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For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Presented here are some of our favorite African American classics.
We are honored to publish Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning novel The Color Purple as a Penguin Book. A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia and broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery.
Buried in the archive for almost ninety years, Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille is a vital document of black modernism and one of the earliest overtly queer fictions in the African American tradition. The novel traces the adventures of a rowdy troupe of dockworkers, prostitutes, and political organizers—collectively straight and queer, disabled and able-bodied, African, European, Caribbean, and American—and is set largely in the culture-blending Vieux Port of Marseille at the height of the Jazz Age.
We also recommend these other classic reads: Ida B. Wells’s investigative reporting in The Light of Truth, George S. Schuyler’s landmark comic satire Black No More, and Jean Toomer’s modernist masterpiece Cane. A new highlight to our series is The Housing Lark by Trinidad-born author Sam Selvon, whose humorous and poignant novel depicts a group of friends, Black and Indian, from Trinidad and Jamaica, and explores the Caribbean migrant experience in London in the 1960s.