100 Great Books by Black Women – The Zora Canon

From the earliest days of American literature, Black women have made invaluable contributions—although their work was often discounted, criticized, or ignored. To counter this history, the online publication Zora (named for author Zora Neale Hurston) created The Zora Canon, a collection of the 100 most prominent books written by African American women. Even better, most of these books are available to check out for free on the Internet Archive!

“To our knowledge,” write the editors of Zora, “no one has ever compiled a comprehensive list specifically featuring the finest literary works produced by African American women authors. We decided to undertake that effort both to honor that still underappreciated group of writers and to provide [readers] with a handy reference guide to their work. ”

The books were compiled in consultation with a panel of academics, critics, authors, editors, and authorities on African American women’s literature, who each added to the final list. The result was 100 works spanning more than a century and a half in a huge variety of genres and styles, including novels, plays, poetry, memoirs, anthologies, and scholarly works. “Taken together,” write the editors, “the works don’t just make up a novel canon; they form a revealing mosaic of the Black American experience during the time period. They’re also just great reads. ”

As part of our commitment to offering Universal Access to All Knowledge, the Internet Archive works to share literature from diverse perspectives—which is why we were pleased to discover that most of the books in the Zora Canon are already available in our collections. Many of them are available for checkout—all you have to do is sign up for a digital library card—while a few are in the public domain, allowing anybody to download them without limitation. Some of the books that aren’t yet available can be added through our Book Sponsorship program, so that future readers can discover and enjoy them. 

If you’d like to read some of the books on the list, check out the links below! If you want to expand your reading further, you can also browse our #1000 Black Girl Books Collection (which features a range of books with Black girls and women as the protagonists) or our full list of works by Zora Neale Hurston. Happy reading!

The Zora Canon

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A Voice From the South: By a Black Woman of the South by Anna Julia Cooper

African American Music: An Introduction by Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby

Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900 by Martha S. Jones

All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Assata by Assata Shakur

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women by Brittney C. Cooper

Black Macho and the Myth of the Black Superwoman by Michele Wallace

Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class by Mary Pattillo-McCoy

Black-Eyed Susans and Midnight Birds: Stories by and About Black Women edited by Mary Helen Washington

Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks

Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith

Blue-Chip Black by Karyn R. Lacy

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Corregidora by Gayl Jones

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne

Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan edited by Jan Heller Levi and Sara Miles

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision by Barbara Ransby

Eva’s Man by Gayl Jones

Fish Tales by Nettie Jones

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis, edited by Frank Barat

Funnyhouse of a Negro by Adrienne Kennedy

Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

Homegirls: A Black Feminist Anthology edited by Barbara Smith

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelo

I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems by Sonia Sanchez

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory by Michele Wallace

Iola Leroy by Frances Harper

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

Killing the Black Body by Dorothy E. Roberts

Linden Hills by Gloria Naylor

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Meridian by Alice Walker

Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Oreo by Fran Ross

Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler

Passing by Nella Larsen

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School by Monique W. Morris

Quicksand by Nella Larsen

Salvage the Bonesby Jesmyn Ward

Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin

Radiance From the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art by Sylvia Ardyn Boone

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange

Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Sula by Toni Morrison

Sweat by Lynn Nottage

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston

The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas

The Black Woman: An Anthology by Toni Cade Bambara

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Ethnic Project: Transforming Racial Fiction Into Ethnic Factions by Vilna Bashi Treitler

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

The Flagellants by Carlene Hatcher Polite

The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The Red Record by Ida B. Wells

The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara

The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni: 1968–1995 by Nikki Giovanni

The Street by Ann Petry

The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

There Is Confusion by Jessie Fauset

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons, and Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage

Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words by Lorraine Hansberry

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks

Ugly Ways by Tina McElroy Ansa

Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice by Carla Shedd

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman

We a BaddDDD People by Sonia Sanchez

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings

Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde