When it comes to creating a more fair and just world, there’s no question that meaningful change comes from a deep commitment to honoring the humanity of others. But it can be a challenge to think outside of our own lived experiences, or to even understand what another person’s life is like, especially if we don’t share the same social identities. So how can we bridge that gap? You probably already know: Stories.

“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while,” says Malorie Blackman, a Black British writer. The transportative quality of a good book is more than just entertainment — it’s a powerful experience that allows us to drop into another person’s consciousness. It is one thing to hear someone tell you about their life, but it is quite another to spend time in their mind and experience their story almost firsthand. Studies show that reading fiction increases empathy, and helps us to behave with more care and consideration for others.

“The transportative quality of a good book is more than just entertainment — it’s a powerful experience that allows us to drop into another person’s consciousness.”

Reading is also a powerful way to help us feel less alone when we experience grief, trauma, or heartache. James Baldwin said, “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive or who had ever been alive.” Learning that the greatest hardships in our lives can connect us across time and space with other humans is not only healing but nearly magical. When resources and energy are scarce, it is incredible that we can still travel, find community, and connect with others just by opening a book.

If you’re seeking stories that spotlight Black voices, you’ll find many below — including writing below that reckons with difficult histories and generational traumas while, at the same time, showcasing incredible resilience and enduring joy. You’ll also find romance novels, comedies, poetry, and other collected writings that capture a diversity of experiences. Read on for my personal recommendations of books by Black writers, both fiction and non-fiction, that offer us the gift of experiencing someone else’s story.

What are some books by Black voices that you have read and loved? Let us know in the comments so we can add to our stacks!

1. Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This powerful work examines the American legacy of racism in a letter from the book’s author to his young Black son. Part memoir, part critical history, Coates asks us to consider the cost of the social construction of race on Black and Brown bodies by putting us into his shoes as he recounts revelatory personal experiences of his life as a Black man in America. I highly recommend listening to the audiobook to hear the writer read the work himself for an even more immersive and intimate experience.

2. Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

This book of poetry is my most well-loved and often revisited collection for its precise and vivid imagery, powerful subject matter, and lines that I can’t stop thinking about. Titled for one of the first Black regiments called into service during the Civil War, Trethewey reclaims the lost legacy of these soldiers and blends their voices with the memory of her mother, a Black woman whose marriage to a white man was illegal in their native Mississippi during the writer’s childhood in the 1960s. Trethewey’s artful weaving of national and personal narratives of the difficult history of the Deep South won this profound collection the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. Another book I highly recommend listening to as the writer’s voice will give you chills.

3. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

If you want a rich, multi-generational family novel that digs deep into the shifting sands of social identities, this is the book for you. Spanning forty years and two generations of women, the story begins with the Vignes twins whose identical upbringing takes a sharp turn that results in one sister living and passing as a white woman while her twin remains Black, living in their home southern community she’d once tried to escape. When they have daughters of their own whose lives intersect, the story takes a compassionate look at the ways that our expectations, desires, and loyalties must reckon with the influence of the past. It’s a gripping read, and there is a point in the book where no reader (including this one) can put it down.

4. Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

It’s no secret that I love romance novels, so this list would be incomplete without one of my favorite contemporary Black voices in the genre: Talia Hibbert. This book is the first in a series that follows the three Brown sisters and their romantic adventures, all of which are compassionate, deeply charming, and extremely sexy.

Chloe Brown has a near-death experience and decides to make some changes in her life. She makes a list of ways she can “get a life,” beyond the confines of her quiet experience bound by computer work and a chronic illness. Goals like “ride a motorcycle,” lead us to the perfect rebellion mentor: Red, the sexy bad boy with a gruff exterior and secret habit of painting shirtless that Chloe may or may not spy on just a little bit (and, yes, he definitely has a motorcycle). It’s sort of enemies-to-lovers but entirely funny, sensitive, and very hot.

5. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are at the beginning of a promising life together, deeply in love and poised to launch into success in their respective careers. But then Roy is arrested for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. While he is serving a twelve-year prison sentence, Celestial’s art career takes off, and she finds unexpected solace in the arms of the best man from their wedding. Roy’s conviction is overturned after five years, and while he is ready to return to their American Dream and resume their marriage, Celestial’s life and heart have moved on.

This work is a deft and masterfully told story about the realities of wrongful conviction on a Black family. It’s a heartbreaker, but the writer’s tenderness toward her characters amidst a hard look at the realities around race and the criminal justice system in America manages to keep humanity at the core.

6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This book absolutely floored me for its sheer scope and absolutely unforgettable writing. Spanning eight generations of a Black family, the book begins in eighteenth-century Ghana with two sisters –– one marries an Englishman and lives a life of luxury in the Cape Coast Castle, and the other is captured in a raid and sold into slavery. Each chapter follows their descendents as the story moves through 300 years of the legacy of slavery and colonialism on both the lineage that remained in Ghana and the one that crossed the Atlantic in the slave trade. This book is a truly singular work of art, bringing our global history into an intimate, unforgettable reading experience.

7. New People by Danzy Senna

A perfectly crafted novel, this smart, darkly funny book inspired a passionate argument in my writing group that only made me love it more. The story takes place at the end of the twentieth century following couple Maria and Khalil as they plan their wedding while living in a Black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn. With their matching beige skin tone, they are co-starring in a documentary about “new people” like them, a designation that begs the question of the nebulous nature of social and cultural identities. But Maria, deep in her dissertation work about the Jonestown massacre, has a growing fixation on a Black poet she barely knows, leading her to blur the lines between fantasy and reality, as the bounds with which she has defined her very self begin to unravel.

8. The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward

An essay collection in conversation with James Baldwin’s seminal 1963 collection “The Fire Next Time,” this book brings together some of the most powerful contemporary writers on race and racism today (including many names on this list!). Jesmyn Ward’s selections are alive with purpose, centering Black experiences across a breadth of topics from music to mass shootings. Each masterful poem and essay is grounded in a willingness to confront the brutalities of our country’s harshest truths, all while showcasing a level of piercing intellect that made me pause, take notes, and then go back to read each sentence again and again.

9. Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

As the title suggests, Noah’s mixed-race parentage was considered an imprisonable offense in apartheid South Africa, and the author was kept hidden for the early years of his life. Once liberated, he and his mother begin a new life together exploring a world suddenly free of centuries-long oppression and struggle in which Noah was never meant to exist. Despite navigating the bleak realities of poverty and violence, these stories are often laugh-out-loud funny, weaving together the ordinary drama of puberty and dating with the ups and downs of a nation recovering from apartheid. The relationship between mother and son is at the core of each story, with a nuanced, complicated, and deeply moving portrait of the ways they grow and change together. This is another I recommend listening to: Noah’s voices for the various characters, and his expert delivery, add a layer of comedy that only he can achieve!

Bonus — On my TBR: Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat

A collection of short stories is, in my opinion, the perfect bedside book if you are a compulsive “Just one more chapter!” type like me. Reading a complete story gives me a sense of satisfaction and something whole to think about as I drift off, carrying over with me into the next day. This collection from the great Edwidge Danticat is at the top of my stack, and I can’t wait to dig in.

Stephanie H. Fallon is a writer originally from Houston, Texas. She has an MFA from the Jackson Center of Creative Writing at Hollins University. She lives with her family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where she writes about motherhood, artmaking, and work culture. You can find her on Instagram or learn more on her website.