The Bookstop: Black authors in Appalachia

Madelyn Crawford

If you’re unsure of how to go about honoring Black History Month, a powerful book penned by a Black author can be all it takes to allow a reader to reflect and learn. 

It may come as a surprise that familiar names such as bell hooks and Frank X Walker were born and raised in the rocky region that is Appalachia. In actuality, quite a few successful Black authors made their names from humble mountain origins. 

Black literature is powerful and always relevant, no matter where in the world it is from. Here are some books crafted by Black writers native to the Appalachian region to enjoy and inspire during this time of commemoration. 


“All About Love: New Visions” by bell hooks

Arguably one of her most popular books, hooks writes on the weight that love has when it comes to society, and how love has the potential to allow peace and happiness to flourish. Public, private and even self-loving interactions are described in an emotional, page-turning way that will make readers’ gears turn and comprehend love like never before.


“Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York” by Frank X Walker

From the mind of the creator of  “Affrilachia,” a word coined in the ‘90s in order to represent the African American population within the Appalachians, this immersive story told through poems lets readers see through the reimagined eyes of York, a slave who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition to discover the American West.


“Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgement” by Nikki Giovanni

A collection of beautiful and powerful poems reflecting on the life of a Black individual raised in the Appalachian region, these fearless, unapologetic words will have readers on the edge of their seats at each turn of the page. Recalling her life through her medium of poetry, Giovanni’s passionate words demand an audience.


“The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns” by William H. Turner

Following a reconstruction of life in a Kentucky coal town, this novel sheds light on what it was like to grow up in a Black mining community. A refreshing focus away from the white Appalachian stereotype, this slice of history is a must-read to gain insight into the diversity of the mountain region.


“Water Street” by Crystal Wilkinson

A novel digging into the secret side of life of one neighborhood’s inhabitants, curious readers will learn that everything is not what it seems. Told from several characters’ points of view, these intimate stories deal with the very real subjects of tragedy, loss and love.


“Head Off & Split” by Nikki Finney

Reading more like a novel than a collection of poems, these illustrative words are sure to capture the interest of readers. Focusing on Black individuals in history, Finney’s beautiful retellings of the narratives of Rosa Parks and Condoleezza Rice, for example, dive into the issues of civil rights, politics and family matters in a creative and contemporary way.


“Black Is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics” by Paul C. Taylor

The centuries-long exclusion of the Black aesthetic from scholarly studies is finally addressed in Taylor’s engaging writing. Re-examining the philosophical implications of Black aesthetics through the use of real-world examples, Taylor demonstrates his profound knowledge of Black expression whilst overcoming the barriers to Black recognition.


“Hook: A Memoir” by Randall Horton

From a Howard University student to a homeless drug addict and felon, Horton shamelessly reflects on his own fall from grace. This memoir creates an interesting relationship between past and present, showing how literature allowed him to save himself — and how he uses it to try to save another.