Dating as far back as 1770, Black women have not only flexed their literary prowess through published works, but have also expressed the complexities and nuance of their intersectionality. Through beautifully stitched words and compelling narratives, they’ve taught us that it ain’t never been easy being Black, female and unfree.
Phyllis Wheatley, a young African girl who was snatched from West Africa and enslaved in America pre-Civil War, was the first Black woman to document her circumstances. Writing poetry under the guise of American patriotism, Wheatley conveyed the woes of being Black and oppressed. In 1861, Harriet Jacobs published Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl, a slave narrative that chronicled the sexual harassment she endured, and her courageous escape to avoid sexual violation and ensure her daughter would not become sexual prey, as well. Wheatley and Jacobs were writing about women’s issues in the 18 and 19th centuries, respectively, as the United States was undergoing radical transformations for liberty, freedom and justice. Yet, it would be years before Black women’s pain and strife would become political and as dire.
In the vein of all that is Black and woman, Black women writers continued to produce magical works that amplified Black women’s experiences and issues. Let’s get into these 11 books by Black women that center women's issues.
1. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
What's The Tea?!
I encourage all to read or re-read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston!!
"From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything."
I love reading this book slowly for the poetry 😊
Enjoy the tea! pic.twitter.com/41p9hFloKl— NaTasha's Tea (@tea_natasha) March 7, 2019
In her progressive text highlighting issues of sexism and ageism, Hurston writes the tale of Janie, a woman who rediscovers herself after her controlling and abusive husbands passes away. Once her husband dies, Janie becomes determined to live life on her own terms, even assuming a young boyfriend under the scrutiny of a gossipy town.
2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Day 3: THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison pic.twitter.com/XZERtkofBQ— jennifer pooley (@jenniferpooley) March 6, 2019
Muva Morrison addresses abuse, self-hatred and mental health, gutting readers' souls with her debut novel. The story revolves around Pecola Breedlove, an ignored, underloved Black girl, who craves the adoration and attention of little white girls. She longs for blonde hair and blue eyes, however, she receives anything but in this tragic tale.
3. Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, by J. California Cooper
#Repost @awodeee / my personal account ・・・ J. California Cooper's short story collection - #SomeLoveSomePainSometime, was so gossipy, hilarious and uplifting. I wish I paid more attention to her work when she was alive. I gave this collection 3/5 stars two years ago and I look forward to reading her novel- ‘Family’ soon. ~ Are you a fan of Cooper’s work? (reviewed 2 years ago) •• #AfricanAmericanLiterature #BlackLiterature #BlackWomenWriters #JCaliforniaCooper #ShortStories #africanbookaddict! #Bookstagram #GoBookYourself
Cooper was prolific in telling the stories of common folk, particularly of everyday Black women. Her talent cannot be overstated, and the literary world does not sing her praises enough. Stories in this collection are true to its title; Cooper writes dynamic women experiencing it all.
4. Gorilla, My Love, by Toni Cade Bambara
Bambara's story centers saucy Black girls, dressing them up and giving them voice. She saw value in Black women and their stories at time when very few did. Notable short stories are included in this collection published in 1972, like The Lesson. Bambara's ability to write explicitly to Blackness and womanhood and liberation shows that she loves us for real.
5. Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde
What an incredible book. I had been meaning to read this for years, and @oursharedshelf picking it for their monthly read was exactly the kick in the butt I needed. Not only is the subject matter Audre Lorde addresses important and fascinating, but she states it so beautifully. The marriage of social science/theory and poetic emotion within these pages made my heart soar, while also causing me, as a white woman, to examine my own views and behaviors within societal standards. What struck me hardest is how much the book mirrors the conversations we’re having now as a society, and how similar the issues she addresses are to what I’ve read this year in “Eloquent Rage,” “Everything Is Trash, But It’s Ok,” and “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” - except that these essays are from the 70s!! Audre Lorde has been calling out white feminism for decades and only in the last five years has the term become part of our larger societal vernacular. I’m mad at myself for waiting this long to read it, and I’m mad that it (nor any other books addressing intersectional feminism) were never included in any sociology or women’s studies classes I took. It helped me recognize how much I still don’t know, how much there is to learn. I also loved the conversations Lorde has with the reader about how logic gets pitted against emotion, and how we gender both. And the way she talks about raising children (particularly how she discusses raising her son) is something I know will stick with me forever. If you haven’t read this yet, I implore you not to wait any longer. 💚 #getlitbookclub #sisteroutsider #audrelorde #belletristbabe #bookrecommendation #reading #bookish #bookworm #reading #book #read #feminism #feminist #feministbooks #intersectionalfeminism
Lorde was a poet and master of big ideas and radical, transformative thought. When it came to advocacy, identity, inclusion and visibility, Lorde had the words many Black Women — cis, lesbian, queer and trans — couldn’t muster. Much of Lorde’s work focuses on feminism, race, class and bodily health. She taught us that owning ourselves and our bodies while and rejecting others projections was a must that could not be compromised.
6. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enough, by Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange gave us this work as both a performance piece and text. The dramatic prose/play was a seminal work in that it applied movement, music and lyric to spoken word — a collection of monologues from Black women. Each piece expressed misogyny, patriarchy, sexism, abuse and racism from the Black women’s gaze.
7. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Happy Saturday! It’s discussion time!! What a phenomenonal classic to read with everyone. I would like to thank @diverseclassics for collaborating with us. Thank you all for reading along, tagging your photos and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. See the discussion questions in the comments below. You can also hop over to @diverseclassics to check out their discussion questions. 🌎📚💜 . . 📸: @afrominimalist . . #readmorewomenofcolor #diversespines #wocwriters #thecolorpurple #alicewalker #diversity #diversitymatters #bookstagram #bookclub #bookdiscussion
This list would be a whole ass void without Walker’s award-winning story about Celie, Sophia, Shug, Squeak and Nettie. These women’s lives intersected and told generational truths about the physical, sexual, emotional and social abuse projected on to Black women from within and outside the Black community.
8. One Day My Soul Just Opened Up, by Iyanla Vanzant
Recently began reading @IyanlaVanzant “one day my soul just opened up.” Wow. This came at just the right time in my life and consciousness. Thank You Thank You for your gift to the world. pic.twitter.com/2G93qYxU30— Jennifer R. Farmer (@PR_Whisperer) December 6, 2018
Long before Iyanla was out here fixing lives on network TV, she introduced Black women to a plethora of affirmational, self-help and self-love books. She dives into burdens and issues that interfere with Black women, which holds them back from the reaching their greater potential. Vanzant is truly a contemporary OG in promoting self worth and excavating Black girl magic.
7. Waiting to Exhale, by Terry McMillan
Terry McMillan’s literary works are nothing to sneeze at, especially Waiting to Exhale. The book told almost every Black woman’s f**kboy story, eons before the archetype was coined. McMillan served infidelity, heartbreak, loneliness, love, motherhood, sisterhood, redemption and recovery in one serving.
8. The Prisoner’s Wife: A Memoir, by Asha Bandele
Book Review: The Prisoner’s Wife by Asha Bandele https://t.co/wMJsc7tXrc pic.twitter.com/9gBAFXDBgs— Gabbie Miller (@gabsi77) October 5, 2016
Asha Bandele gave a bird’s-eye perspective of a Black woman’s experience, dating and marrying an incarcerated man. In 1999, which is when the text was published, prison marriages were common, but were often considered taboo for Black women — unless of course, she was Winnie Mandela waiting for the honorable Nelson.
9. Ain’t I a Woman, by bell hooks
"Reading “Ain’t I A Woman” ...had opened the door, the windows, & raised the roof in my mind." "...through her theories, I was able to understand that my body contained historical multitudes and any analysis without such a measured consideration was limited and deeply flawed." pic.twitter.com/jgs5282DLQ— Grand Conspirator (@LordConspirator) March 7, 2019
Ain't I a Woman, a text on Black women and feminism, set the stage for over 30 books on Black feminist theory. Also, it cleared pathways for much of the radical change from the '80s till the present.
10. Push, by Sapphire
Book 16 of 2018: Push by Sapphire pic.twitter.com/KVlNOmM0C2— Jeff Hill (@jeffhillwriter) April 21, 2018
Sapphire’s Push is an experimental text, telling the story of the severely abused Precious, in her own illiterate tongue. The book unpacked extreme child abuse -- physical, psychological and sexual — literacy, poverty, health and other systems that often plague Black women.
11. Salt, by Nayyirah Waheed
Some coal, some rocks--and Salt by @nayyirah.waheed. Get. This. Work. #writingwhileblack #writerswrite #iwrite #mywords #culturalcritic #artcritic #babeezmakingseason #artsyfartsy #collector #artfolk #folkart #dopeart #urbanartist #parisart #ukart #londonart #artsyfartsy #artbasel #collectart #artlife #blackart #african #dolls #artlife #artdolls #africanamericanart #americana #blackart #blackdolls #african #dollart #outsiderart
Poetry ain’t for the faint at heart, and that goes for this body of work. It is both simplistic and complex, and also speaks to woman’s place in the Black diaspora as individual beings, mothers, daughters, sisters and lovers. In this text, it is easy to glean that Black women are the salt of the Earth.
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