Black Literature Renaissance: A Look at Black Literature of the Past and of the Future 

Written by Lisa Gardner

As I write this blog, I remember my early memories of visiting the downtown Spokane Library with my late grandmother, Sarah Gardner. I was 8 or 9 years old and could remember finding a good book, going into a corner, and babysitting myself with words by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, or V.C. Andrews. Those books were captivating, attention-grabbing, classic pieces of literature transcending generations.  However, the common theme was that they were stories by white authors with white characters. I had not read any books with characters that looked like me until I came across Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. Not only were the characters in my age range of a pre-teen, but they were Black like me and opened the door to understanding a Black experience I had yet to read, understand, or even empathize with.  After reading that book, I was on a quest to read more books where I resonated with the main character through the shared experience of being Black, from The Color Purple by Alice Walker to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I was now hooked on any piece of literature that introduced me to my culture and Blackness—my Black American culture.   

By the time I got to college, I was obsessed with the Harlem Renaissance’s artistic expression. The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual and cultural revival of Black American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theater, politics, and scholarship in Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, spanning the 1920s and 1930s. The Harlem Renaissance is also known as part of the “Great Migration,” where Black people of the South fled north to Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC, New York, and Boston to escape the bigotry of the South and Jim Crow laws. This was also an explosion of a Black Middle Class that produced Black elites and creatives such as Count Basie, Paul Roberson, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and James Weldon Johnson. This movement was inspiring for any generation of Black creatives.   

And then, by the ’90s, we saw another Black literary emergence with Terry McMillan, E. Lynn Harris, Bebe Moore Campbell, Eric Jerome Dickey, Carl Webster, and creative contributors like Nikki Giovanni, Tupac Shakur, Maya Angelou, Lauryn Hill, Gil Scot Heron. The growth and expansion of this new Black Literature movement was inspiring, enriching, and exciting. So, you can imagine, as we progress in uplifting new, up-and-coming Black authors, Black Stories, and Black experiences, it burns my soul that a lot of the books mentioned above and authors are banned in schools and libraries across the country when what they did for me was open my world up to new experiences, vibrant imagination and introduced me to the importance of Black literature and how we must protect it, empower it and grow it by any means necessary.   

In the meantime, in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share not only my love for Black Literature but also a few of the books that have either transformed me as a youth, inspired me as a human being or educated me on a world outside of being Black in Spokane.  While I cannot name all the books and authors in the world, I hope you can resonate with my list or feel inspired to pick up a few of these books and escape into a new world.  Open a book, and it will open your mind!  

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

Check It Out: Book

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – Mildred Taylor

Check It Out: Book

Invisible Life – E. Lynn Harris

Buy it Locally from Auntie’s

Waiting to Exhale – Terry McMillan

Buy it Locally from Auntie’s

Friends and Lovers– Eric Jerome Dickey

Check It Out: Book

The Souls of Black Folk—W.E.B Du Bois (co-founder of NAACP)

Check It Out: Book

Their Eyes Were Watching God—Zora Neale Hurston

Check It Out: Book 

The Hate You Give—Angie Thomas

Check It Out: Book

The Bluest Eye—Toni Morrison

Check It Out: Book

An American Marriage—Tayari Jones

Check It Out: Book

Honorable Mentions: 

Jasmine Guillory Search Results – jasmine guillory ( 

Ta-Nehisi Coates Search Results – ta-nehisi coates ( 

James Baldwin Search Results – james baldwin ( 

Maya Angelou Search Results – maya angelou ( 

Michelle Obama Staff View: Becoming / ( 

Tupac Shakur Staff View: The rose that grew from concrete / ( 

Lisa Gardner is the Spokane City Council’s Communications and Community Engagement Director and is the newly appointed president of the Spokane NAACP. Her writing has appeared in such venues as The Black Lens News, Spokane CdA Living Magazine, and Trending Northwest.