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Ralph Ellison

Five Hidden Pearls of African-American Literature

in Nonfiction by

As an African-American writer, I have long been a student of black writers from many different genres who have influenced, inspired, challenged, enlightened, and entertained me. We’ve all heard of the obvious ones: the speeches of Frederick Douglass, the poetry of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, just to name a few. But there’s a treasure trove of lesser-known works of African-American writing that have had a big impact on me and deserve to be read. Here’s my list of books that you might not know about. (I’ve chosen books in different categories in order to avoid having my special favorites competing in my head with every other…

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Five authors whose fame rests on a single great novel

in Fiction by

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” And so begins Harper Lee’s seminal 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, where we’re introduced to young Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, her brother and protector, Jem, and their father, the wise attorney and champion for justice Atticus Finch. Equal parts coming-of-age tale, Southern Gothic, and social commentary, Mockingbird—this is the pre-Katniss Everdeen version featuring the bird—is one of the most beloved novels of the 20th century. In 2006, in a poll conducted in Britain, librarians ranked it as the book every adult should read (it came in ahead of the Bible). The themes—racial inequality, rape, loss of innocence—are as resonant today as they were…

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