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100 iconic books by Black women to read in your lifetime

Do you remember the first book you read that made you feel seen?

For Black girls and women, this moment can be particularly special, because we are not taught to center ourselves in our lives or our work. From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance and into the present day, Black artists and cultural leaders have been compiling documents to immortalize our cultural legacy. Our ZORA Canon is meant to be a part of this rich literary tradition.

The ZORA Canon is a list of the 100 greatest books written by African American women, chosen by a star-studded board of panelists: Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, author and scholar Dr. Imani Perry, author Ayana Mathis, former vice president and senior editor at Atria Books/Simon & Schuster Malaika Adero, Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson, and sociologist and author Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom.

From the first novel ever published by an African American woman to highlights from 2019, The ZORA Canon spans 160 years of African American literary history and demonstrates both our brilliance and our resilience.

We hope you’ll see some of your favorites on this list, and we hope you come across many titles you’ve never heard of but now feel compelled to read. That is The ZORA Canon — a celebration of the books we know and love, as well as those that may have slipped to the back of our bookshelves.

Browse the ZORA Canon

Onward.
— The ZORA Editors

P.S. For our hardcore bookworms, take our quiz on Instagram Stories to see how well you know your Black literature. Do you know which author became the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize?

More from The Canon:

It’s Time to Name the African American Women’s Canon

Read more here

10 Black Women Writers You Should Read Right Now

Read more here

Have more books to add?

If we missed one of your favorites (it’s possible!), shout it out in the comments section of the list or tell us about it on Twitter. Tag us at @zoramag with the hashtag #ZORA100 and tell us why the book is part of your personal canon.

Morgan Jerkins is the Senior Editor at ZORA and a New York Times bestselling author. Her debut novel, “Caul Baby,” will be published by Harper in April 2021.

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