I’ve always thought of audiobooks as a collaboration between the author and the narrator(s). I don’t mean to imply that authors deserve less credit for their work in audio form. But when it comes to audiobooks, I do think the narration is as important as the writing. It’s magical, really—when read out loud, books become a slightly different kind of art.
So I pay a lot of attention to narrators. I like to think about who’s narrating a story in the same way I think about who’s telling it. Is the narration own voices? Does the narrator have some cultural or ethnic connection to the characters? There’s no one right answer to these questions. Audiobook narrators are a talented bunch of voice actors, many of whom beautifully, authentically and respectfully voice a staggering range of accents and dialects. Thinking about what a narrator does or doesn’t bring to a book is just one part of a bigger conversation about racism, sexism, power, and privilege in the realm of books and publishing.
In a world where straight white cisgender male is still the default everything, including the default voice, celebrating and honoring diverse narrators is important. This list is all about audiobooks narrated by Black women, but Rioters have also made great lists featuring Native, First Nations and Indigenous narrators and own voices narrators from a variety of identities.
There are hundreds and hundreds of incredible audiobooks narrated by Black women. This list is just the beginning. But these are some of the best audiobooks I’ve ever encountered. These narrators bring something new to every book they narrate. Whether you like to listen to science fiction, historical fiction, memoir, or poetry, these are audiobooks you won’t want to miss.
Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden, read by Cherise Boothe and Adenrele Ojo
Two brilliant narrators take this weird and wonderful sci-fi novel up a notch. Set in a future where humans live on giant space beasts that serve as ship, shelter, and fuel, it follows two young women from different backgrounds as they navigate the highly stratified world of their space-beast-turned-spaceship. Both narrators perfectly embody the protagonists, as well as bringing to life a range of side characters with unique and unforgettable voices.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin
If any book was written to be read aloud, it’s a book about hip-hop. All Bri wants is to be a famous rapper like her father. But it’s definitely not an easy road, especially not for a Black teenage girl. Bahni Turpin is absolutely brilliant in this. She carries the heart of the book—the power of rap—in her voice. It’s an unforgettable performance of a powerful novel.
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus, read by Junauda Petrus, Bahni Turpin, and JD Jackson
Heartfelt, authentic, and emotional narration adds depth to this quiet love story. When her mother discovers her with another girl, she sends Audre from her home in Trinidad to live with her dad in Minneapolis. That’s where she meets Mabel, and the two girls form an immediate bond. This is a lovely, shimmering, slightly magical novel that celebrates blackness and friendship. Turpin and Petrus inhabit their characters with such force that I sometimes found myself holding my breath.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, read by Elizabeth Acevedo
If a novel-in-verse read by the author isn’t the stuff that superior audiobooks are made of, I don’t know what is. Acevedo is clearly the only person who could do this book justice. Xiomara is a Dominican American teenager dealing with a whole lot of teenage issues—family relationships, identity, alienation. So she turns to slam poetry to figure herself out. Her words come alive in Acevedo’s voice; you can feel their power in your bones.
The Diviners by Libba Bray, read by January LaVoy
The sheer range of voices that LaVoy—apparently effortlessly—inhabits in this audiobook is extraordinary. Set in a creepy, glittering, paranormal 1920s New York, this book follows Evie O’Neill, newly arrived from Ohio, as she navigates the big city while trying to hide her supernatural powers. Evie befriends a slew of diverse teenagers, and LaVoy is up for the challenge of narrating from all their POVs. With so many accents and characters to keep track of, she never wavers, bringing them all to life with stunning clarity.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray, read by January LaVoy, Adenrele Ojo, Bahni Turpin, and Dominic Hoffman
A quartet of talented narrators enlivens this complicated book about three sisters and their families. When the eldest sister and her husband are arrested, her two younger sisters are thrown together to deal with the consequences, as well as care for her teenage daughters. The story shifts between POVs, and the narrators are so good, their voices so distinct, that it feels like each of the sisters is speaking directly to to the reader.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, read by Shvorne Marks
This book is a sharp, painful, sometimes funny, and unbearably honest dose of messy, real life twentysomething uncertainty. Queenie is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, trying to determine who and what she wants, making a lot of bad decisions about sex and men, and dealing with endless racial microaggressions. Marks masterfully navigates British and Jamaican accents, and perfectly captures Queenie’s youthful angst as well as the very real trauma it sometimes masks.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, read by Jacqueline Woodson, Bahni Turpin, Shayna Small, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, and Peter Francis James
Four talented women (and one man), including the author, narrate this slim but powerful novel about three generations of a black family in Brooklyn. Weaving through time and point-of-view, Woodson explores the way story, trauma, and memory move through generations. The narrators, each voicing a different character, transport listeners to the Brooklyn neighborhood where much of the book takes place. Their voices are rich and varied, adding layers of feeling to this sparse and deeply felt novel.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, read by Ruby Dee
Hurston’s classic novel is remarkable in a hundred ways, but one of them is the prose: gorgeous writing that captures the truths of the time, place and characters in specific, memorable ways. Ruby Dee gives breath to the music in Hurston’s words. Her performance is immersive and expansive—she’s so good that it feels more like being inside the book than having someone read it to you.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, read by Robin Miles
This is the book that made me fall in love with Robin Miles as a narrator. The story takes place in a world plagued with “fifth seasons”—erratic climatic events (earthquakes, volcanoes) that can disrupt civilization for years or generations. It’s a brilliantly crafted story with incredibly complex characters; Jemisin weaves together three narratives in a stunning, unputdownable tapestry. There are few narrators I would trust with the nuance and intricacy of this book, and Miles is one of them. Her performance is flawless.
Memoirs (Read by the Author)
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama’s memoir hardly needs an introduction—she just won a Grammy for it. It’s likely you already know what an incredible public speaker she is, and it shows in this audiobook. She’s forthright, emotional, warm, raw, funny. This is not a short listen, but I promise you’ll blow right through it. Her voice is that compelling.
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Mock’s beautiful and intersectional memoir about growing up trans in Honolulu is made even more powerful by her heartfelt narration. She speaks with a quiet power; her voice is sometimes raw and sometimes playful, but always full of a naked honesty that’s a gift to the listener. Listening to her tell her own story, it is simply impossible not to be moved by it.
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
In this harrowing and vitally important memoir, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter writes about the profound ways that police brutality and a criminally racist justice system have devastated her family, the experience of being a queer black woman in America, and her path to activism. The power of her words comes through in her voice, as she lays bare stories of love and devastation, tenderness and atrocity, trauma and resilience.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
This isn’t your typical self-help book or inspirational memoir. It’s not at all prescriptive. Rhimes tells it like it is, for her: all the ways that saying yes (which sometimes means saying no) helped her build a life she loves. She’s aware of her privilege, and weaves it into the book, so that it never feels like the things she’s talking about are unattainable for people who aren’t big TV producers. Her narration is stellar: funny, upbeat, warm, and engaging. It’s like she’s right there in your living room with you.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
This is a hard book to read. It’s a book about trauma, about Gay’s experience with her body, with fatness, and with living in a world that despises and reviles “unruly bodies.” It’s the most vulnerable and honest memoir I’ve ever read; the truth-telling Gay does with her words is extraordinary. Listening to her read it makes it both harder to bear and more intensely intimate. It’s a listening experience that will stay with you for life.
Essay Collections (Read by the Author)
Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
In this collection of brilliant essays, Cooper centers blackness, Black women, and Black feminism. She writes about the uses of rage, and the specific ways that black women use anger as a tool of powerful change. She delves deep into politics, friendship, interpersonal relationships, academia, and more. Listening to her read it out loud enhances the power of every word. This is a must-read for all feminists.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
You know you’re in for a treat when a comedian reads their own audiobook. In this collection of smart and hilarious essays, Irby discusses everything from awkward sex, reality TV, and her weirdo cat to fatness, the various strange challenges of adulting, and traveling through the South as a Black queer woman. She’s funny, but she also cuts through all the mess right to the heart of whatever she’s talking about. Her delivery is flawless.
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
This book is a blend of intimate personal stories and rigorous analysis and critique. Jerkins writes with sharp honesty about pop culture and feminism, and then uses that same clear-eyed honesty as she recounts her experiences as a Black girl and young Black woman. Her voice is so alive and expressive; it adds layers of depth to the essays that make it hard to stop listening.
Poetry (Read by the Author)
Duende by Tracy K. Smith
Smith’s poetry thrives in that tension that lives in beautiful writing about horrific things. The poems in this collection delve down into the roots of history, exploring both the personal and political sides of art, survival, geography. Smith reads them with the confidence and precision that only an author can give to their own work. It is easy to get lost on the tide of her voice, which is both intense and mesmerizing. But her careful delivery also adds meaning to the poems themselves; this is a book worth listening to more than once.
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
This audiobook is only 30 minutes long, but it feels almost infinite in length—Shire’s words are so compelling they’ll go on echoing in your head and heart long after you’ve finished listening. These poems about immigration, trauma, home, and the complicated ways that humans make journeys come alive in Shire’s voice. She gives an emotional performance, and unlike some poetry that’s read aloud, her phrasing is never forced or formal. Out loud, in her voice, the poems become their true selves: living, breathing creatures. It’s an extraordinary 30 minutes.
Looking for more great audiobooks narrated by Black women? Casey put together a stellar list. We’ve also got a listening pathway for Bahni Turpin and a whole lot of content to help you find the best Robin Miles audiobooks.