February is African-American History Month. The following historical novels by and about African-American women are ones that I have read and recommend. Please feel free to leave a comment with your recommended historical novels by and about African-American women. (By the way, the photo above, taken by Thomas Askew, shows an unidentified African American woman, and is part of the image collection at the Library of Congress.)
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
In this time-travel novel, a modern-day African-American woman is repeatedly pulled back in time to rural Maryland in the early 1800’s. It turns out that she is being somehow summoned to save the life of the son of a slave-owner who, she discovers, is one of her own ancestors. Each time she is pulled back, her life is in more danger. This gripping, thought-provoking novel is not to be missed.
River, Cross My Heart, by Breena Clarke
This poignant, beautifully written novel takes place in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC in the 1920’s, and is based on stories the author was told by her family. It follows the life of young Johnnie Mae as she grows up in this segregated community.
I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, by Maryse Conde
This short novel is based on the historical figure of Tituba, an Afro-Caribbean slave who was accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Because so little is known about the real Tituba, Conde had free reign to imagine her life. Tituba tells her own story in first person in a fast-paced, sometimes mocking way: she can see the humor of her often tragic situations from beyond the curtain of death.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The searing Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. It is the story of an escaped slave living in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1850’s, who is haunted by the ghost of her daughter.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, The Color Purple is written in the form of letters by Celie, an uneducated but hard-working black woman in rural Georgia in the early 20th century. It is hailed as a feminist classic, and was made into a movie in 1985.
Jubilee, by Margaret Walker
This is a non-racist alternative to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. First published in 1966, Jubilee is a fictionalized account of the author’s great-grandmother’s experiences before, during, and after the Civil War. You will fall in love with the main character, Vyry, and will not want this novel to end.