In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is now more important than ever to take action in our community, educate ourselves, and support Black voices. Some of us may never understand what it’s like to be Black, but we can try to learn by listening to their stories and reading about their experiences. Through these accounts, Black artists, poets, and authors share a small glimpse of the injustices they face every day and those that are deeply rooted in the American system. Black lives matter. Black voices matter. And we can help amplify their voices by listening to their stories, sharing their art, and reading their books.
We’ve compiled a list of the 11 most recommended anti-racist stories. While some readers may prefer fiction or nonfiction, this list has a book for every reader—from the memoir and essay aficionado to the contemporary literary junkie. There are even recommendations for young adults and middle grade, some classics and other new releases.
Despite this reading list, the work towards antiracism does not end here. Supporting Black voices is just one of the first steps towards antiracism. There is still much more to go.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
In this sharp critique that gives readers a glimpse into the lives of Jarvius Cotton and thousands of Black American families, Alexander argues that racism has not ended in America—it’s simply been redesigned. The author discusses that by targeting black men and destroying communities of color, the criminal justice system functions as a modern system of oppression and racial control. This NAACP Award-winner urges readers and all of the United States to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in our nation.
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Oluo’s 2018 release, So You Want to Talk about Race, is a passionate and analytical take on the racial landscape in America. It addresses issues such as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Written to bridge the gap between Black Americans and White Americans struggling with race complexities, the author answers questions readers don’t dare ask.
I am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin
Through an unpublished selection of James Baldwin’s essays, letters, notes, and interviews, filmmaker Raoul Peck brilliantly develops the book that Baldwin would have one day written. The writings reveal that in Baldwin’s final years of life, he envisioned a project dedicated to three of his long-time friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. With these deeply personal and raw accounts of Badlwin’s life, Peck examines the history of race in America.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
In Ibram X. Kendi’s 2019 novel, How to be an Antiracist, Kendi reshapes the concept of anti-racism and racial justice in America while pointing readers towards contemporary ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. How to be an Antiracist asks us to reflect on what an anti-racist society might actually look like and how we can join the fight in building it.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
One of the most beloved memoirs of 2015, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is a must have on any anti-racist reading guide. This novel, which was written as a letter to Coates’ son, questions American history and offers a powerful framework for understanding our nation’s current crisis. Coates heavily discusses how the United States was built on the idea of race and the hard work of Black Americans. It also addresses the way they were forced through slavery and segregation, and how in today’s world, Black Americans are threatened, imprisoned, and murdered with little to no cause. This National Book Award winner is a beautifully woven novel that illuminates the past, confronts the present, and offers a new vision for the future.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Now a major motion picture, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is the powerful true story of a young lawyer and his call to fix America’s broken justice system. While on his unforgettable journey towards justice and redemption, Stevenson shares one of his first cases: a young man named Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian who was unjustly sentenced to die for the murder of a young girl in Monroeville, Alabama. Soon into the investigation, Bryan finds himself in a tangle of conspiracy. In his novel, Just Mercy, he also discusses founding the Equal Justice Initiative and its mission to defend the poor, the wrongly accused, and those helplessly trapped in the chains of our criminal justice system.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
2020 Pulitzer Prize winner The Nickel Boys is based on the true story of a reform institution in Florida that operated for 111 years and changed the lives of thousands of American children. The story follows Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, as he is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy. Soon he finds himself trapped, and his only bright light while imprisoned is his friendship with a fellow detainee named Turner. As life at the Academy becomes horrific and dangerous, Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism lead to a decision that will alter the world as they know it.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
First published in 1993 but set in the 1940s, A Lesson Before Dying tells the story of Jefferson, a young black man who is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three men are killed. As the only survivor, Jefferson is quickly convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. But something in him changes when he meets Grant Wiggins, a man who had previously left Louisiana to get an education but has returned to teach at the local plantation. As Grant struggles with his decision to stay or escape, his aunt persuades him to visit Jefferson in prison. Soon the two men forge an unbreakable bond, and their heartbreaking circumstances defy the expected.
My Mother’s House by Francesca Momplaisir
A visceral debut work, My Mother’s House has been garnering much attention to this powerful new author to the literary scene. The story explores race, male dominance, family structures, and being an immigrant in America through three perspectives…even that of the house where much of the story takes place. Avid local readers might find this one particularly interesting as it handles Haitian immigration which feels more than close to home.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Angie Thomas’ award winning 2017 novel, The Hate U Give, is the powerful story of one girl’s struggle for justice in her community. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the suburban prep school she attends. But her world is quickly shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Soon after, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, while others are protesting in the streets. As the local police try to intimidate her and her family, Starr decides to make a choice that may change her world forever.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
In this gripping narrative written by award-winning author Jason Reynolds, readers come to explore racism and anti-racism in America. Stamped shines a light on the dangerous forms of racist ideas and how people can identify and purge these thoughts in their daily lives. Reynolds explains how the construct of race has been used to gain and keep power and to create dynamics that separate and silence. Through his analysis, he remarkably reveals the history of racist ideas in America and inspires hope for a better future.
Erika Semprun is a reader, writer, creator, and bookstagrammer. She’s passionate about media and literature, and loves plants, chocolate, and all things Harry Potter. Her favorite genres are mystery and romance, and her go-to author is Agatha Christie. When she’s not reading or thinking about books, you can probably find her creating designs for her online shop (The AZE Bookshop), listening to true crime podcasts, or binge-watching sitcoms.
Cover photo by Marcelo De La Torre/Getty Images/EyeEm via NPR.org.