African American Authors – Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs

From classic African American authors from the early 20th century like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes to newer authors such as Saeed Jones and Nnedi Okorafor, the National Library Service (NLS) has books that tell the stories of their lives.

Biographies

ALICE WALKER: A LIFE
WHITE, EVELYN C.
Chronicles the life of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple (DB 58842, BR 12265). Traces Walker’s experiences as the daughter of Georgia sharecroppers, an acclaimed writer, and wife of a white NAACP lawyer. Explores her feminist and civil rights activism. Strong language. 2004.
DB 59554
 
CHESTER HIMES: A LIFE
SALLIS, JAMES
Discusses the African American novelist’s Missouri childhood, the inception of his writing career from prison, and the failure of his early works in a racially charged climate. Explains that Himes became famous writing crime stories while an expatriate in Europe. Some strong language.
DB 52754
 
LIFE OF LANGSTON HUGHES, VOLUME 1: 1902-1941. I, TOO, SING AMERICA
RAMPERSAD, ARNOLD
Rampersad’s biography of the American poet and writer takes Hughes from a tumultuous childhood in the Midwest, through worldwide travels and ramblings, to the early literary successes in New York. Tracing Hughes’s development and experiences, the book highlights the character of the artist, portraying him as a driven man devoted to his writing. 1986. Followed by LIFE OF LANGSTON HUGHES: VOLUME 2, 1941-1967: I DREAM A WORLD which continues the story of the noted poet (DB 28699)
DB 27535
 
LOOKING FOR LORRAINE: THE RADIANT AND RADICAL LIFE OF LORRAINE HANSBERRY
PERRY, IMANI
A portrait of the activist and writer best known for A Raisin in the Sun (DB 15750). Discusses Hansberry’s bold stances on civil rights, the prominent figures with whom she associated, her involvement in one of the nation’s first lesbian organizations, and the attention she drew from the FBI. Some strong language. Commercial audiobook. 2018.
DB 92981
 
NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT: THE RISE OF TYLER PERRY, THE MOST POWERFUL ENTERTAINER IN BLACK AMERICA (AND WHAT IT REALLY TOOK HIM TO GET THERE)
CHILDS, MELVIN
Entertainment producer describes the rise of African American comedian Tyler Perry as his career expanded from the “chitlin’ circuit” of black Southern clubs into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Highlights the financial side of show business and the author’s estrangement from Perry. Strong language. 2012.
BR 19674
 
RALPH ELLISON: A BIOGRAPHY
RAMPERSAD, ARNOLD
Professor analyzes the life of African American writer Ralph Ellison, whose only novel, Invisible Man (DB 56346, BR 14988), won the 1953 National Book Award. Uses Ellison’s correspondence to detail the personal and artistic struggles he endured, as well as his social and cultural milieu. 2007.
DB 65148
 
RICHARD WRIGHT: THE LIFE AND TIMES
ROWLEY, HAZEL
Interweaving journals, letters, and personal recollections, biographer Rowley illuminates the important African American novelist’s life, work, and ideas. Portrays Wright as a self-taught intellectual, an independent thinker, and an outspoken critic of racism. Examines his relationships with other writers, such as Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes. Bestseller.
DB 53071
 
STREET POISON: THE BIOGRAPHY OF ICEBERG SLIM
GIFFORD, JUSTIN
Literature professor chronicles the life of Robert Beck (1918-1992), better known as Iceberg Slim, author of Pimp (DB 79726), Doom Fox (DB 80092), and Trick Baby (DB 80284). Discusses Slim’s criminal lifestyle and how it influenced his later writings, and appraises his significance in popular culture. Strong language. 2015.
DB 83628
 
SORROW’S KITCHEN: THE LIFE AND FOLKLORE OF ZORA NEALE HURSTON
LYONS, MARY E.
Lyons inserts samples of Hurston’s fiction, autobiography, and folklore collected in Florida, Louisiana, and the West Indies into this account of the African American anthropologist and Harlem Renaissance writer of stories, plays, essays, and articles.
DB 41455
 
SURPRISED QUEENHOOD IN THE NEW BLACK SUN: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF GWENDOLYN BROOKS
JACKSON, ANGELA
Biography of author of Bronzeville Boys and Girls (DB 63916). Discusses Brooks’ early years in Chicago, personal relationships, racism she experienced, and publishing career. Examines the influence of her experiences on specific pieces of her work. Commercial audiobook. 2017.
DB 88823

Autobiographies and Memoirs

AMERICAN HUNGER
WRIGHT, RICHARD
Compelling autobiographical continuation of BLACK BOY (DB 20415, BR 04398) covering Wright’s struggle to make his way in Chicago and New York. Traces his experience with poverty and racism, his development as a writer, and his conversion to and estrangement from the Communist Party. Some strong language.
DB 10660
 
BROKEN PLACES & OUTER SPACES: FINDING CREATIVITY IN THE UNEXPECTED
OKORAFOR, NNEDI
The author recounts how a simple operation took her from track star to paralyzed. Confined in a hospital bed for months, she began to imagine fantastical things and turn those experiences into writing. Also discusses her childhood and other authors who have used hardship to fuel their work. Unrated. Commercial audiobook. 2019.
DB 96603
 
FATHERALONG: A MEDITATION ON FATHERS AND SONS, RACE AND SOCIETY
WIDEMAN, JOHN EDGAR
A collection of six essays examining a strained father son relationship in terms of social issues about race and family. Wideman, an award-winning novelist who wrote about his brother and himself in “Brothers and Keepers” (DB 23360), here combines a memoir of his father with observations about African-American life. Some strong language.
DB 40624
 
HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES: A MEMOIR
JONES, SAEED
A poet describes his experiences growing up as black and gay in the American South through a series of vignettes. Describes familial relationships, romantic flings, and friendships. Examines what people do for and to each other in the search for identity. Strong language and some descriptions of sex.  Commercial audiobook. 2019.
DB 98361; BR 21014)
 
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS
ANGELOU, MAYA
The first book in an autobiographical series. The author describes the childhood and adolescence of a black girl in rural Arkansas, St. Louis, and San Francisco.  She is a strong and sensitive young woman who endures and overcomes many horrors in her life. 1969. Followed by GATHER TOGETHER IN MY NAME (DB 56481; BR 16910).
DB 24959; BR 15665)
 
NO NAME IN THE STREET
BALDWIN, JAMES
Best known for GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN (DB 33488, BR 08734 ), in this personal statement Baldwin tells of his years of self- exile and renewal abroad, of his activities in the civil rights movement, and his road back to complete involvement in the cause of black people in America.
DB 25147
 
REGION NOT HOME: REFLECTIONS FROM EXILE
MCPHERSON, JAMES ALAN
First African American winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for ELBOW ROOM (DB 16996; BR 12600), in this collection of essays the author discusses his pursuits, from the segregated South to Morris Brown College, Harvard Law School, the University of Virginia, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Reflects on his love for his daughter, the experiences of Americans, life’s sorrows and delights, and works by other authors. Some strong language.
DB 52007
 
WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKENHEARTED: A MEMOIR
HARRIS, E. LYNN
Autobiography by gay, African American, bestselling author of Invisible Life (DB 38731). Describes his humble beginnings in Arkansas, his career development, failed romantic relationships, bouts with depression, and deep faith in God. Strong language and some violence. Bestseller. 2003.
DB 56881

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *