Special Report

Most Influential Black Authors of the 20th Century

Source: schlesinger_library / Flickr

Margaret Walker (1915-1998)
> Birthplace: Birmingham, AL

Poet, novelist, and professor Margaret Walker was a voice in the Chicago Black Renaissance. When her first poetry collection “For My People” won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, she became the first black woman in the U.S. to receive a national writing prize.

Her highly acclaimed novel “Jubilee,” which follows a slave family during and after the civil war, was based on her grandmother’s life and was compiled from oral family histories and extensive research.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
> Birthplace: Topeka, KS

One of the most prominent and decorated poets of her generation, Gwendolyn Brooks was the first Black author to win a Pulitzer prize, as well as the first Black woman to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate.

She wrote over 20 books of poetry during her career and was notable for being popular not only in the academic literary circles of the ’40s but also in the rebellious and militant intellectual circles of the ’60s.

Source: Hilaria McCarthy / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Alex Haley (1921-1992)
> Birthplace: Ithaca, NY

After getting his start publishing interviews in Playboy magazine with prominent celebrities in the 60s, Alex Haley went on to conduct extensive interviews with Malcolm X and co-author “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” which became an international bestseller.

His next book, the Pulitzer prize-winning novel “Roots,” was adapted into a smash hit TV series that attracted 30 million viewers. The series has been credited with inspiring a national wave of interest in African genealogy.

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

James Baldwin (1924-1987)
> Birthplace: New York City

Harlem-born author James Baldwin advanced the current of the civil rights movement as well as the gay liberation movement with his influential moral essays, plays, novels, and poetry. He walked a tumultuous path as an openly gay Black man who wrote about gay and bisexual characters during a time when it was dangerous to do so, and this complicated identity made him an outsider even in civil rights circles.

Source: Scott Eells / Getty Images

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
> Birthplace: St. Louis, MO

Author of seven autobiographies including the acclaimed “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou was also a prolific poet, screenwriter and essayist who championed the human spirit and feminine power. Her lyrical writing is widely taught in high schools and colleges, and she received over 50 honorary degrees during her life, as well as a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Sponsored: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.