11 Essential Classic Novels and Memoirs by Black Women Authors

Sassafrass, Cypress, & Indigo

Literary Ladies Guide celebrates classic women authors, and as part of our mission, we honor the rich tradition of African-American women authors. If you’d like to read more classic novels and memoirs by Black women writers, there’s much to explore. This list is a good  place to start.

Historically, it was challenge enough for women to become published authors; this was especially true for African-American women facing the dual struggle of race and gender bias.

Fortunately, there are more women of all backgrounds writing today. That’s why this site limits its scope to women who have passed on, and those are the authors you’ll find in this list. Read More→


Jubilee by Margaret Walker (1966)

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

Jubilee by Margaret Walker (1966), the only novel by this esteemed American author, poet, and educator, was the culmination of some twenty-five years of research and writing.

The story of Vyry, a mixed-race slave, is based on the real-life experiences of Walker’s great-grandmother. Walker received the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship for this book, and its completion served as her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

Covering the antebellum years, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods, the narrative moves from a Georgia plantation to Alabama, following Vyry’s life and loves. Jubilee received praised for its realistic depictions of daily life in the time of slavery and its aftermath.

Read More→


11 Poems by Margaret Walker

This is my century by Margaret Walker

Margaret Walker (1915 – 1998) is best known for her acclaimed novel, Jubilee (1966) as well as her richly evocative poetry. Here we’ll explore a sampling of poems by Margaret Walker, works that speak powerfully to the African-American experience.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Walker grew up in New Orleans and eventually settled in Chicago, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1935. Growing up, she was particularly taken with the poetry of Langston Hughes.

In 1936, Walker joined the Federal Writers’ Project and the South Side Writers Group, where she became friends with fellow writer and poet, Richard Wright. In 1940, she earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa. She and Wright both participated in the movement called The Chicago Black Renaissance. Read More→


10 Poems by Lucille Clifton, Chronicler of African-American Experience

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton (1936 – 2010) was a poet, teacher, and children’s book author whose life and career began in western New York. Her poetry is recognizable because of its purposeful lack of punctuation and capitalization. Here is a selection of 10 poems by Lucille Clifton, a small sampling of her prolific output.

Clifton’s widely respected poetry focuses on social issues, the African-American experience, and the female identity. Her poetry has been praised for its wise use of strong imagery, and lines that have even given the spacing of words meaning.

Poet Elizabeth Alexander praises Clifton’s use of strong language in her poetry, which was often spare and brief. Robin Becker of The American Poetry Review states that Clifton emphasizes the human element and morality of her poetry that’s amplified by the use of improper grammar. Read More→


Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, american poet

Lucille Clifton (June 26, 1936 – February 13, 2010) was a prolific American poet, teacher, and children’s book author. Clifton’s work focused on issues of race, family affairs, and gender through the lens of the African-American experience.

Clifton’s poetry was first published by Langston Hughes, who included it in his impactful anthology, The Poetry of the Negro (1746-1970).  Read More→


The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West (1930)

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West, published in 1930, is a novel that critiques the aristocracy of the early 20th century. The work was very much a reflection of the world that Vita grew up in.

As the only child of the aristocratic Victoria and Lionel Edward Sackville-West, a Baron, she had all the duties of a male heir, yet as a female, she wasn’t able to inherit Knole, the castle in which the small family lived.

In The Edwardians, the country estate of Knole castle becomes the fictional Chevron. Within the fictional framework, Vita reproduces in exquisite detail its physical features.  Read More→


8 Fascinating Facts About Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry (1930 – 1965) was an American playwright and author best known for A Raisin in the Sun, a 1959 play that was influenced by her background and upbringing in Chicago. The fascinating facts about Lorraine Hansberry that follow illustrate her growth as an African American woman, activist, and writer.

Though A Raisin in the Sun is the crown jewel in Hansberry’s legacy, she was also known for the plays The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window and Les Blancs. 

To Be Young, Gifted and Black was a posthumously produced play and  collection of writings that capped a brief and brilliant career. When she died of pancreatic cancer in 1965, she was only 34 years old. Read More→


How Alice Walker Rediscovered Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten

After discovering, reading, and rereading Zora Neale Hurston’s works, Alice Walker felt as if she knew Hurston personally. By the time of Hurston’s death, most of her considerable body of work was out of print, rarely read or studied. Here we’ll explore how Alice Walker rediscovered Zora Neale Hurston and revived her literary legacy.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960) had a dual career as an anthropologist and author, incorporating regional and cultural realism in her short stories, folklore collections, and novels.

Alice Walker (1944 – ) is an activist, novelist, short story writer, and poet best known for the 1982 novel The Color Purple. Works by Walker and Hurston were included in a 1967 anthology of stories. Yet Alice Walker wasn’t very familiar with Zora Neale Hurston at the time. Read More→


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