Each of these novels — in its own way — is a classic. All six fearlessly explore different dimensions of what it means to be black in America. — Daisy Alioto, Christian Science Monitor contributor
1. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker (Mariner, 304 pp.) is one woman’s journey from degradation to empowerment. Abused by her father, and later her husband (Mister), Celie looks to her sister, Nettie, as a source of love and support. For years Celie doesn’t hear from Nettie — until the day that she discovers Mister’s stockpile of her sister’s letters. The rage Celie feels at this revelation convinces her to take back her happiness and life.
2. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison (Vintage, 608 pp.) is a cautionary tale that will never expire. Through the eyes of a nameless, faceless black man, the reader encounters social and political aspects of society that threaten to efface unique identity. Ellison’s existential tale chronicles the suppression of one black man, but it also warns of society’s eclipse of countless individuals.
3. Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” by James Baldwin (Dial, 240 pp.) recounts the stories of four individual characters in the course of one prayer meeting. The lifetime of regrets that surface in the thoughts of the adults are contrasted with the spiritual awakening of young John Grimes.
4. Precious, by Sapphire
“Precious” by Sapphire (Vintage, 192 pp.) is the journal of emotionally and physically abused, mostly illiterate Precious Jones, a Harlem teen living in the darkest of circumstances. This novel makes a gritty and unforgettable read in its effort to portray a reality that would otherwise be unimaginable.
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston (Harper Perennial, 256 pp.) revolves around the life of Janie Crawford, an intelligent everywoman with a restless spirit. Janie endures two unsatisfactory marriages until she finally finds a husband who values her freedom. This is truly a tale about the pursuit of happiness.
6. The Wedding, by Dorothy West
“The Wedding” by Dorothy West (Anchor, 256 pp.) is the story of Shelby Coles and her desire to marry for love and not social status. Summering in an upper-class black community on Martha’s Vineyard, she must face the pressure of multiple generations of families that have sought to distinguish themselves based on exclusivity.