The black women writers you should have on your radar

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Meena Alexander
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Tayari Jones

This week we lost Toni Morrison, a titan of American literature who fostered an entire generation of black writers. In the spirit of her legacy, we pick out some of the brilliant black women penning the stories the world needs now.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Pulitzer Prize. The Nobel Prize in Literature. In worldly terms, Toni Morrison achieved everything a writer could hope for over her 88 wonderful years. 

But undoubtedly her most important accomplishment – alongside her world-shifting novels and essays, of course – was propping the door open for others. A champion of black writers from her beginnings as a book editor through to her recognition as an American great, she was always adamant about amplifying black voices – particularly those of women.

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Today, black women are storming the literary world – in no small part thanks to Morrison’s impact – but they are still not getting the level of fame and recognition they deserve.

So, in the spirit of Morrison’s legacy, here are just a handful of the black women penning the most exciting, important stories of the moment. You won’t regret picking up a single one.

  • Attica Locke

    Attica Locke
    Black women writers: Attica Locke

    Locke is an American author set for superstardom. Her four unique novels force us to think about race in a new way – in her 2012 book The Cutting Season, for example, the story is set in a southern plantation that has been turned into a tourist destination. 

    Passionate about the power of recording histories, she’s lent her hand to black-centred stories including Ava DuVernay’s celebrated Netflix show When They See Us and the hit US series Empire. Her new novel, Heaven, My Home – a thriller set in contemporary Texas – is out 17 September and promises to be gripping, unsettling and vital in equal measure.    

  • Tracy K Smith

    Tracy K Smith
    Black women writers: Tracy K Smith

    Smith is a very big deal, and yet, somehow, she is still not a household name. With a Pulitzer Prize under her belt for her poetry collection Life On Mars and a two-year stint as the American Poet Laureate, her work has already been recognised as an essential part of the canon. 

    Her 2015 memoir, Ordinary Light, is beautiful and achingly honest, while latest release Eternity: Selected Poems gives a sweeping overview of her most brilliant work.

  • Tayari Jones

    Tayari Jones
    Black women writers: Tayari Jones

    Jones, who recently won the Women’s Prize For Fiction, is one of those writers that seems to get better with every piece of work she puts out. Her latest novel, An American Marriage, is a classic waiting to happen – impossible to get out of your head, it tells the story of a middle-class black couple in Atlanta torn apart by a rape conviction. 

    Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey have already pledged their allegiance to Jones – we are genuinely excited to see what she does next.

  • Bernardine Evaristo

    Bernardine Evaristo
    Black women writers: Bernardine Evaristo

    A contender for this year’s Booker Prize, Evaristo is finally getting the top-tier recognition she deserves with her eighth novel, Girl, Woman, Other. She explores every aspect of the African diaspora and the black experience with her lyrical prose. 

    From subverting the narrative of the slave trade and imagining a world where Africans enslaved Europeans in Blonde Roots, to casting real historical figures within contemporary stories in Soul Tourists, her writing is always surprising and always brilliant.

  • Jasmine Guillory

    Jasmine Guillory
    Black women writers: Jasmine Guillory

    Guillory is a bestselling romance writer with true flair, and one that refuses to succumb to tired tropes and stereotype. She has chosen to swerve the stories of hardship and sorrow so often shouldered by black women, instead centring them as the protagonists in fun romcoms about life and love. 

    If you haven’t already, get your hands on The Proposal and The Wedding Date for the most joyful of holiday reads.

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Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.

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