As protests against racism, police brutality, and injustice against the Black community continue to rock our nation, the Phi Beta Kappa Society recognizes that questions of racial injustice have a heightened and long overdue prominence. We believe that the ideals of liberal arts and sciences education empower us to listen, to learn, to face the structures that perpetuate racism and to demand change.

Last month, as we collected member recommendations for our annual Summer Reading List, members on our Facebook page suggested that we feature books written by Black authors. We decided to embrace this approach and to curate a list of books across varied genres and subjects, from fiction to memoir, from poetry to graphic novels, history and biography. These works, many suggested by our members and some authored by members, represent just a fraction of the innumerable creative, intellectual, and original voices coming from the Black community, past and present.

We invite members and readers to engage with each of these authors on their own terms. At the same time, this reading list provides an opening to examine the structures and prejudices that have shaped the lives of all Black Americans. As Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith titled her poem lifting up the words of Black Civil War soldiers, “I will tell you the truth about this, I will tell you all about it.” 

Member Suggestions


Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes

A moving portrait of African-American family life in 1930s Kansas, following young Sandy Rogers as he comes of age. Sandy’s mother, Annjee, works as a housekeeper for a rich white family, while his father, traverses the country in search of work.


The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

A pioneering physician reveals how childhood stress leads to lifelong health problems and what we can do to break the cycle.


The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.


Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

In the 1930's, Zora Neale Hurston returned to her "native village" of Eatonville, Florida to record the oral histories, sermons and songs, dating back to the time of slavery, which she remembered hearing as a child. In her quest, she found herself and her history throughout these highly metaphorical folk-tales, "big old lies," and the lyrical language of song.


Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler

In a story of love and hate, two immortals chase each other across continents and centuries, binding their fates together — and changing the destiny of the human race.


The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe – Clifford V. Johnson, (ΦBK, University of Southern California)

A series of conversations about science in graphic form, on subjects that range from the science of cooking to the multiverse.

Watch Phi Beta Kappa's (En)Lightning Talk with Clifford V. Johnson 


Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Winner of the 2019 Booker Prize
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.


Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

In this provocative and deeply personal call for change, Michael Eric Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. 



Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry – Imani Perry

Winner of the 2019 Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award 
A revealing portrait of one of the most gifted and charismatic, yet least understood, Black artists and intellectuals of the twentieth century.

Listen to Phi Beta Kappa's Key Conversations podcast episode featuring Imani Perry.



Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin 

In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself.



From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Activist and scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor surveys the historical and contemporary ravages of racism and persistence of structural inequality such as mass incarceration and Black unemployment. In this context, she argues that this new struggle against police violence holds the potential to reignite a broader push for Black liberatio.


Imperial Intimacies, A Tale of Two Islands by Hazel V. Carby

A haunting, evocative history of British Empire, told through one woman’s family story.

Hazel V. Carby was a ΦBK Visiting Scholar from 2015-2016.


Real Life by Brandon Taylor

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

Black Phi Beta Kappa Authors

icon_key_clear_squareA selection of black Phi Beta Kappa authors. To find more members, visit The Key Reporter's Goodreads page. 


Five Days by Wes Moore (ΦBK, Johns Hopkins University)

A kaleidescopic account of five days in the life of a city on the edge, told through seven characters on the frontlines of the uprising that overtook Baltimore and riveted the world.


Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat (ΦBK, Barnard College)

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Story Prize, and the Vilcek Prize in Literature

Set in locales from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond, Everything Inside is a collection of eight vividly imagined stories about community, family, and love.

Listen to Phi Beta Kappa's Key Conversations podcast interview with Edwidge Danticat 



Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma (ΦBK, Lewis and Clark College)

Haben takes readers through a thrilling game of blind hide-and-seek in Louisiana, a treacherous climb up an iceberg in Alaska, and a magical moment with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating memoir is a testament to one woman's determination to find the keys to connection.

This book was also featured in Phi Beta Kappa's 2019 Summer Reading List.


 The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois (ΦBK, Fisk University)

Believing that one can know the “soul” of a race by knowing the souls of individuals, W. E. B. Du Bois combines history and stirring autobiography in a series of essays to reflect on the magnitude of American racism and to chart a path forward against oppression.


The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome by Alondra Nelson (ΦBK, University of California - San Diego)

Arguing that DNA offers a new tool for enduring issues, Nelson shows that the social life of DNA is affecting and transforming twenty-first-century racial politics.


Sonatta Mulattica by Rita Dove (ΦBK, Miami University)

The son of a white woman and an “African Prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860) travels to Vienna to meet “bad-boy” genius Ludwig van Beethoven. The great composer’s subsequent sonata is originally dedicated to the young mulatto, but George, exuberant with acclaim, offends Beethoven over a woman. From this crucial encounter evolves a grandiose yet melancholy poetic tale.


Here I Stand by Paul Robeson (ΦBK, Rutgers University)

"This amazing man, this great intellect, this magnificient genius with his overwhelming love of humanity is a devastating challenge to a society built on hypocrisy, greed and profit-seeking at the expense of common humanity." - The New York Times.


To Build a Better World by Philip D. Zelikow & Condoleeza Rice (ΦBK, University of Denver)

A deeply researched international history and analysis of how a divided world ended and our present world was fashioned, as the world drifts toward another great time of choosing.


The New Negro by Alain Locke (ΦBK, Harvard University)

With stunning works by seminal black voices such as Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, and W.E.B. DuBois, Locke constructs a vivid look at the new negro, the changing African American finding his place in the ever shifting sociocultural landscape that was 1920s America.

Topdog underdog

Topdog/Underdog by Suzan Lori-Parks (ΦBK, Mount Holyoke College)

Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
A darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity, this play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. 


Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis (ΦBK, Brandeis University)

In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for "decarceration", and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole.


Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington (ΦBK, Harvard University)

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

Up From Slavery is an autobiography of Booker T. Washington's life and work, which has been the source of inspiration for all Americans. Washington reveals his inner most thoughts as he transitions from ex-slave to teacher and founder of one of the most important schools for African Americans in the south, The Tuskegee Industrial Institute.


Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruha Benjamin (ΦBK, Spelman College)

From everyday apps to complex algorithms, Ruha Benjamin cuts through tech-industry hype to understand how emerging technologies can reinforce White supremacy and deepen social inequity.


Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates  (ΦBK, Oregon State University)

MacArthur Genius and National Book Award-winning writer T-Nehisi Coates takes the helm of Black Panther, confronting T'Challa with a dramatic upheaval in Wakanda that will make leading the African nation tougher than ever before. 


Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith  (ΦBK, Princeton University)

From new U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, a deeply moving memoir that explores coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter.

This book was also featured in Phi Beta Kappa's 2017 Summer Reading List.


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