4 of History's Most Influential Black Authors

Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun

The best source of Black history comes from Black authors’ own written word. The men and women who put their pens to paper to immortalize their principles serve as inspiration to the rest of us. The works of the four Black authors in this list have withstood the test of time and continue to influence today.

1. Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass’ historic achievements are documented in his own 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Separated from his mother as an infant, Douglass was later taken from his grandmother at a young age and sent to work on a plantation in Baltimore. He eventually escaped his slaveowner and wrote five novels about his experience, Narrative being the most well-known. Douglass’ accounts are considered the most famous first-hand narratives of a slave’s experience.

2. Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry is best known for writing the 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, which was later made into a film starring Sidney Poitier. The play chronicles the struggle of a Black family to escape the ghetto, and its opening made Hansberry the first African American to produce a Broadway play. Unfortunately, Hansberry passed away from cancer in 1965 at the young age of 35. Her legacy, however, still lives on today.

3. Michelle Obama

In 2009, Michelle Obama made history when she became the United States’ first African American first lady. She went on to encourage families to live healthier, more active lifestyles through her Let’s Move! campaign. She also wrote a memoir, Becoming, in which she shares the story of her life, beginning in her childhood and continuing through her experiences in the White House. In her own words, Obama tells the story we watched unfold for nearly a decade, and the result is a heartfelt tale straight from the woman who inspired an entire nation.

4. Ralph Ellison

At the beginning of his professional writing career, Ellison submitted essays and short stories to a variety of publications. After serving in World War II, he began working on a novel called Invisible Man. The book was an immediate success; some called it “the most important American novel to appear after World War II.” Although Invisible Man was the only novel Ellison published in his lifetime, it earned him the title of one the most influential Black authors in history.