15 Famous Black Authors You Should Know

From Nobel Prize winners to critically acclaimed book authors, the following African-American writers left an irrefutable mark in the world of literature with their fearless writing about violence, racism, and more.

1. Zora Neale Hurston

photo of Zora Neale Hurston
Source: Wikimedia

Birthdate: 1891
Birthplace: Notasulga, Alabama
Died: January 28, 1960

Hurston is famous for writing more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books. She received several awards, including the prestigious National Book Award in 1953. Aside from being an author, she also advocated for radical feminism and the Black Arts Movement.

Famous Works:

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God ( 1937)
  • Tell My Horse ( 1938)
  • Dust Tracks on a Road ( 1942)

2. Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison Photo Portrait
Source: Wikimedia

Birthdate: 1914
Birthplace: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Died: April 16, 1994

Ellison published his first book, “Invisible Man” in 1952. He won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1953 and received a Doctor of Letters from Harvard University in 1970.

Famous Works:

  • Invisible Man (1952)
  • The Invisible Man Returns (1955)
  • The New American Hymnal (1971)

3. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Source: Wikimedia

Birthdate: 1931
Birthplace: Lorain, Ohio
Died: August 5, 2019

In 1970, Morrison published her debut novel “The Bluest Eye,” which gave her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – the first ever African American woman to win the prestigious award.

Famous Works:

  • Beloved (1987)
  • Song of Solomon (1977)
  • The Bluest Eye (1970)

4. Maya Angelou

531px Angelou At Clinton Inauguration Cropped 2
Source: Wikimedia

Birthdate: 1928
Birthplace: St Louis, Missouri
Died: May 28, 2014

Angelou is known for her “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” book, an autobiography that chronicles her experience and hardships revolving around discrimination. 

Over her lifetime, Angelou published several books. She was also a prominent civil rights activist.  

Famous Works:

  • Gather Together in My Name (1965)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ( 1969)
  • The Heart of a Woman: The Life of Maya Angelou (1992)

Related: 12 Famous Female Poets of All Time and Their Best Poetries

5. Alice Walker

Alice Walker
Source: Wikimedia

Birthdate: 1944
Birthplace: Eatonton, Georgia

Like Angelou, Walker is known for advocating women’s rights and racial equality.

Her first book, “The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” was published in 1970. She published several books, including “The Color Purple” and “Possessing the Secret of Joy.”

Famous Works:

  • The Color Purple (1982)
  • Everyday Use (1973)
  • In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (1983)

6. Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes
Source: Wikimedia

Birthdate: 1901
Birthplace: Joplin, Missouri
Died: May 22, 1967

Langston Hughes worked on several short stories until he published his first poetry collection, “The Weary Blues” (1926). His second book, “Not Without Laughter,” followed shortly after. Hughes used his poetry and fiction to criticize racism, discrimination, and injustice in America.

Famous Works:

  • Dream Keeper(1941)
  • I Continue to Dream (1941)
  • Montage of a Dream Deferred(1951)

7. James Baldwin

James Baldwin
Source: Wikimedia

Birthdate: 1924
Birthplace: Harlem, New York
Died: December 1, 1987

James Baldwin’s first novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” was published in 1953 and made him the first African American author to establish a literary career with a major publisher. He also wrote a play, “Blues for Mister Charlie,” which explored prejudice and racism. In 1978, he received an honorary doctorate from Brown University at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Famous Works:

  • Going to Meet the Man (1965)
  • Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968)
  • The Fire Next Time (1963)

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