Outstanding Black Authors Across Various Genres and Styles

From literary fiction to sci-fi, romance to topical nonfiction, these exceptional audiobooks by talented Black authors deserve a place in your listening queue.

Stories have the power not only to transport us, but to allow us to connect, understand, and feel represented. The work of phenomenal Black authors—like those featured in the list below—has expanded the ambition, scope, and perspective of storytelling. Diversity in audio is pivotal: it allows listeners to feel represented and seen, while allowing others a window into experiences and histories that may be unfamiliar.

Above all else, these must-hear titles from some of the best Black authors of all time are also indisputably some of the most remarkable works of literature in both the contemporary and historical canon. We’ve broken down the selections below by genre, highlighting hidden gems and groundbreaking debuts, to help you find your next favorite listen.


 

Literary Fiction

 

Toni Morrison

Even though Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison began her career with the stunning novel The Bluest Eye, she truly shines in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved. With a cast of unforgettable characters, Beloved captures the resilience of the human spirit. If you are wondering where to begin with Morrison’s incredible body of work, this is a great place to start. It’s narrated by Morrison herself, who does a fantastic job at portraying the anguish her characters feel and tugging on our heartstrings. And once you’re done, you won’t be able to resist making your way through the rest of her books. If you’re interested in learning more about the inspiration for Morrison’s work and her views on life, check out our collection of quotes from this brilliant and influential author.

 

James Baldwin

The works of James Baldwin are not mere stories but elements of a movement. The best way to make your way through Baldwin's work is chronologically, starting with his debut novel, the semi-autobiographical Go Tell It On the Mountain. In this work, Baldwin manages to capture the despair and sheer humanity of his characters. He allows listeners to see a hidden beauty under all the grime, in the uniquely heartfelt way that distinguishes him and his work. Take on this human journey with the fantastic audiobook narrated by Adam-Lazarre White. And if you want to glean more from Baldwin’s work, Begin Again by Eddie S. Glaude sheds light on the context and significance of his writing.

 

Colson Whitehead

No confines of genre can hold Colson Whitehead back. From science fiction to historical fiction, there seem to be no limits to what he can accomplish. If you’re new to his work, start with Pulitzer Prize winner The Underground Railroad. In this story, Whitehead brings to life a metaphor for the life-saving slave transport network and makes it a real, tangible railroad to freedom. The audiobook is narrated by Audie Award winner Bahni Turpin, who manages to capture the spirit of all that is at stake in the story. When you finish this listen, move on to The Nickel Boys, for which Whitehead again won the Pulitzer. It takes place at a reform school in Florida during the dark days of the Jim Crow era, a setting exquisitely brought to life by narrator JD Jackson.

 

Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett broke onto the literary scene with her powerful debut, The Mothers. It's a stirring story about relationships, and how the choices of any one individual can decide the fate of their community. It is also the tale of three ordinary people who, over the course of a short period of their lives, become extraordinary. As it’s told in the form of a Greek chorus, there is simply no other way to experience this literary feat than to hear it narrated by Audie Award nominee Adenrele Ojo. Once you find yourself wanting more, dive into the exceptional The Vanishing Half, Bennett’s most recent work, skillfully narrated by Shayna Small.

 

Tayari Jones

With An American Marriage, Tayari Jones became a household name, not to mention a leading light in contemporary fiction. An Oprah's Book Club pick, and heralded as one of President Barack Obama's favorites, this novel tells the heartbreaking story of three lives upended due to a decision made by those in power. Our recommendation of where to start with Jones’s work, however, is her short listen, Half Light. Brilliantly building on themes of family bonds and the power of love, this Audible Original shines with its exploration of sisterhood and strength—and it’s made all the more stirring with the help of a powerhouse performance from Hall of Fame narrator Bahni Turpin. Once you’ve finished, go ahead and make your way through Jones’s extensive catalog.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie’s evocation of a forgotten time and place in the history of Nigeria is what has brought her to the limelight. Much of her exceptional fiction is set in periods of political unrest and civil discord in Nigeria, events that caused many to leave their homes and migrate to other places. This gifted author has the ability to turn phrases that leave listeners speechless. The best place to start with her work is Half of a Yellow Sun, narrated by Zainab Jah, followed closely by the best-selling Americanah, performed by Adjoa Andoh.

 

Mystery/Thriller

 

S.A. Cosby

A raw and invigorating crime thriller, S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland has totally shaken the 2020 literary landscape. By combining a deep character study with fast-paced car chase scenes, this is a listen that will engage all of your five senses. It’s taken even one step further with the assistance of Adam Lazarre-White's compelling narration. You will definitely find yourself wanting more, so go back and listen to Cosby's previous work, My Darkest Prayer, before pre-ordering his next release, Razorblade Tears, currently due out in Summer 2021.

 

Rachel Howzell Hall

With her Detective Elouise Norton Series, Hall puts a Black female detective in charge. Bringing a fresh voice to crime fiction, the series has four books so far, beginning with Land of Shadows. Featuring a riveting performance from Je Nie Fleming, these sharply plotted police procedurals will have your head whirling with each twist and turn. Hall recently followed up this compelling series with And Now She's Gone, a cat-and-mouse thriller revolving around two complicated women and dangerous secrets.

 

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror

 

N. K. Jemisin

The best place to start with Jemisin’s work is the Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy, opening with The Fifth Season. Jemisin has totally changed the landscape of fantasy literature, excelling at constructing imaginative worlds. Combine this with Audie Award winner Robin Miles’s narration, and you have an experience that you'll want to relive over and over again. And once you’re done with the trilogy, dive right into her Audie Award-winning novella Emergency Skin, narrated to a T to match the tension by Jason Isaacs, or try her 2020 novel, The City We Became, marking of the debut of her new series, Great Cities, set in New York City.

 

Victor LaValle

Lauded as the modern-day master of sci-fi horror, LaValle has managed to create a critical work about race and prejudice in a retelling of a Lovecraftian tale, The Ballad of Black Tom. Capturing the story’s fast-paced action while maintaining the eloquence of LaValle’s prose, the audio edition of this novella, performed by accomplished narrator Kevin R. Free, is one you simply cannot miss. Once you are finished, make your way to The Changeling, a gem narrated by Victor LaValle himself.

 

Romance

 

Beverly Jenkins

Winner of multiple awards, Jenkins­ is a best-selling name in the romance world—with her ability to navigate between different timelines, landscapes, and protagonists, who is surprised? She is also acclaimed as a trailblazer in inclusive romance. With such a prolific author, it can get overwhelming figuring out where to start, but we’ve got your back! Check out Indigo, a fantastic blend of historical fiction and romance about the exhaustive efforts of two people trying to get others to freedom and safety through the Underground Railroad. The narration by Robin Eller is steady and captures the magic and heart of the novel. Then, make your way through the Destiny series, a delightful romantic take on the Western, starting with Destiny’s Embrace.

 

Alyssa Cole

Alyssa Cole is another author who continually challenges conventions and crosses genres. From historical fiction to romance to a recent thriller, there seems to be no limit to what Cole can do. The best place to start with Cole is The A.I. Who Loved Me, a fun and flirty sci-fi rom-com that follows Trinity Jordan as she begins to fall for her handsome neighbor Li Wei, who isn’t your typical guy… or, technically, a guy at all. This unique Audible Original is made all the more compelling by a full-cast performance—including the likes of Regina Hall and Mindy Kaling. Follow that listen up with the Reluctant Royals series, or Cole’s debut in the thriller genre, When No One Is Watching.

 

Young Adult (YA)

 

Angie Thomas

One of the leading voices in YA fiction, Angie Thomas shook the literary world with her debut, The Hate U Give. Narrated by Audie Award winner Bahni Turpin, this searing novel follows young Starr as she navigates racism, violence, and community after her close friend is shot dead by a police officer. Trust me: this is one you will want to listen to right away. Tackling big themes with a sense of immediacy and heart, Thomas proves that YA stories have the capacity for great power and depth. After The Hate U Give, listen to her equally unforgettable On the Come Up, also performed by Bahni Turpin.

 

Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson has changed the landscape of storytelling by adding accessible poetry to her stories, starting with her National Book Award-winning memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, in which she tells the story of her childhood in verse, to her latest work of fiction, Red at the Bone. Another wonderful aspect of Woodson’s work for listeners: she brilliantly narrates all or part of all her audiobooks. Be sure not to miss her touching, honest short memoir, Before Her.

 

Nonfiction

 

Zadie Smith

The work of Zadie Smith is distinct and impressive in its ability to take small ordinary lives and put them under a microscope—a microscope that you’ll want to peer through again and again as you find yourself drawn into her musings and observations. And while Smith is primarily known for writing fiction, her nonfiction is equally brilliant. Check out her latest reflective essay collection, Intimations, narrated by the author herself. Smith delivers a perfectly timed performance with the skill of someone who’s quite familiar with holding an audience captivated.

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Written to his son about the realities of being Black in America, Coates’s debut book, Between the World and Me, is acclaimed by critics and listeners alike—with good reason. In this epistolary work, Coates honestly discusses history and race, in addition to reflecting on his childhood, his education, his early days of trying to find work as a writer, and his fears as a parent. While the best place to start listening to Coates is his first book, narrated by Coates himself, his novel The Water Dancer, narrated by Joe Morton, is also a stunner.

 

Ibram X. Kendi

In Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi skillfully sketches the history of anti-Black ideas in America from the time of their origins in 15th-century Europe up to President Obama’s first inauguration. He takes on six centuries’ worth of history on racist beliefs, institutions, and policies. The urgency of Kendi’s book is brought to life by narrator Christopher Dontrell Piper. To continue your education and commitment to change, be sure to follow this up with How to Be an Antiracist, featuring wonderful narration by Kendi himself.

 

Isabel Wilkerson

A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Wilkerson has quickly established herself as a singular source of inclusive American history. In The Warmth of Other Suns, she offers an in-depth look at America’s Great Migration. Through a collection of interviews, stories, and official documents, Wilkerson manages to capture the voices of Americans rarely heard from. The perfect complement to Wilkerson’s historical expertise, the audiobook is brilliantly performed by the unparalleled Hall of Famer Robin Miles. Follow up with Wilkerson's oft-discussed and equally important new release, Caste, also narrated by Robin Miles.

 

Roxane Gay

Full of sharp, thoughtful, and witty insight, Gay has quickly become one of the foremost experts to which many people look for opinions on gender, race, pop culture, and politics. She is as smart, straightforward, and honest as ever in her essay collection, Bad Feminist. This groundbreaking listen, which established Gay as a feminist voice in contemporary literature, is narrated by the incomparable Bahni Turpin. Be sure to follow it up with Difficult Women, narrated by Robin Miles.

 

Malcolm X

First published in 1965, The Autobiography of Malcolm X—a collaboration between the legendary activist and journalist Alex Haley, based on a series of thoughtful, probing interviews—has educated. influenced, and inspired people for generations. A Muslim minister and civil rights firebrand who advocated for Black nationalism and pride, Malcolm X left behind a legacy that cannot be understated. In this necessary listen, Academy Award nominee Laurence Fishburne captures the dynamism and profundity of Malcolm X’s spirit and message. Listening to the story of his upbringing and the evolution of his incisive views on the deep veins of racism plaguing our nation is a truly powerful experience that offers a deeper understanding of the difficulties uniquely faced by Black Americans.

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