sep 27, 2007, 1:25 am

Wosret & Greytone,

I loved Mama Day also ,I would add Jubilee by Margaret Walker which is the story of Margaret Walkers grandmother. It tells the story of slavery from the slaves view. Segu is another book of slavery from Africa to the new world & back by Maryse Conde'. The difficult part of Segu is the unfamiliar African names.

Sep 28, 2007, 1:09 pm

On the topic of slavery The Classic Slave Narratives edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. contains four autobiographical accounts from slaves at varying stages in North American slave history.

Sep 29, 2007, 10:57 pm

Thanks everyone! I have made notes of all your suggestions in hopes of collecting what will be a long list. I'm familiar with most of the fiction titles suggested here, but am not sure the men in our book group would enjoy them.

What elements of the books would the male readers relate to? Or, what elements of discussion would the books bring up that would kindle a lively interchange between the men and the women?

Sep 30, 2007, 2:20 pm

I don't know about approaching it from a gendered perspective. I've read Mine Boy, The Dragon Can't Dance, Things Fall Apart, and others with predominantly male characters but it didn't stop me from finding many things to relate to. I'm not even African or African-American and I found things to relate to! ;) I don't see why a female protagonist (or "female issues") would alienate a male reader.

Sep 30, 2007, 11:46 pm

Hi Greytone,

I think Jubilee would stimulate discussion from the male members because of the male slaves, their lack of power, their relationship with their women, i much discussion.
I have not read "Visions for Black Men by Na'im Akbar but I have heard good things about it.Or "Forty Million Dollar Slaves by Rhoden. A lot of men want to read non-fiction.
Not that I know a lot about men since the only reading group with men was a african history study group and any extra book they were carrying with them was non-fiction book.

Oct 2, 2007, 1:06 pm

I remember mentioning to you that Jubilee by Margaret Walker is a book I found in your library that I plan on purchasing and reading. I'm glad you gave me persuasive reasons that the men in our group would enjoy it as well.

My son read my copy of Na'im Akbar's Vision for Black Men and it remains one of his alltime favorites. Yes, I find that men do lean toward reading non-fiction or science fiction.

With all the other suggestions provided (thanks everyone), I will continue to seek substantive words that will provide my club members with solid reasons why I recommend a certain book beside, "its a good story."

Edited: Oct 4, 2007, 10:48 am

i'd recommend For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange -- a chorepoem with plenty of spirituality, sexuality, suffering, redemption, and survival for a great discussion. Another plus is that it's eerie and powerful when different group members take the roles and read to each other.

Oct 3, 2007, 1:15 am

What a unique idea, NativeRoses! I had never thought of including plays in our book group. I am sure I can suggest any of August Wilson's plays! (I've seen all of them). Having the members read favorite passages during the meeting seems like the catalyst for a lively discussion, too. Thanks for that suggestion.

Oct 3, 2007, 5:57 am

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a good book. I think also The Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee is another good one. And if i'm not mistaken I think that I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven is another good one. I think these are more just African literature.

I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker with my book group and anything by Maya Angelou would be good...starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings...

Hope this helps.

Edited: Oct 4, 2007, 9:24 am

What about memoirs?

Freedom's Child is the memoir of one of my heroines, Carrie Allen McCray. You can read more about this amazing woman on the web. (I tried to post a link to her bio, but LT tells me I don't know what I'm doing!) Google her!

The gripping memoir Gal: A True Life by Ruthie Bolton (pseudonym), born in 1961, about growing up in an abusive family in Charleston, SC. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and South Carolina ranks at, or very near, the top for Domestic Violence. Lest the men in the your club think this is a "women's issue," it's not. Domestic violence claims men as victims, too. This book is sure to generate conversation in the group.

Also Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash (the novel, not the touchstone title about making the film!)

Susan Straight Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and licked out all the pots is another fictional lowcountry hard-luck tale.

14haidadareads First Message
Oct 4, 2007, 10:08 am

Add this one too "The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and The Burning of Old Montreal"

Edited: Oct 11, 2007, 11:54 pm

I have another book I think the males will enjoy as well as the women "Racial Matters" by Kenneth O'Reilly Its about the FBI secret file on black America 1960-1972 A remarkable look at the inner workings of the bureau and its relentless drive to destroy the civil rights movement and its most visible leader. The FBI had even picked a leader for African Americans who they felt would take over from King after they had diminish him. I wonder what they are doing now? I enjoyed the book very much and explained alot that had gone on. The blacks had got to go undercover in all the organizations of African Americans and the disunity they inflicted or spread. The discussion will be hot and heavy.

Oct 12, 2007, 12:45 pm

I read The Dragon Can't Dance by Earl Lovelace but I can't remember if I liked it or not. ^_^;;

More African fiction suggestions, for picky male readers (~_^): Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe (which I enjoyed much more than Things Fall Apart, personally), Mine Boy by Peter Abrahams and Navigation of a Rainmaker by Jamal Mahjoub.

Oct 12, 2007, 8:15 pm

This group is the greatest! Everyone, including my bookgroup, will delight in your suggestions.

Thank you Nzingha! Your suggestion Racial Matters sounds wonderful. And Wosret, the fact that your preference for a different one of Achebe's books makes me want to read it to make my own decision. Thank you so much for your insight.

I hope we all continue to share as even more books come to mind. This is a neverending list....

Feb 27, 2012, 8:02 am

I read so mnay of the titles mentioned in this forum during college that I usually opt for contemporary African American fiction, self help, finance books, and memoirs when participating in book clubs. I am in an online book club that has 100 members and we started with the following list:

Sistah's in Sisterhood by Toni Odom
Rise and Fall of a Track Star by O. Keeys
Daddy by Default by Pat Tucker
Sister CEO by Cheryl Broussard

Edited: Apr 24, 2012, 4:48 am

Post deleted because I stupidly misread the thread's title...

Apr 26, 2012, 2:41 pm

I haven't heard of many of the titles in this thread. Maybe they are not in my genres of interest.

I read Things Fall Apart in HS. I have added it to my library for my girls. I have read Tananarive Due (Black Rose, Joplin's Ghost,her "vampire" series). She is someone in one of my favorit genres. I think that includes Brandon Massey.

It's kind of hard to find these authors in a particular genre as I have yet to see a website break up a genre into genders and/or ethnicity.

Pearl Cleage, I recently read one of hers, Seen It All and Done the Rest. Quick read.

I've copied the AA authors list from Wiki. I hope to find something there.

May 31, 2012, 8:53 am

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 1:56 pm

My most recent wake-up call on the African-American experience happened when I listened to a KPFK FM radio station interview (Los Angeles, CA) in 2010 with Joy Degruy Leary, PhD, about Dr. Leary's latest book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America's Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. Dr. Leary cites estimates that the full dealth toll from the 400 years of the triangular slave trade may approach 12 million. I was so shocked by those numbers that I immediately bought the book. It is a compelling read. Dr. Leary has also created a companion DVD and separate study guide, which may be helpful to your book group. According to Dr. Leary in that interview, one new technique used in that book is a geographic mapping of the slave trade, important because of the long time span.

Another option you could explore for your book group is the theme of Banned Books. Go Tell It on the Mountain is one example.

Aug 8, 2012, 12:29 am

Hi, Greytone I'm late but I'd like to add my favorites:
Ain't I a Woman is a groundbreaking work by Bell Hooks, also Black Boy (American Hunger), by Richard Wright and Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin.

Apr 3, 2013, 8:52 pm

i'm even later but i have to agree with valjeanne about go tell it on the mountain. baldwin is amazing and this in particular is wonderful. and anything by toni morrison, obviously...

Edited: Aug 9, 2013, 11:02 am

Markon, there's breakthrough news this week related to The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. The LA Times reports a landmark agreement between John Hopkins hospital and the family of Henrietta Lacks. Here's that link:

New privacy guidelines are going into effect for research, research papers, and any online publication related to the DNA that was obtained from Henrietta Lacks in an era before informed consent for the taking of tissue samples was required in American healthcare. The book's author, Rebecca Skloot, joined the Lacks family's negotiations with Johns Hopkins. It is expected that these guidelines will influence future research and publication based on human DNA samples.

Aug 13, 2013, 6:27 pm

I am currently reading The Farming of Bones and would love to discuss this book in a book club.

Jan 11, 2017, 1:21 pm

This message has been flagged by multiple users and is no longer displayed (show)
Rwandese Flowers, by Adelson Costa.

Jul 11, 2019, 9:46 pm

Black Nationalism Classics:

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
If They Come in the Morning by Angela Davis
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Sports Autobiography:

Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World by Marshall W "Major" Taylor

Classic Women's Literature:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Beloved by Toni Morrison