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Inspiration for Readers and Writers from Classic Women Authors

Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood-where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned-Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

Tomi Adeyemi: ‘We need a black girl fantasy book every month’

In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor-engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels.

Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver's Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey-hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

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The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share. Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends.


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The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline.

Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night?

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And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. Check out The Hate U Give. One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston.

Now Caroline has to find a way to brave her feelings for Kalinda, a spirit haunting her island, and a hurricane, so she can find her mother and face the reason she left her. Those are just trickster creatures parents make up to scare their kids into behaving. When Corinne spots a beautiful woman named Severine in the town market, she knows something big is about to happen.

Local detectives Otto and Sheed are legendary, and have put their skills to use saving their town from all manners of mischief. Flux arrives with a camera that stops time.

SAMPLE READING LIST: Black Women and Their Fictions in the Twentieth Century

As the Miss America pageant unfurls on a stage in , Vanessa Martin watches from home. While Vanessa struggles with her self-esteem, she can hardly remember her mother, and her grandfather is struggling with addiction. But then her school organizes a pageant, and Vanessa, with the help of a teacher and a friend, decides to enter. Ebony-Grace has lived with her grandfather in Huntsville, Alabama, for most of her life.

There, her grandfather, one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, passed along his love of outer space and science fiction. But in the summer of , Ebony-Grace is sent to Harlem to live with her father. For sheltered Ebony-Grace, Harlem is thrilling but also scary, and she plans to stay safe in her imagination.

Though Jordan wants nothing more than to go to art school where he can perfect his cartoon drawings, his parents have other ideas. Struggling to fit in with his new classmates, and to maintain his friendships with his neighborhood friends, Jordan must find a way to remain true to himself as he straddles the line between two worlds. When they arrive, they find their mother to be nothing like they imagined, and instead of getting to spend their summer exploring Disneyland, their mother sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers.

One summer, Candice finds a letter in the attic. But when she does, the letter describes a mysterious young woman, a decades-old injustice, a mysterious letter-writer, and a fortune awaiting the person who can decipher the letter and solve its clues.

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This Newberry-winning middle grade classic follows Cassie Logan and her family, trying to survive in the middle of the Great Depression. Enter new neighbor Styx Malone, 16 years old, well-traveled, and impossibly cool.

10 great fiction books for Black History Month

Finally, I see these writers as exploring how language itself is coded in African-American and American culture. In the case of vernacular culture, language is viewed as having shared codes and patterns of imagery. Yet I think these writers also begin to question what happens when these codes begin to take on different meanings. If writing represents a process of not simply using language as a code but also as a means of mythmaking and reinscribing meaning, what are the subsequent tensions that are created in African-American culture as well as in American culture through these fictions?

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