African American Literature PhD Reading List: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re pursuing a PhD in African American Literature, it can be overwhelming to know where to start with your reading. The field is vast, and the history of African American literature is long and varied. But with careful selection and planning, you can create a comprehensive reading list that will guide your studies and deepen your understanding of the subject.

Below are some essential texts that you should consider including in your African American Literature PhD reading list:

Slave Narratives

Any reading list in African American Literature should start with slave narratives. These narratives provide a window into the experiences and challenges of enslaved African Americans. Two of the most important slave narratives are “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” by Frederick Douglass and “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a significant period in African American Literature, and it deserves a prominent place in your reading list. Some of the essential texts from this period include “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston, “Cane” by Jean Toomer, and “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Civil Rights Era

The Civil Rights movement was another crucial period in African American History, and it greatly influenced the literature of the era. As such, your reading list should include significant works such as “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley.

Contemporary Literature

Finally, your reading list wouldn’t be complete without contemporary African American authors’ works. Some of the modern authors who should feature in your list include Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me.”


This list is not exhaustive, but it provides a good starting point for any African American Literature PhD student. Remember to select works that align with your research interests, and never hesitate to seek guidance from your professors and mentors. With a comprehensive reading list, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the complexities of African American Literature and push forward your academic journey.

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