Special Report

Most Influential Black Authors of the 20th Century

During the first wave of the Great Migration (1916-1940), in which millions of African Americans left the rural South and relocated to urban areas, mainly in the Northeast and Midwest, cultural revivals such as the Harlem Renaissance (‘20s and ‘30s) and Chicago Black Renaissance (‘30s and ‘40s) saw urban neighborhoods blossom with Black artists and intellectuals. 

Many prominent and famous Black authors were crucial figures in those revivals. 24/7 Tempo has compiled the most influential Black authors of the 20th century, using sources including PBS, the Poetry Foundation, and Biography.com to find authors whose work was impactful during the 20th Century. (Writers who were solely journalists were not included.)

From the post-Reconstruction analyses of W.E.B. DuBois, to the cultural phenomenon that is Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (which was not only adapted into a film and a play, but also inspired Oprah Winfrey to start her Book Club), the works of these Black authors have been groundbreaking in their shaping of U.S. culture.

A universal human experience is wanting to be seen as a whole and unique being. These authors were crucial in helping to pave the way for a diversity of Black voices to be heard in the American cultural landscape. They span the spectrum from poets, playwrights, and novelists, to intellectuals whose discourses have shaped the civil rights movement and Black feminist theory. Here are 25 women who shaped the feminist movement.

In a society as diverse as ours, it is important for everyone – not just Black Americans – to read books by Black authors. Exposure to a multitude of cultures can help people build empathy for those unlike them, which in turn can lead us toward a more just and inclusive society. Read about Martin Luther King and 49 other most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century.

Click here to see the most influential black authors of the 20th century

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