Black books. [1]

A thing here in America that strikes me as vaguely unusual whenever I see it is the section in book stores and libraries called African American Literature. Vaguely unusual because in Australia we don’t have sections of book stores divided by race. On seeing such a section, my instinctive reaction is, “Why can’t they go with the other books?” And, then, “Why would I not want to read these books?”

Now, I’m not an idiot, and with a bit of thought I can work out that the reason we don’t have sections for specific races in Australian book stores is because no people in Australia occupy a category analogous in size or history to black folks in America. And that because African Americans occupy a distinctive place in American society and have a unique history, it’s not surprising that they might want to write books that tell stories about themselves, and that therefore this might constitute a unique genre worth being grouped together in a store for the purpose of easy location. I can figure all that out, but it doesn’t stop it seeming weird when I come across it. [2]

Since there is this genre in America called African American literature, I’d like to find out some more about it. And since I know next to nothing about it, I’m going to need some recommendations. 

From what I’ve seen of the section, it seems to contain three distinct strains of books. There are the classics, which I can tell because I’ve heard of them. [3] There is contemporary literary fiction, which looks just like any other “respectable” new release except there are black people on the cover. And there are the — for want of a better word — “trashy” novels; mass market paperbacks that don’t look dissimilar to romance novels or detective series or airport thrillers. [4]

What I’m hoping you folks can help me out with is some recommendations. I would like to read at least one example from each of the categories I outlined — assuming I did correctly outline these categories. So if you can recommend something from each, that would be good. But even if you can’t, I’d appreciate any suggestions.

(We can discuss me broaching other barriers of literary segregation and how I should go about that at some other date.)


1. Not the sitcom.

2. Incidentally, book stores in both Australia and the United States have sections for gay and lesbian books, something I’ve never thought to find unusual. And stores sort of separate books by gender, e.g. “Romance” or “Chick Lit,” though middle to high brow books are allowed to intermingle.

3. For instance, The Color Purple, which I’ve not read and probably should, right?

4. I think Iceberg Slim was one of these before he was Jay-Z or something?