Great Listens
from African
American Authors

Contemporary Fiction. Mystery & Thriller. Sci-Fi. Fantasy.
Horror. Talented Black authors stand out in all the major
categories. Here are 15 must-listens from today’s most
acclaimed and top-selling African American authors.

By Emily Martin
There are so many talented contemporary African American authors writing compelling novels across genres that it can be difficult to choose whose work to try next. To help inspire your search for some of the most essential Black voices writing fiction today, here are three outstanding African American authors in each of five categories. You can decide which audiobook you might want to check out first.


01. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

In An American Marriage, an Oprah’s Book Club 2018 selection, Tayari Jones explores both the power of love and its vulnerability. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are a successful young African American couple who seem to have a wonderful future ahead. All that changes when Roy is falsely convicted of a crime and sent to prison. What follows is a heartbreaking account of a marriage torn apart by forces beyond the couple’s control. Alternating between the perspectives of Roy, narrated by Sean Crisden, and Celestial, performed by Eisa Davis, the audiobook taps into the hardship both characters face.

02. The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Narrated by the talented Adenrele Ojo, The Mothers is a contemporary novel of young love and rumors in a small African American community in Southern California. Come for the compelling story of teen pregnancy and secrets; stay for Brit Bennett’s lyrical prose, beautifully read by Ojo.

03. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

While there are many excellent Toni Morrison novels to choose from, Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, is an ideal starting point if you are new to this author. The story follows a troubled 11-year-old girl named Pecola Breedlove, who believes that if only she had blue eyes, the world around her would be a kinder place.

Mystery & Thriller

04. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Attica Locke, a writer and producer of the Emmy Award-winning television show Empire, has also proven herself as a talented author of crime fiction. Her latest novel, Bluebird, Bluebird, takes place in Lark, Texas, where two murders—one of a Black lawyer from Chicago, the other of a local white woman—stir up issues of racism and justice within this small community. Bluebird, Bluebird won the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

05. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Set in Los Angeles in 1948, Devil in a Blue Dress introduces us to Easy Rawlins, a Black war veteran turned private detective. Walter Mosley has written 14 novels in the Easy Rawlins series at this point, but this is the first and definitely where you should start. Michael Boatman narrates this novel as well as many of the other Easy Rawlins mysteries.

06. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

If you like espionage thrillers, you don’t want to miss Lauren Wilkinson’s exciting debut. American Spy introduces Marie Mitchell, a young Black female spy working in the Cold War era—in a field dominated by older white males. Inspired by true events, this novel tackles issues of race, gender, and politics while also being a fast-paced thriller with a whole lot of heart. As an added bonus, it’s performed by Hall of Fame narrator Bahni Turpin. (You will see her name pop up again on this list.)

Science Fiction

07. The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

No best-of science fiction list would be complete without mentioning author N. K. Jemisin, and The Fifth Season, the first in her Broken Earth trilogy, is a real treat. This novel is a mixture of science fiction and fantasy and concerns a world torn apart by constant seismic activity. Robin Miles narrates all the books in the series.

08. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred is a classic of African American science fiction. Dana is a young African American writer who finds herself inexplicably time traveling from her Los Angeles home in 1976 to a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation. There, she discovers her ancestors and becomes entangled in their lives.

09. We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

In the not-so-distant future world of We Cast a Shadow, race relations have taken a turn for the worse. A father decides that only way for his son to have a chance at success is for him to undergo a procedure in which he is made to appear white. With sharp humor and insight, Maurice Carlos Ruffin raises questions about surviving racism and the limits of a parent’s love. The novel is read by Dion Graham, who infuses the nameless narrator’s character with exactly the right amount of curiosity and horror.


10. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

The first book in Nnedi Okorafor’s series about a gifted young woman warrior, Akata Witch sets up the story of Sunny, an albino girl who moves to Nigeria from America and feels out of place in her new home for all sorts of reasons. Then, she discovers she has magical powers and suddenly finds herself introduced into a world where she finally belongs—but which is also full of danger.

11. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The second novel on this list narrated by the acclaimed Bahni Turpin, Children of Blood and Bone won the 2019 Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year. Author Tomi Adeyemi draws inspiration from West African influences to create a fantasy world in which magic has been banned and those who practice it are killed. But young Zélie finds a way to bring magic back into the world, and with the help of a runaway princess, she will stop at nothing to complete her mission.

12. The House of Erzulie by Kirsten Imani Kasai

Set in New Orleans, The House of Erzulie tells the story of two couples divided by centuries whose lives nevertheless become intertwined. Drawing on the tradition of the African American Gothic novel, Kirsten Imani Kasai interweaves uncanny elements with hints of the very real horrors of slavery. This rich and unique story of love, dark magic, ghosts, and history is brought to life by Ron Butler and Adenrele Ojo’s dual narration.


13. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable with the racist and xenophobic undertones of the works of H. P. Lovecraft, but still find yourself curious about the occult and Cthulu mythos, Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom is your book. Clocking in at a little over three hours on audio, this tightly constructed novella is the perfect response to Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook,” while also working on its own as a gripping horror yarn.

14. Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead takes on the chilling scenario of a planet-devastating pandemic. In the post-apocalyptic world of Zone One, citizens have been divided into two categories: the infected and the uninfected. Assigned to Manhattan, the uninfected try to build back the civilization that existed before the plague—but groups of the infected, including catatonic stragglers and the dangerously contagious, still lurk around their island. Whitehead is also known for his #1 New York Times best seller, The Underground Railroad.

15. Within the Shadows by Brandon Massey

What lurks Within the Shadows? In Brandon Massey’s spine-tingling thriller, a dream woman becomes her lover’s worst nightmare. When mystery author Andrew Wilson meets the gorgeous Mika Woods, they hit it off right away. But when Andrew decides they might need to take things slow, he realizes Mika is not who she at first appeared. In fact, he’s gotten involved with a supernatural woman who does not take no for an answer. Hall of Fame narrator Dion Graham, who also performs We Cast a Shadow, perfectly voices this story.

Emily Martin earned her PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi.
She works as a contributor for Book Riot and as a blogger/podcaster at Book Squad Goals.

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