Special Report

Most Influential Black Authors of the 20th Century

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Alice Walker (1944-present)
> Birthplace: Eatonton, GA

Acclaimed poet, essayist, and novelist Alice Walker became the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982, for her novel “The Color Purple,” which also won the National Book Award.

Known as an outspoken activist for civil rights, gender equality, and environmental issues, Walker weaves themes of protesting injustice into her work, which includes over 30 published books.

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Angela Davis (1944-present)
> Birthplace: Birmingham, AL

Activist and scholar Angela Davis has written extensively on race, class, freedom, and feminism. Her influential works have supplemented her career as a lecturer and civil rights activist. In 1997 she co-founded “Critical Resistance,” an organization focused on dismantling the prison system, and later published a book on prison reform called “Are Prisons Obsolete?”

Another notable work by Davis is “Women, Race, and Class,” which recounts the hurdles black women have faced in the women’s liberation movement, and how this particular set of hurdles has hindered the progress of the movement as a whole.

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August Wilson (1945-2005)
> Birthplace: Pittsburgh, PA

Playwright August Wilson is known for his 10-play series called “Pittsburgh Cycle” that explores the Black experience in every decade of the 20th century. The play helped open the theater world and the world at large to discourses on race in society.

Two of his best known plays, “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” have since been adapted into movies. Wilson has won two Pulitzers and two Tony Awards.

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Ntozake Shange (1948-2018)
> Birthplace: Trenton, NJ

Ntozake Shange has written in numerous genres including plays, poetry, fiction, essays, children’s books and even a culinary memoir/cookbook. She is best known, however, for her acclaimed theater piece, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suiсide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” which details seven women’s struggles in a sexist and racist society. The performance consists of a series of poetic monologues that are choreographed to music, which Shange calls a “choreopoem.”

Source: Public Domain via Cmongirl / Wikimedia Commons

bell hooks (1952-2021)
> Birthplace: Berea, KY

Author and professor Gloria Jean Watkins, known by her pen name bell hooks, published nearly 40 books in her lifetime. Her essays, poetry, and scholarly writing deal with topics including gender, race, class, and love. She is best known for her intellectual works on intersectional feminism, including the 1981 book “Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism.”

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