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The California Black Writers to Know Now

The California Black Writers to Know Now

Learn about California's acclaimed Black writers and African-American authors and update your reading list with their incredible works.


7 min read

October 29, 2020

Looking for ways to celebrate the Black community all day, every day? Aside from supporting Black-owned businesses, you can also read literature crafted by famous Black authors, many of whom provide first-hand experiences and insights into the struggles, strengths, and successes of the Black community in their compelling compositions.

With works ranging from memoirs and poems to sci-fi and fiction, California’s Black authors delve into various issues such as racism, violence, and self-identity but also touch on love, hope, and resilience. Though this list is far from exhaustive, here are some of the best Black writers in the state who have made significant contributions to the world of literature and beyond. 

Morgan Harper Nichols

A writer, artist, and poet inspired by real-life interactions and stories, Morgan Harper Nichols was destined to become an influential Black writer. Starting out as a songwriter, the L.A. native gradually shifted her interest from writing lyrics to poetry. After sending out a request on Twitter to get people to share their stories with her, she compiled them into personalized poems inspired by the people who reached out to her. Since then, the Black female writer has gained a loyal following online.

In December 2017, she released her debut book, Storyteller, which consists of 100 poem letters related to people, places, things, and seasons. But her best-known book by far is All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living, which she claims is the ultimate love letter to your mind, heart, soul, and body. Her works are perfect for incorporating into your summer reading list because the pieces are light and delightful. 

Aaron Samuels

Critically acclaimed writer, speaker, and entrepreneur Aaron Samuels left his successful Wall Street career to pursue his passion as a writer. The famous Black author released his debut collection of poetry,Yarmulkes & Fitted Caps, in the fall of 2013. Delving into the complexity and paradoxes of his diverse heritage, Samuels weaves together powerful stories, wit, and fervor in his pioneering anthology of poetry.

He later went on to co-found Blavity, a media company in Los Angeles that serves as a platform for black millennials. In addition to receiving fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation and Asylum Arts, the published Black writer was named on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list as a rising star in the tech and media space.

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Dana Johnson

Dana Johnson is a lauded author and a professor of English at the University of Southern California. The Los Angeles native received the 2001 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for Break Any Woman Down: Stories; in 2016, she published In the Not Quite Dark: Stories, another acclaimed collection of short stories. The published author’s works have also appeared in The Paris Review, The Iowa Review, Callaloo, and elsewhere.

Through compelling honesty and dazzling vibrancy, the Black writer sheds light on the issues of race, class, and gender in an authentic way. Her stories often feature women embarking on a journey to discover their identities through relationships. Focusing on the Black experience in the sprawling suburbs of SoCal, Johnson’s writing is always accompanied by complex and relatable characters with a great sense of humor.

Paul Beatty

Hailing from Los Angeles, Paul Beatty has penned four novels, marking his significant presence in literature. His journey into the realm of Black literature began in his early teens, following a pivotal encounter with Maya Angelou’s "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," a gift that would ignite his passion for writing. Beatty's 2015 masterpiece, "The Sellout," garnered widespread acclaim, securing both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, making him the first American recipient of the prestigious British accolade.

This acclaimed novel delivers a sharp satire that navigates through themes of identity and justice, centered around a protagonist's unique challenges and a landmark Supreme Court case. Beatty has also contributed to the world of poetry with his collections "Big Bank Take Little Bank" and "Joker, Joker, Deuce," further showcasing his versatile talent.

Lisa Teasley

A graduate of UCLA and a native of Los Angeles, Lisa Teasley is the author of the novels Dive and Heat Signature, both of which address gender, race, and justice issues. Her award-winning collection of stories, Glow in the Dark, depicts the lives of people in the midst of addiction and complicated love affairs.

Featured in esteemed outlets such as The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, this renowned African-American writer persistently explores themes often considered controversial or taboo. Teasley also lends his talents as the host of the BBC Television documentary series "High School Prom." Beyond his literary achievements, he is a gifted visual artist, showcasing a versatile creative prowess that knows no bounds.

Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley is a literary legend and award-winning author known for his crime fiction novels.

Famous for his crime fiction novels, Walter Mosley is a Los Angeles literary giant and one of the most admired writers in the U.S. He became the first Black male to receive the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2020. Though he has written more than 60 critically acclaimed books over the years, his most popular works are the mystery novels comprising the Easy Rawlins book series, which revolve around a hard-boiled African-American detective named Easy Rawlins and take place in L.A. As the author of many must-reads for every Californian, Mosley's books cover a wide range of genres, themes, and literary forms. 

Along with his novels, the Anisfield-Wolf Award recipient has written and staged several plays, including The Fall of Heaven, which is based on his Tempest Landry stories. The Black writer also founded The Publishing Certificate Program with the City College of New York. Offering courses, internships, and job opportunities, this program aims to bring together professionals and students hailing from a wide range of racial, ethnic, and economic communities. 

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah is a lauded African-American author, editor, and journalist.

Meri Nana-Ama Danquah wears many hats: she's a celebrated writer, editor, journalist, ghostwriter, speaker, and educator. Her journey began in Accra, Ghana, from where she moved to the United States at the age of six with her mother. Holding an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Bennington College, Danquah emerged as a prominent voice following the release of her seminal memoir, "Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression." Residing in Southern California, she bravely shares her personal battle with clinical depression in the memoir, highlighting its impact on her life. Her work stands out for being among the pioneering narratives to address depression within the context of Black women's experiences.

Maya Angelou, one of the most influential Black Californians, has even praised the famous African-American author for her works. Having left her mark on modern-day literature, Danquah's essays and poems are frequently incorporated into high school and university curriculums. 

Octavia E. Butler

One of the most well-known Black science fiction writers is none other than Octavia E. Butler. Although she was very shy as a kid, the Pasadena native flourished into a renowned Black author. With a career spanning over 35 years, the Black writer has earned multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards. She also became the first sci-fi author to receive a MacArthur Fellowship in 1995. 

Her most well-known work is Bloodchild, a short story depicting the complex symbiotic relationship between humans and aliens; the aliens kept humans alive to use them as hosts for breeding. Also among the best books by this Black author is Kindred, a novel that depicts the horrors of slavery and explores the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy through time travel. Read a book or two by this highly regarded, famous female author and you'll fall in love with the sci-fi genre. 

Dr. Maya Angelou

World-renowned writer Maya Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the California Hall of Fame.

“I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

Famous Black writer Maya Angelou inspired and touched the hearts of millions when she published Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women in 1995. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she had a very difficult childhood and experienced racial prejudice and discrimination. But that didn't stop her from becoming one of the greatest poets and civil rights activists in the world. Before she made a name for herself in the world of literature, Angelou was already making history: She moved to the Bay Area at age 14 and two years later became the first Black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. She received a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School and then went on to pursue writing.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her first autobiography, was released in 1969 and showcased that strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The Black female writer went on to publish a total of seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several collections of poetry. She also became the first African-American woman to present a poem at a presidential inauguration in 1993. 

Alice Walker

If you’ve ever used the term “womanist,” which means Black feminist or feminist of color, remember that Alice Walker was the one who coined the term. The famous African-American author is the mastermind behind The Color Purple; it's an epistolary novel depicting the lives of African-American women in early 20th-century rural Georgia. The icon also wrote The Third Life of Grange Copeland—which was her debut novel—and Meridian, a heartfelt and moving story about one woman's personal revolution after joining the Civil Rights Movement.

As an activist and a social visionary, Walker has also been at the center of many major movements, including the Civil Rights Movement in the South, Women’s Movement, Native American and Indigenous Rights Movement, Free South Africa Movement, and many more. In 1984, Walker and fellow writer Robert L. Allen co-founded Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company in the Anderson Valley. Transforming challenging personal experiences into a celebration of the resilience and achievements of Black women, Walker's enduring impact on American literature continues to inspire and shape the perspectives of both present and future generations.

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