This month, we’re sharing our top 10 contemporary black writers, with a focus on fiction authors. Black authors are under-represented in the world of publishing. In recent years, the literary world has made strides towards celebrating and supporting young black authors, though there is still much further to go to reach equality in literature.
We want to help discover black writers across genres and styles, uplifting unique voices and sharing fresh, new stories. Check out our picks for the top 10 contemporary black writers, and share your own favourites.
Esi Edugyan is a Canadian-born author and second-generation Ghanaian. As of 2021, she has published three fiction novels and a non-fiction book. Edugyan writes historical fiction. Her stories are set around the early 20th century, exploring race relations, Nazi ideology and war. Edugyan is also known for her use of dual narrative in Half-Blood Blues, published in 2011, making her work an interesting subject for literary analysis. We can imagine seeing Edugyan’s work in curriculums soon.
Edugyan has won several notable prizes in literature and is only the third writer to win the Giller Prize twice. She was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for both her debut and second novel. We look forward to her future works! Check out her novels below.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author, speaker, academic, and all-around influential person. She moved to the US to graduate with a BA and two Masters degrees. She has since been awarded honorary doctorates at 11 different universities throughout the US and UK, and three fellowships including the MacArthur Fellowship in 2008.
Adiche’s novels have won numerous awards and they’re consistently in top bestseller lists. Her non-fiction book We Should All Be Feminists published in 2014 sparked huge conversation and helped aid progress in feminists movements across the globe.
Colson Whitehead is an American author, reviewer, and educator.
The Underground Railroad, published in 2016, has now been adapted into a TV series, available on Amazon Prime.
From an account of the World Series of Poker to magic realist historical fiction, Whitehead has a hugely eclectic body of work to be explored.
Zadie Smith is a British author known for her novels as well as essays. Zadie Smith’s work is characterised by eccentricity and zany humour, as well as incomparably clever dialogue.
Smith is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and her novels have been shortlisted and won numerous prizes and awards. These include the Women’s Prize for Fiction with On Beauty.
Alex Wheatle is a British writer best known for his debut novel, Brixton Rock, published in 1999. Wheatle draws on his personal life experiences starting with a difficult childhood in the care system.
His inspiration from music as writers of the mid-late 20th century also echoes throughout all of his work.
Wheatle writes books for children and adults, but all of his work is accessible and enjoyable for mid-teens and up.
In 2008, Wheatle was awarded an MBE for services to literature. His books have won awards including the Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Award.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is an American author and journalist. He has written a number of successful books, fiction and non-fiction. Coates is a significant voice in discussions or racial inequality, in particular the historical effect of the current racial divide in America. He was also a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.
Coates is also the writer of the internationally celebrated Marvel comic series of Black Panther from 2016 and Captain America since 2018.
Bernardine Evaristo is a British writer, having published eight novels of mixed genre. Evaristo’s work spans a huge length of the arts, from fiction and poetry to commentary, radio, and theatre.
Several of her works have been adapted into radio plays, including The Emperor’s Babe in 2013 for BBC Radio 4. Evaristo is celebrated for her literary criticism, being featured in national and international magazines and news outlets, and has edited publications including guest-editing the UK Sunday Times Style.
A champion of diversity and representation, Evaristo is a proud activist and uses her platforms to elevate marginalised and unrepresented voices.
Jacqueline Woodson is an American author of children’s and young adult novels. In 2020, she was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Woodson’s writing explores many themes and issues of race, gender identity, class, and ancestral roots. Beyond creating discussions of equality in society, Woodson highlights the importance of personal autonomy and self-awareness.
She is well known for having characters who would normally exist on the sidelines of stories as protagonists. In this way, she tells the stories that often go untold, and used twists of fantasy to colour the characters’ worlds.
Angie Thomas is an American writer from Mississippi. Her expertise in language began as a rapping career in her teens. The Hate U Give, Thomas’ debut novel, not only won a handful of prestigious awards including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize but was adapted into a film starring Amandla Stenberg, to huge critical acclaim.
More of Thomas’ work has been taken to the big screen, and we expect to be hearing much more of this brilliant writer in the near future.
Helen Oyeyemi is a British author of more than nine novels and short story collections. Though her work may fall into the genre of magical realism, Oyeyemi herself rejects this term. Her fiction is fantastical and yet very accessible, offering a consistently fresh take on modern-day themes.
Oyeyemi was listed as a Granta Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. She has several more nominations and awards under her belt, including the PEN Open Book Award for What is Not Yours, is Not Yours.
Find more fantastic books by black authors, both contemporary writers and classic authors too.
What do you think of our top 10 contemporary black writers? Who would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.