February is Black History Month. Started in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson as “Negro History Week,” and first recognized at the national level in 1976 by President Gerald Ford, Black History Week is an occasion to celebrate the accomplishments of people of African descent.
One area where Black Americans have distinguished themselves is in the world of crime fiction. S.A. Cosby, Rachel Howzell Hall, Alyssa Cole, Tracy Clarke, Kellye Garrett, V.M. Burns, Abby Collette, Cate Holahan, and the author of this post are a few of the many Black authors on the contemporary crime fiction scene. We walk in the footsteps of trailblazing crime novelists like Walter Mosley, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Barbara Neely, and Chester Himes.
The history of Blacks in crime fiction dates back even further. In 1937, the Negro Theater Unit of the WPA Federal Theater produced The Case of Philip Lawrence, a sociopolitical melodrama about a man framed for the murder of a racketeer. Playwright George MacEntee based The Case of Philip Lawrence on his earlier work, 11 PM.
Credit for writing the first known Black mystery novel does to noted Harlem Renaissance figure, Dr. Rudolph Fisher. Dr. Fisher was a physician (a radiologist) who found time to write short stories, plays, music, and novels in addition to practicing medicine. This true renaissance man published The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Dark Harlem in 1932.
Frankie’s List (https://www.sistersincrime.org/page/frankieslist), Crime Writers of Color (https://www.crimewritersofcolor.com/books), and I Found This Great Book (https://www.ifoundthisgreatbook.com/black-mystery-authors-directory/) are all excellent resources for finding Black, and other diverse, crime novelists. Who are some of your favorite Black mystery authors? Comment here or join the conversation on social media (https://www.facebook.com/missdemeanorsbooks).
So also a long history of successful physicians by day, writers by night! Thanks for including the lists.
Thank you for sharing those lists! I’m already intrigued by Dr. Fisher. I will be checking the lists out for sure. Crime fiction has been a love, but science fiction has been an obsession for me. Hands down a Black science fiction author I’d been obsessed with in my life is Samuel R. Delany. I read his work over and over.
Thank you for these suggestions. I love Attica Locke, who’s written a number of mysteries. Heaven, My Home starts with a scene on a lake that still makes me anxious.
Thanks for the list, Alexia. This month the Miss Demeanors celebrate you and your wonderful books.
Great post, Alexia, and so many great writers on your list. I was humbled when I had the honor to interview Walter Mosley at New England Crime Bake several years ago. His writing and range is amazing. If we ever adopted his ideas on education in the United States, we’d have an entirely different and enlightened country.