4 Inspiring Black Writers and the Moving Stories They Tell

Alex Haley, author of Roots
Alex Haley, author of Roots and Queen
The written word is a powerful thing - capturing emotions and providing imagery that captivates readers and makes them think about the issues around them. Having to overcome a variety of obstacles in their early lives, these inspiring Black writers used their past to inspire thought-provoking change via their work.

James Baldwin

“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.” – James Baldwin

Born in 1924 in Harlem, New York, Baldwin was no stranger to prejudice and adversity. Growing up, he became increasingly aware of the racial discrimination surrounding his life - having certain establishments turn him away, among other injustices. Having expressed a gift for writing in his early years, Baldwin used his work to demonstrate the tension that he felt in society and express his insights on race, spirituality, and humanity as a whole.

Major Works:
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Giovanni’s Room
  • Another Country
  • Just Above My Head
  • Notes of a Native Son
  • The Fire Next Time

Maya Angelou

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou had a difficult childhood and had to come to terms with Arkansas’ racial prejudice and discrimination from an early age. As a way of dealing with her troubled past, she used the written word to come to terms with her inner turmoil. Her expression didn’t stop at writing - Angelou was also an acclaimed actress, screenwriter, dancer, and civil rights activist that used her inspiring words to change the mindsets of many.

Major Works:
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes
  • Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven
  • Letter to My Daughter

Alice Walker

“For in the end, freedom is a personal and lonely battle; and one faces down fears of today so that those of tomorrow might be engaged.” – Alice Walker

As an author, women’s rights activist, and civil rights activist, Walker knows what it takes to inspire someone into action. Her highly acclaimed novels, essays, and poems capture the essence of the struggle and turmoil she experienced growing up in the racially-tense southern United States. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, in particular, was a spark that raised awareness of racial tension and abuse as issues that need to be addressed.

Major Works:
  • The Color Purple
  • The Temple of My Familiar
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy
  • Once
  • Third Life of Grange Copeland

Alex Haley

“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.” – Alex Haley

Initially pursuing a freelance writing career after retiring from the Coast Guard in 1959, Haley’s first break came with the release of his Malcolm X autobiography. Pursuing his interest in the history of his ancestors, he later would become the center of a plagiarism controversy. Though some of his works remain controversial to this day, many refer to Haley as a force that inspired the nationwide interest in how genealogy plays a role in our modem lives. This, in turn, has fostered greater awareness and understanding of racism and slavery in American history.

Major Works:
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Roots
  • Roots: The Next Generation
  • A Different Kind of Christmas
  • Queen