10 Facts About Jane Austen’s Sanditon

Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood and Theo James as Sidney Parker in Masterpiece's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sanditon (2019).
Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood and Theo James as Sidney Parker in Masterpiece's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sanditon (2019).
Simon Ridgway/© Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019

Jane Austen published just four novels before her death in 1817—Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma—but they, along with posthumously published works like Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, have all become classics of the English-language canon, beloved by readers and adapted countless times for the screen and stage.

Just before her death, however, Austen had planned to add another title to her catalog of novels skewering 19th-century British society. In early 1817, she began a book that would eventually be called Sanditon, which tells the story of an up-and-coming English seaside resort town. Sadly, Austen wasn’t able to complete Sanditon before her death in July of that year—but that hasn’t stopped others from trying to finish the book for her.

A number of writers have attempted to complete Austen’s story since she put it aside in the early 1800s. Most recently, it has become the basis for a British miniseries that premiered in the UK in late 2019 and premiered on PBS on January 12, 2020. Before you dive into the miniseries, here are 10 things you should know about Austen’s final, unfinished novel.

1. Sanditon explores some of the same topics as Jane Austen’s previous novels.

Jane Austen is known for her sharp critiques of the world of England’s 19th-century landed gentry, and Sanditon continues that tradition. It centers on a handful of people in Sanditon, a fictional town along the Sussex coast in southeastern England. Mr. Parker is an eccentric, overenthusiastic developer bent on transforming Sanditon from a quiet village into a fashionable seaside tourist destination.

At the beginning of the novel, he and his wife take in Charlotte Heywood, the elder daughter of a country gentleman with a large family in Sussex, as their guest for the summer. They bring her to Sanditon and introduce her to local society, including Parker’s hypochondriac siblings and his business partner in his resort scheme, the wealthy but tightfisted Lady Denham—plus the poor relations who may be vying for her fortune.

Austen casts a critical eye on each of her characters with her typical cutting wit: Parker is described as “generally kind-hearted; liberal; gentlemanlike, easy to please … with more imagination than judgment,” while Mrs. Parker is “equally useless.” Lady Denham, “like a true great lady, talked and talked only of her own concerns,” while her nephew and heir, Sir Edward Denham, is “very much addicted to all the newest-fashioned hard words, had not a very clear brain” and “had read more sentimental novels than agreed with him.”

2. The town of Sanditon was likely based on a real English resort Jane Austen visited.

East Parade from the pier, Worthing, Sussex, early 20th century
A photo of the pier in Worthing, England in the early 19th century.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Scholars think that the fictional town of Sanditon was based on a real resort town Austen visited with her family. Austen spent at least a few weeks in Worthing, a seaside town in West Sussex, with her family in 1805, according to the diaries of Austen’s niece Fanny. At the time, Worthing was, like Sanditon, a newly established resort town. According to Antony Edmonds, the author of the 2013 book Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon, Sanditon’s Mr. Parker was probably based on Edward Ogle, a developer who purchased a large estate in Worthing in 1801 and set about turning the small village into a seaside tourist destination. Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were acquainted with Ogle, and Parker’s home in Sanditon, Trafalgar House, may have been based on Ogle’s estate, Warwick House.

3. Jane Austen didn’t name the novel Sanditon.

Austen herself didn’t title the manuscript that would become known as Sanditon. In the 1871 edition of his biography A Memoir of Jane Austen, Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh published a summary and quotations from her unfinished novel for the first time, calling it simply “The Last Work.” But it may have already been known as Sanditon by Austen’s family; Jane’s niece Anna Austen Lefroy, who eventually inherited the manuscript, referred to it by that name in an 1869 letter. That may not have been Jane’s intention, though; another Austen relative said that she planned to call her novel The Brothers. Lefroy went on to write her own continuation of her aunt’s novel, though she, like Jane, never finished it.

4. Jane Austen didn’t get very far into Sandition before her death.

Novelist Jane Austen is depicted in an illustrated portrait
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Austen spent seven weeks working on Sanditon in 1817, beginning on January 27 and ending on March 18, according to the dates she wrote at the beginning and end of her manuscript. During those short weeks, Austen completed just 11 chapters, along with nine pages of a twelfth. The unfinished text is less than 24,000 words long—less than a third of the length of Austen’s shortest completed novel, Northanger Abbey. Austen abandoned the project as her health declined. Only a few days after she set Sanditon aside, she wrote in a letter, “I certainly have not been very well for many weeks, and about a week ago I was very poorly, I have had a good deal of fever at times and indifferent nights ... I must not depend upon being ever very blooming again.” She died only a few months later, on July 18, 1817.

5. Jane Austen’s nephew and biographer wasn’t sure Sanditon should be published.

James Edward Austen-Leigh expressed trepidation over making his aunt’s final manuscript public. But he was persuaded to at least include a summary and a few excerpts from Sanditon in the 1871 edition of his biography of Jane Austen. He prefaced these excerpts with the warning that it was “difficult to judge of the quality of a work so advanced ... there was scarcely any indication of what the course of the story was to be, nor was any heroine yet perceptible, who, like Fanny Price, or Anne Elliot, might draw round her the sympathies of the reader.” Because of this, he did not publish the unfinished text in full. “Such an unfinished fragment cannot be presented to the public, but I am persuaded that some of Jane Austen’s admirers will be glad to learn something about the latest creations which were forming themselves in her mind,” he wrote.

6. The full text of Sanditon wasn’t available until 1925.

The cover of Jane Austen's 'Sanditon'
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Unlike Austen’s other posthumous publications, including Northanger Abbey (1817) and Persuasion (1818), the full text Sanditon wasn't released until more than a century after the author's death, and more than 50 years after Austen-Leigh first made the novel’s existence known to the public in his biography of Austen. It was first published in 1925 thanks to Austen scholar R. W. Chapman, who transcribed the original manuscript and published it as Fragment of a Novel with Notes.

7. Sanditon received mixed reviews.

Though English novelist E.M. Forster described himself as a “Jane Austenite,” he was not impressed by Sanditon upon its publication in 1925, blaming the author’s declining health for what he perceived as a lackluster work. “Sometimes it is even stale, and we realize with pain that we are listening to a slightly tiresome spinster, who has talked too much in the past to be silent unaided. Sanditon is a sad little experience from this point of view,” he wrote in a 1925 review published in The Nation. But more modern writers have seen the novel fragment more positively. In 2017, critic Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote that Sanditon “is robust, unsparing, and alert to all the latest fashions in human foolishness. It brims with life.”

8. Several other writers have tried to “finish” Sanditon since Jane Austen's death.

Writers have been trying to continue the story of Sanditon since the 19th century, but many have struggled with the fact that Austen’s start to the novel introduces a number of colorful characters, but doesn’t give the reader a clear sense of where the plot might be going. Anna Austen Lefroy was the first to try her hand at the task of continuing the story. While some scholars have suggested that Jane had discussed her intentions for Sanditon with her niece during her lifetime, Anna also wrote that the “story was too little advanced to enable one to form any idea of the plot.” In any case, she only wrote about 20,000 words of her continuation before abandoning the project. She left her continuation unpublished, and it wasn’t publicly known until the manuscript appeared at an auction in 1977; even then, it didn’t become available to readers until 1983.

In the century-plus since Lefroy attempted to finish her aunt’s novel, numerous writers have published their own continuations, some of which are more faithful to the original text than others. For instance, there is a 2008 mystery novel that is billed as a continuation of Austen’s work which replaces Sanditon with another fictional English town, Sandytown. In 2013, the creators of the "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" produced an interactive, modernized interpretation and continuation of the novel in a web series set in California. It was also the basis for a rock musical that debuted in the UK in 2014. As for the latest update of the story? The first episode of the new Sanditon miniseries, which first premiered on Britain’s ITV, sticks closely to the plot Austen wrote. But the subsequent seven episodes are almost entirely the invention of Andrew Davies, the Welsh television writer who adapted the story for television. Davies used Austen’s work as a jumping-off point, but created new characters and story lines as well as, in his words, “sexing it up.” (And yes, that includes what a Financial Times reviewer referred to as “a whiff of incest.”)

9. The creator of the Sanditon miniseries has adapted Jane Austen’s work many times before—to great success.

Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood in Masterpiece's 'Sanditon' (2019)
Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood in Sanditon (2019).
Simon Ridgway/© Red Planet Pictures / ITV 2019

Sanditon writer Andrew Davies is already well known for his other literary adaptations for the small screen. He has previously adapted a number of classic English novels for television, including Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, several works by Charles Dickens, and three other Jane Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey. His widely beloved 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is credited with catapulting Colin Firth to stardom.

10. The Sandition miniseries’s ending has been divisive for Austen fans ... but the show might be as unfinished as the novel itself.

When the Sanditon miniseries wrapped up its UK run on ITV, some fans were outraged by the show’s finale, which—spoiler alert!—doesn’t feature quite the happy ending that fans of books like Pride and Prejudice might have expected. And how might Jane Austen herself have felt about it? Experts are divided on that, too. “I imagine she’d have switched to Peaky Blinders on BBC after episode one,” Kathryn Sutherland, a Jane Austen scholar at Oxford University, told The Guardian. But Paula Byrne, author of the biography The Real Jane Austen and a literary consultant on the show, told Radio Times that she thinks Austen would have loved it: “I think she would have loved the lavishness and the beauty of the production. I think she would be writing for Hollywood if she was alive today.”

It’s possible that the Sanditon miniseries hasn’t yet reached its conclusion, though. While there hasn’t been official news of a second season of the show, Davies has said that he would love to continue the story. According to Radio Times, he told press in October that “I hope we’ve ended at a point where the audience is going to say: well you can’t end it at that!”

5 Amazing Things Found in Old Books

Old books can offer surprises.
Old books can offer surprises.
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If you’ve ever purchased a used book or cracked open a library title, chances are you’ve seen something unexpectedly falling from inside its pages. Sometimes it’s a grocery list; other times it might be a bookmark or photograph. Others have been lucky enough to find something with a little more financial or historical value. Check out some of the more surprising things that have been tucked inside old volumes.

1. A Lock of George Washington’s Hair

When you want some light reading, chances are you won’t be reaching for Gaines Universal Register or Columbian Kalendar [sic] for the Year of Our Lord 1793, an almanac which printed population estimates for the American colonies. But there was something slightly more riveting awaiting the person who picked up the volume at Union College in Schenectady, New York. In 2018, a librarian at the college’s Schaffer Library found an envelope with a lock of George Washington’s hair inside. The inscription on the envelope read: “Washington’s hair, L.S.S. & [scratched out] GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug. 10, 1871.”

The provenance for the hair being genuine is encouraging. The book belonged to Philip Schuyler, the son of Union College founder General Philip Schuyler, who was a friend of the president. It might have been passed from Martha Washington to Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, on to their son, James Hamilton, and then to the Schuyler family. The book also contained one other treasure—the junior Schuyler’s instructions for preserving beef in the warm summer months.

2. Cold Hard Cash

While you can buy hollowed-out books and covert soda cans that double as money banks, it’s not often that these items find their way into donation bins. In early 2019, Cathy McAllister, a volunteer for Arizona’s annual VNSA book sale, was sorting through volumes when she came across an installment of the 1776-1788 six-volume series The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. McAllister was ready to throw it out—the title is not a popular seller—when she opted to take one last flip through its pages. Not many were intact. Someone had carved a hole inside and stuffed it with cash totaling $4000. There was also an envelope inside with an address. McAllister contacted the donor and returned the money.

3. An Original C.S. Lewis Letter on Finding Joy

In 2014, Dominic Winter Auctioneers in England presented a great find. Tucked inside a copy of 1940's The Problem of Pain by Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis was an original, handwritten letter by Lewis addressed to a Mrs. Ellis that detailed his definition of joy. “Real joy … jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights,” he wrote. The book’s owner, whose name was not disclosed, had picked it up in a secondhand shop some years prior. The letter, dated August 19, 1945, seemed to be an early example of Lewis musings that he would later expand upon in his 1955 memoir, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. The note sold for roughly $6000 at auction. The identity of Mrs. Ellis, Lewis’s pen pal, is still unknown.

4. A Map of Middle-Earth Annotated by J.R.R. Tolkien

The joy of discovering the world imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1954's The Lord of the Rings is usually reason enough to crack open its spine, but employees of Blackwell’s Rare Books found another treasure lurking in a copy of the novel in 2015—a map of Middle-Earth with comments handwritten by Tolkien himself. (Among the details: Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford, and Minas Tirith could have been inspired by the real Italian city of Ravenna.) The edition once belonged to Pauline Baynes, who was working on an illustration for a new edition and used an earlier map as reference. That version was published in 1970. Baynes’s personal copy, map tucked inside, wound up at Blackwell’s, where it was put up for sale for roughly $77,000.

5. A Winning Lotto Ticket Worth $750,000

It pays to tidy up around the house. Couple Roger Larocque and Nicole Pedneault of Montreal bought a lotto ticket on Valentine’s Day 2018 and then promptly forgot about it. The ticket was a winner worth $750,000 ($1 million Canadian), but the two didn’t know—it had been tucked away in a book. Pedneault didn’t come across it again until April 2019, when she was sorting through her belongings at her grandson’s request—he needed help with a school project about Japan—and found the ticket stuffed in a book about the country. Pedneault checked the lotto results online and realized that it was valuable. She discovered it in the nick of time: After not having been claimed, it was due to expire in just two days.

25 Amazing Books by African-American Writers You Need to Read

Background: iStock. Book Covers for "Invisible Man" and "The Underground Railroad": Amazon. Book Cover for "The Hate U Give": HARPERCOLLINS.
Background: iStock. Book Covers for "Invisible Man" and "The Underground Railroad": Amazon. Book Cover for "The Hate U Give": HARPERCOLLINS.

Black History Month gives us 29 days to honor African Americans and the ever-expanding contributions they make to culture. Literature in particular has been a space for black authors to tell their stories authentically, and bookworms seeking good reads can choose from an array of fiction, poetry, historical texts, essays, and memoirs. From literary icons to fresh, buzzworthy talent, we're highlighting 25 books by African-American authors you should add to your reading list today.

1. Kindred // Octavia Butler

The cover of 'Kindred' by Octavia Butler
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Octavia Butler's Kindred (1979) is one of a string of novels she penned centering on black female protagonists, which was unprecedented in a white-male dominated science and speculative fiction space at the time. This story centers Dana, a young writer in 1970s Los Angeles who is unexpectedly whisked away to the 19th century antebellum South, where she saves the life of Rufus Weylin, the son of a plantation owner. When Dana’s white husband—initially suspicious of her claims—is transported back in time with her, complicated circumstances follow, since interracial marriage was considered illegal in America until 1967. To paint an accurate picture of the slavery era, Butler told In Motion Magazine in 2004, she studied slave narratives and books by the wives of plantation owners.

Buy it on Amazon.

2. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body // Roxane Gay

The cover of 'Hunger' by Roxane Gay
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In the second entry of her 2017 memoir Hunger, Roxane Gay writes, "… this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood."  The New York Times bestselling author pinpoints deep-seated emotions from a string of experiences, such as an anxious visit to a doctor's office concerning gastric bypass surgery and turning to food to cope with a boy raping her when she was a girl. In six powerful parts, the daughter of Haitian immigrants and National Book Award finalist reclaims the space necessary to document her truth—and uses it to come out of the shadows she had once intentionally tried to hide in.

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3. The Fire Next Time // James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
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James Baldwin is considered a key figure among the great thinkers of the 20th century for his long range of criticism about literature, film, and culture and his revelations on race in America. One of his most widely known literary contributions was his 1963 book The Fire Next Time, a text featuring two essays. One is a letter to his 14-year-old nephew in which he encourages him not to give in to racist ideas that blackness makes him lesser. The second essay, "Down At The Cross," takes the reader back to Baldwin's childhood in Harlem as he details conditions of poverty, his struggle with religious authorities, and his relationship with his father.

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4. Between the World and Me // Ta-Nehisi Coates

The cover of 'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nahisi Coates
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After re-reading James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, Ta-Nehisi Coates was inspired to write a book-long essay to his teenage son about being black in America, forewarning him of the plight that comes with facing white supremacy. The result was the 2015 National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me. New York magazine reported that after reading it, Toni Morrison wrote, "I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates." Throughout the book, Coates recounts witnessing violence and police brutality growing up in Baltimore, reflects on his time studying at historically black Howard University, and asks the hard questions about the past and future of race in America.

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5. Invisible Man // Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
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Ralph Ellison's 1952 classic Invisible Man follows one African-American man's quest for identity during the 1920s and 1930s. Because of the racism he faces, the unnamed protagonist, known as "Invisible Man," does not feel seen by society and narrates the reader through a series of unfortunate and fortunate events he undertakes to fit in while living in the South and later in Harlem, New York City. In 1953, Invisible Man was awarded the National Book Award, making Ellison the first African-American author to receive the prestigious honor for fiction.

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6. Beloved // Toni Morrison

The cover of 'Beloved' by Toni Morrison
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Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel Beloved puts Sethe, a former slave in 1873 Cincinnati, Ohio, in contact with the supernatural. Before becoming a free woman, Sethe attempted to kill her children to save them from a life of enslavement. While her sons and one daughter survived, her infant daughter, known only as Beloved, died. Sethe's family becomes haunted by a spirit believed to be Beloved, and Morrison provides a layered portrayal of the plight of post-slavery black life with a magical surrealism edge as Sethe learns she must confront her repressed memories of trauma and her past life in bondage.

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7. All About Love: New Visions // bell hooks

The cover of 'All About Love: New Visions' by bell hooks
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In the 2000 book All About Love, feminist scholar bell hooks grapples with how people are commonly socialized to perceive love in modern society. She uses a range of examples to delve into the topic, from her personal childhood and dating reflections to popular culture references. This is a powerful, essential text that calls on humans to revise a new, healthier blueprint for love, free of patriarchal gender limitations and dominating behaviors that don't serve humankind's emotional needs.

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8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley // Malcom X, Alex Haley

The cover of 'The Autobiography of Malcom X'
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Throughout 1963, Malcolm X would drive from his home in Harlem to author Alex Haley's apartment down in New York's Greenwich Village to collaborate on his autobiography. Unfortunately, the minister and activist didn't live to see it in print—The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, not long after his assassination in February of that year. The books chronicles the many lessons the young Malcolm (born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska) learned from witnessing his parents' struggles with racism during his childhood, as well as covering his troubled young adulthood with drugs and incarceration and his later evolution into one of the most iconic voices in the movement for black liberation.

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9. Their Eyes Were Watching God // Zora Neale Hurston

The cover of 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neale Hurston
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During Zora Neale Hurston's career, she was more concerned with writing about the lives of African Americans in an authentic way that uplifted their existence, rather than focusing on their traumas. Her most celebrated work, 1937's Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an example of this philosophy. It follows Janie Mae Crawford, a middle-aged woman in Florida, who details lessons she learned about love and finding herself after three marriages. Hurston used black Southern dialect in the characters' dialogue to proudly represent their voices and manner.

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10. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness // Michelle Alexander

The cover of 'The New Jim Crow' by Michelle Alexander
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The Jim Crow laws of the 19th and 20th centuries were intended to marginalize black Americans who, during the Reconstruction period, were establishing their own businesses, entering the labor system, and running for office. Although a series of anti-discrimination rulings such as Brown vs. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act were passed during the Civil Rights Movement, Michelle Alexander's 2010 book argues that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow impacting black American lives, especially black men. In the text, Alexander explores how the war on drugs, piloted by the Ronald Reagan administration, created a system in which black Americans were stripped of their rights after serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.

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11. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches // Audre Lorde

The cover of 'Sister Outsider' by Audre Lorde
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Originally published in 1984, Sister Outsider is an anthology of 15 essays and speeches written by lesbian feminist writer and poet Audre Lorde. The titles of her works are as intriguing as the content is eye-opening. "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power" examines the way people, especially women, lose when they block the erotic—or deep passion—from their work and while exploring their spiritual and political desires. In "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," Lorde explains how feminism fails by leaving out the voices of black women, queer women, and poor women. Lorde's ideas are still shaping conversations about feminism today, and her writing is well worth revisiting.

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12. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream // Barack Obama

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Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope was his second book and the No. 1 New York Times bestseller when it was released in the fall of 2006. The title was derived from a sermon he heard by Pastor Jeremiah Wright called "The Audacity to Hope." It was also the title of the keynote speech the then-Illinois state senator gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Before becoming the 44th president of the United States, Obama's Audacity of Hope outlined his optimistic vision to bridge political parties so that the government could better serve the American people's needs.

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13. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration // Isabel Wilkerson

The cover of 'The Warmth of Other Suns' by Isabel Wilkerson
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During the Great Migration, millions of African Americans departed the Southern states to Northern and Western cities to escape Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the failing sharecropping system. Isabel Wilkerson, the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism, documented these movements in her 2010 book, which involved 15 years of research and interviews with 1200 people. The book highlights the stories of three individuals and their journeys, from Florida to New York City, Mississippi to Chicago, and Louisiana to Los Angeles. Wilkerson's excellent and in-depth documentation won her a National Book Critics Circle Award for the nonfiction work.

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14. Brown Girl Dreaming // Jacqueline Woodson

The cover of 'Brown Girl Dreaming' by Jacqueline Woodson
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Jacqueline Woodson's children's books and YA novels are inspired by her desire to highlight the lives of communities of color—narratives she felt were missing from the literary landscape. In her 2014 National Book Award-winning autobiography, Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson uses her own childhood story in verse form to fill those voids in representation. The author came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and, subsequently, the Black Power Movement, and lived between the laid-back lifestyle of South Carolina and the fast-paced New York City. Through her work, we are reminded of how family and community play a role in helping individuals persevere through life's trials.

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15. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More // Janet Mock

The cover of 'Redefining Realness' by Janet Mock
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Janet Mock, an African-American and native Hawaiian transgender activist and writer, began her career in media as a staff editor at People. In 2011, Mock decided to share her story with the world and came out as a transgender woman in a Marie Claire article. She released this New York Times bestselling memoir in 2014. Mock has used her platform to speak in full about her upbringing as a person of color in poverty and her transgender identity.

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16. Fire Shut Up in My Bones // Charles M. Blow

The cover of 'Fire Shut Up in My Bones' by Charles M. Blow
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In his 2014 memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow opens up about growing up in a segregated Louisiana town during the 1970s as the youngest of five brothers. In 12 chapters, Blow offers an extensive look at his path to overcoming poverty, the trauma of being a victim of childhood rape, and his gradual understanding of his bisexuality. Although these are hard truths to tell, as Blow told NPR in 2014, he wrote this book especially for those who are going through similar experiences and need to know their lives are still worth living despite painful circumstances.

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17. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings // Maya Angelou

The cover of 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou
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If you're going to read anything by the late, great, prophetic poet Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings should be at the top of your list. It provides an in-depth look at the obstacles that shaped her early life. Angelou's childhood and teenage years were nomadic, as her separated parents moved her and her brother from rural Arkansas to St. Louis, Missouri, and eventually to California, where at different times she lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. Besides the blatant racism she saw unfold around her in the South, a young Maya also faced childhood rape, and as a teen, homelessness and pregnancy. After its release in 1969, Angelou, who was initially reluctant to write the book, became the first African-American woman to have a nonfiction bestseller.

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18. Babel-17 // Samuel R. Delany

The cover of 'Babel-17' by Samuel R. Delany
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In 2015, Samuel R. Delany told The Nation that when he first began attending science fiction conferences in the 1960s, he was one of only a few black writers and enthusiasts present. Over the years, with his contributions and the work of others like Octavia Butler—whom he mentored—he opened doors for black writers in the genre. If you're looking for a sci-fi thriller taking place in space and centering a woman leader protagonist, Delany's 1967 Nebula Award-winning Babel-17 is the one. Rydra Wong, a spaceship captain, is intrigued by a mysterious language called Babel-17 that has the power to alter a person's perception of themselves and others, and possibly brainwash her to betray her government.

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19. Splay Anthem // Nathaniel Mackey

The cover of 'Splay Anthem' by Nathaniel Mackey
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Readers of Nathaniel Mackey's poetry are often intrigued by his ability to merge the worlds of music (particularly jazz) and poetry to create soul-grabbing rhythmic prose. Splay Anthem is a masterful work exhibiting his style. The 2006 collection includes two poems Mackey had been writing for more than 20 years: "Song of the Andoumboulou," about a ritual funeral song from the Dogon people of modern-day Mali; and "Mu." Splay Anthem is woven into three sections, "Braid," "Fray," and "Nub," in which two characters travel through space and time and whose final destinations are unclear. Mackey's nonlinear form is deliberate: "There's a lot of emphasis on movement in the poems, and there's a lot of questions about ultimate arrival, about whether there is such a state or place," he said in A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Writers of the Bay Area.

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20. The Hate U Give // Angie Thomas

The cover of 'The Hate U Give' by Angie Thomas
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Angie Thomas is part of a new crop of African-American authors bringing fresh new storytelling to bookshelves near you. Her 2017 debut young adult novel, The Hate U Give, was inspired by the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. It follows Starr Carter, a 16-year-old who has witnessed the police-involved shooting of her best friend Khalil. The book, which topped the New York Times bestseller chart, is a timely fictional tale that humanizes the voices behind one of the largest movements of present times.

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21. Not Without Laughter // Langston Hughes

The cover of 'Not Without Laughter' by Langston Hughes
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Take it back to where Harlem Renaissance legend Langston Hughes began his novelistic bibliography. In 1930's Not Without Laughter, Sandy Rogers is an African-American boy growing up in Kansas during the early 1900s—a story loosely based on Hughes's own experiences living in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. Hughes vividly paints his characters based on the "typical Negro family in the Middle West" he grew up around, he explained in his autobiography The Big Sea. In this way, Hughes paved the way for more storytelling about black life outside of urban, big city settings.

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22. Salvage the Bones // Jesmyn Ward

The cover of 'Salvage the Bones' by Jesmyn Ward
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Jesmyn Ward's 2011 novel Salvage the Bones merges fiction with her real life experience surviving Hurricane Katrina as a native of rural Mississippi. Ward tells a new story through the eyes of Esch, a pregnant teenage girl who lives in poverty with her three brothers and a father who is battling alcoholism in a fictional town called Bois Sauvage. Through this National Book Award-winning tale, Ward writes an emotionally intense and deep account about a family who must find a way to overcome differences and stick together to survive the passing storm.

Buy it on Amazon.

23. Don't Call Us Dead // Danez Smith

The cover of 'Don't Call Us Dead' by Danez Smith
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Amazon.

Don’t Call Us Dead is a cathartic series of poems that imagine an afterlife where black men can fully be themselves. Danez Smith's poignant words take heartbreaking imagery of violence against the bodies of black men and juxtapose it with scenes of a new plane, one that is much better than the existence those men lived before. Upon arrival, it's a celebration, as men and boys are embraced by their fellow brothers and are able to truly experience being "alive." Smith's prose sticks, and you will think more deeply about the delicacy of life and death long after you've put the book back on the shelf.

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24. The Underground Railroad // Colson Whitehead

The cover of 'The Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Amazon.

Colson Whitehead brings a bit of fantasy to historical fiction in his 2016 novel The Underground Railroad. Historically, the underground railroad was a network of safe houses for runaways on their journey to reaching the freed states. But Whitehead invents a literal secret underground railroad with real tracks and trains in his novel. This system takes his main character, Cora, a woman who escaped a Georgia plantation, to different states and stops. Along her journey, she faces a new set of horrific hurdles that could hold her back from obtaining her freedom.

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25. Devil in a Blue Dress // Walter Mosley

The cover of 'Devil in a Blue Dress' by Walter Mosley
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Amazon.

If you're into mystery but don't know Walter Mosley, it's time to catch up. The crime-fiction author has published more than 40 books, with his Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins series being his most popular. Mosley's 1990 debut (and Easy's debut as well) Devil in a Blue Dress takes the reader to 1940s Watts, a Los Angeles neighborhood where Easy has recently relocated after losing his job in Houston. He finds a new line of work as a detective when a man at a bar wants him to track down a woman named Daphne Monet, kicking off a career that will span 14 novels (and counting).

Buy it on Amazon.

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