African American English Across Genres

image of woman reading

Celebrate the diversity of Black voices through these reading recommendations.

Very Smart Brothas – Black News, Opinions, Politics and Culture

Very Smart Brothas is an online blog, started by Damon Young and D. Marcellus Wright. Using click-baity and eye-catching titles, the bloggers boldly comment on American pop and political culture by applying a fresh and Black perspective. Despite its mainstream notoriety, most of the articles on the website break the most prominent rules in professional journalism/blogging by using expletives, curse words, first person narratives, African-American English (ain’t, high-key, etc.), and even some words that don’t exist in the English language (re-listen). 

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel which is centered around the main character, Janie Crawford, recounting her life, her quests for love, and her experiences involving her grandmother and the men in her life. The main themes of this story are the salience of gender roles and the double oppression black women face. The writing style is colloquial in nature. Within the portions of the text that include dialogue, the author chose to include 1900s southern, Black American English. Non-native speakers of Black American English may have a more difficult time following the dialogue. There are a few trigger warnings in this novel that involve sexual assault, predatory power dynamics, abusive relationships, and physical violence.  

The Color Purple is a fictional novel where the main character, Celie, tells her life story through a series of letters to her only sister and God. This style of writing promotes maintaining voice and autonomy through Black American English. There are a few trigger warnings since this novel includes instances of physical and sexual abuse.

Imani All Mine is a short, fictional novel detailing the life of a young teenage black girl from her point of view and her dealings with being a new mother. The entire book is written in Black American English (including the title) and shows examples of code-switching, the prestige that this dialect lacks in a school setting, and how linguistic discrimination is prominent in public schools with mainly POC student bodies. There are a few triggers throughout the novel due to a lot of instances that depict violence.

Inspired by the book club of the same name, this is one of the more unique entries on this list since this is a mix of fiction and nonfiction collection of essays written by black women. The purpose of this collection is to uplift the voices of black women through their literary skills and provide a platform within this anthology. This anthology is diverse in the narratives delivered as well as the different usages of Black American English varying from story to story.

Push is a novel that follows the life of a pregnant teen mother named Claireece Precious Jones, known as “Precious”, who endures a tumultuous relationship with her mother and illiteracy. Eventually she is sent to an alternative school and meets her mentor. Once there, she is introduced to many different works by prominent black writers. She becomes inspired to practice writing to better her own literacy while maintaining her mental grammar of Black American English. There are several trigger warnings for this work. These trigger warnings include child molestation, teen pregnancy, sexual assault, and child abuse.

The Hate U Give is a young adult novel narrated by teenaged main character, Starr Carter. Growing up in a poor neighborhood and then attending a predominantly white private school, she ends up witnessing the murder of her childhood friend by a police officer. The story unfolds as she speaks out regarding the shooting and advocating for justice for her friend. The nuance of this story regarding the language is its use of code-switching between Standard American English and Black American English to demonstrate how the main character Starr navigates between her predominantly black surroundings and her upper class white surroundings. Trigger warnings include racism and depictions of lethal force by police.

Student Testimonial:

“In my experience with the material, I got to be exposed to representation both racially and linguistically. All of these works have an endearing narrative that lifts the voices of black people, while also highlighting black issues. The only issue I had with some of these works are the consistent themes of black trauma. Many novels, stories, and essays continue this theme despite black culture being more than systemic trauma.”