Must-Read Black Historical Fiction Novels

Consuming literature and other forms of media centered around Black trauma can get quite exhausting as a Black woman. However, there are still quite a few exquisite Black historical fiction novels that I enjoyed reading and highly recommend to others. Most Black historical fiction novels have similar themes, but they all communicate very important messages about our society.

Three of my favorite Black historical fiction novels are “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Dance on the Volcano” by Marie Vieux-Chauvet translated from French by Kaiama L. Glover and “The Book of Night Women”  by Marlon James. These pieces touch on the separation of families during slavery, the violence that people experienced due to racism and they focus on the Black revolution. “Dance on the Volcano” and “The Book of Night Women” are pieces of Caribbean literature that focus on slavery and racism in Caribbean society, which was refreshing given that most of the novels I’ve read have on highlighted the experiences of those enslaved in America. 

books on shelf Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Unsplash Another favorite novel of mine is “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. This novel is a masterpiece and takes place in the United States after the Great Depression. The story is centered around Black children growing up in a society with eurocentric beauty standards, which causes them to question their beauty. The novel exposes the role that colorism plays in society, shows the ways that racism manifested itself in the early to mid 20th century and has many graphic depictions of violence. 

These four novels will definitely be hard to read at certain points, but I think the novels overall are very impactful and educational. During Black History Month, it’s important that everyone, especially non-black people take the time to educate themselves on the things that have occurred in the past and are currently happening in the present. It can be difficult to empathize with people when they have experiences that are completely different from your own, but literature, film, music and television shows make it a lot easier for people to step into someone else’s shoes. Empathy and understanding are important tools for every person to have in their arsenal if we truly want to create a society that is not rooted in inequality. 

Many people who are not among the oppressed try to distance themselves from the egregious things that have occurred in the past, like slavery, but in doing so, they prevent our society from progressing. It’s important to acknowledge the past so that we recognize the mistakes made and create a better future. People who overlook the past are incapable of understanding the root of the systemic issues that we have in society today, and that is problematic. Those who suffer as a result of these systemic issues do not have the privilege of being able to ignore the past and the future implications of it, so if you are not familiar with the gruesome things that have occurred, educate yourself. These pieces of historical fiction that I’ve recommended are a great starting point, and there are plenty of other pieces of non-fiction that will be very educational as well.