Black Women As Heroes And Role Models – A Reading List

There are countless books that feature strong, heroic, inspirational, and fearless girls and womenI cannot possibly know them all nor do I claim to. The list I am providing only includes the books I am familiar with personally or ones that have been recommended to me by trusted sources. I must make this clear because I am far from an authority on this topic. But I do want to commend and recommend these incredible works that feature black women and girls as heroes and role models. 

Black women have contributed so much to the societies of the world, but their achievements are often ignored unjustifiably. Malcom X once famously said that the most disrespected person in America is the black woman. Despite how difficult and heartbreaking it may be to admit this, it may very well still be true. In general, women are held to unreasonably high standards in all aspects of society, but it’s even worse for black women. Respectability politics in particular shackle women of color from expressing the full range of their humanity. 

This mentality that is rooted in misogyny and anti-blackness must be eradicated from the world because black women are amazing and inspiring. Just follow the #BlackWomenDidThat hashtag on Twitter if you ever need reminder of all the incredible achievements women have made and continue to make every day. 

The women in the reading list below are fearless literary heroines and role models. They shatter stereotypes, break down barriers, and prove they are worthy of anything and everything, especially respect and admiration. I hope you all read these women’s stories and allow yourself to be inspired.

(Each title is linked to either a book review on my blog or the book’s Goodreads page.)


Adult Fiction 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season – by N.K. Jemisin

Essun’s strength, willpower, and love for her children will astound you. She is a woman who has seen and experienced unspeakable horrors but must not allow her spirit to break. If she does, Essun will never see her daughter again, who was kidnapped. The Fifth Season is not a happy story. It is gruesome and haunting, but amidst that horror Essun emerges as force to be reckoned with. 

Half of a yellow sun by chimamanda ngozi adichie

 

Half of a Yellow Sun – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

This family saga spans decades and tells the story of two beautiful, intelligent, and resourceful women in Nigeria — Olanna and Kainene. These women are the epitome of grace, wit, and prosperity but their peace is shattered irrevocably by the onset of a civil war that tears the sisters apart. 

 

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Book of Negroes – by Lawrence Hill

Aminata Diallo is one of the most incredible women in literature you will ever meet. In The Book of Negroes we meet her when she is only a child abducted from her home village and sold into slavery in New England. Her life is one of many trials and achievements. She is proved to be incredibly smart and adept with languages at an early age, which proved to be a both a blessing and a curse throughout her life. But her innate skill and intelligence allowed her to thrive even in the most oppressive environment imaginable.

 

Falling In Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkision

 

Falling in Love With Hominids – Nalo Hopkinson

This brilliant short story collection has several stories with black women and girls as leads. These girls and women defend their village from invading European conquerors, have divine powers of creation, and overall epitomize Black Girl Magic, sometimes literally!

 

 

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Ascension – by Jacqueline Koyanagi

 

Alana Quick is a complete badass who you must meet. She’s a heroine you can root for and sympathize with. She loves ships and is one of the best “sky surgeons” around — she understands how ships work and especially how to fix them. Her relationships with her sister and the woman she falls for, Tev, are rendered with nuance and respect. 

 

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

 

Bintiby Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is one of the most brilliant young women on Earth. She is so talented in fact, that she was offered a coveted spot at one of the most prestigious universities in the galaxy, Oomza Uni. During her trip to the university, her ship is attacked by a hostile jellyfish-like species of people who terrorize space. Thankfully, Binti is around to save the day. Read all her books for more amazing heroines.

Further reading:

Kindred – by Octavia Butler + her entire bibliography

Americanah – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Brown Girl, Brownstones – by Paule Marshall


 Young Adult Fiction

 

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

 

A Wish After Midnight – by Zetta Elliott

Genna is smart, resourceful, and resilient. This young woman is sent back in time from the 21st century to 1863 and must quickly adapt to the harsh and cruel world that is 19th century America. Her ability to adapt to a hostile environment in order to survive is admirable, yet despite all she endures, her resolve remains  steadfast.

 

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

 

The Jumbies – by Tracey Baptiste

Corinne La Mer is a bold and brave girl who isn’t afraid of anything and must prove this when her town and the people she loves are in danger. Corinne will have to draw upon a power and magic she didn’t know she had in order to save her island from a mysterious and powerful woman.  

 

Tankborn by Karen Sandler

 

Tankborn – by Karen Sandler

This dystopian novel follows Kayla and Mishalla, who are Genetically Engineered Non-Humans (GENs) in their society, which means they are at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. There is a sinister conspiracy involving the disappearance of children, but Kayla and Mishalla team up to solve this mystery.

 

 

Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince

Taking Flight – by Michaela DePrince

This memoir tells the story of the remarkable Michaela DePrince, a young woman who escaped her war-torn country and finds a new life full of success in American ballet. She is one of ballet’s most exciting young stars and is a role model for girls all over the world. 

 

 

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

 

Shadowshaper – by Daniel Jose Older

You will fall in love with Sierra Santiago only a few chapters after meeting her. She’s a talented artist who is fiercely smart and loyal to her friends and family. In Shadowshaper she kicks so much ass that you’ll become her biggest fan and wish you had a friend as cool as her when you were a teenager. 

 

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

 

Flygirl – by Sherri L. Smith

This is the inspiring story of Ida Mae Jones, a biracial woman who passes for white and pretends to be so in order to be accepted into the Women Airforce Service Pilots program. All Ida dreams of is flying like her father once did and she will stop at nothing to achieve her dream because she’s a damn good pilot and white people telling her black women are forbidden from flying planes isn’t going to stop her.

 

Further reading:

Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson

The Summer Prince – by Alaya Dawn Johnson 

The Chaos – by Nalo Hopkinson + her entire bibliography

The Marauder’s Island – by Tristan J. Tarwater


What are some of your favorite books starring strong and inspiring black women and girls?

Let me know in the comments. You know I’m always looking for more books to read.


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43 thoughts on “Black Women As Heroes And Role Models – A Reading List

  1. You literally *always* manage to add to my TBR – in the best possible way 😉

    Btw, I’m currently putting together a ginormous bookish diversity link list – of which a butt-ton of the links are to your blog 😉 You should come check it out when it’s up (ok, shameless plug over… it’s safe again XD )

    1. Haha, I can’t help it! I just talk about the books I love, want to read, or want other people to know about.

      Oh, very exciting. Please let me know when your post is up. Link me on Twitter and I will help promote your blog post.

      1. Nothing wrong with that! 🙂

        And I don’t know whether it’ll be good enough to be worth promoting! But I’ll tag you on Twitter to take a look anyway 🙂

  2. I’m so grateful for your lists! After I read this post, I realized how few books I have actually read with a black woman as the main character… I’ve read many books with black women as secondary characters, but not the main. This really is unacceptable. The only one I could think of off the top of my head is The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

    I will definitely check these out! Half of a Yellow Sun particularly interests me.

  3. This is a great list, Naz. I’m definitely lacking in books featuring black, female protagonists so this will certainly help me to start rectifying that. 🙂 In terms of YA, Malorie Blackman writes lots of PoC characters and her latest book ‘Chasing The Stars’ (a Sci-Fi retelling of Othello) features a black woman as the MC. Nice post, as always! x

      1. Haha! It’s a very loose retelling, so I wouldn’t pin too much hope on it in that regard, but it is heartening to see some UKYA books featuring black female protagonists. ‘Blame’ by Simon Mayo is another new YA book where the MC is a black woman, and her and her brother regularly communicate in Haitian Creole, which I thought was really great. No worries! 🙂 x

  4. I have several of these books on my TBR, this post convinced me to move them further up so I can read them soon! This was a great post.

  5. You always introduce me to so many new authors. Love it when you do lists like these! Also, I’ve been worried because I had a doubt that your posts were not showing up in my reader. But this one did, so yaay! 😊

    1. Thanks! I love making lists and everyone seems to love them 😛
      I have also been worried that my posts aren’t showing up. And sometimes I think they don’t! Or if they do, they are very delayed. It’s not a new issue to me, though. 🙁 Thankfully I have twitter to remind peopel that I exist even if they can’t see my posts on the Reader.

  6. Fwoof, I got teary just thinking about the women in Half of a Yellow Sun. I’m seconding the recommendation of The Color Purple, which has strong women of all different stripes and is also just one of my favorite books of all time.

  7. I realised about a week ago that I’ve never read a book with a black woman as a MC, and was really disappointed with myself. It was a big knock in the head. So now I’ve added every one of these books (apart from the sci-fi, not my thing), to my Goodreads TBR. I love your blog.

  8. Thanks for sharing this! I have the African American women down, but I’m terribly about reading books by and about Africans. It’s mostly an issue of I don’t know where to go or how to find them, and I feel a bit intimidated that I’ll come out sounding stupid because I don’t know this history or culture of a country. You give me courage, sir!

    1. There are several brilliant women writers coming out of Africa! Let me know if you need any recommendations, but I’m still learning and discovering them myself. It’s OK not to know about the history or culture, as long as you’re reading with an open mind, one can only benefit from reading literature outside our areas of comfort. And we’re certainly not going to learn more about a foreign culture if we never read any literature about it!
      Glad you found the list helpful. It’s a only a tiny starting point with a specific focus.

      1. I know lit helps us learn about cultures, but I also know there are writers who get the culture VERY wrong, which is the concern. Such fears I can perhaps quell with #ownvoices books.

  9. So much yes!!! Adore this list and so happy to see your YA recs cause that’s definitely what I need to work on. Loved Shadowshaper, so glad there’ll be a sequel. But I haven’t read of the other YA books so thanks for the recs 🙂

  10. I really need to hunt down a copy of Brown Girl Dreaming. It’s been on my TBR list since it won the National Book Award a few years ago. I just finished reading The Game of Love and Death. It’s a YA fantasy/historical novel, and one of the main characters is a black girl who runs a jazz club and is trying to find a sponsor so she can fly a plane around the world. I liked the book a lot.

  11. I especially appreciate the YA section of this list. I’m pretty good at finding books for myself, but I don’t know nearly as much about the YA books out there. Some of these sound perfect for my daughter – she loves the sci-fi/fantasy books.
    I’m more likely to gravitate to the literary fiction, which she’s coming around to gradually. Last year I bought her Brown Girl Dreaming, and she read it in a day. I still haven’t read that one myself, though. Sigh.

  12. Once I started flagging passages in Brown Girl Dreaming, I realized that I was marking up more than half the book. It’s just so good!

    Nalo Hopkinson is another of my MustReadEverything authors and I have loved everything by Octavia Butler that I’ve read (only four books, IIRC). She is just awesome.

    I haven’t heard of Ascension, but it sounds very entertaining and I’m happy to add another to my SFF reading (which is spotty, of late). Thanks!

  13. Beautiful list, love the idea of this post. I like the list you’ve made. The Fifth Season and The Book of Negroes have been on my TBR for a while now. Got to read them soon! 😛

    – Lashaan

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