If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
– Audre Lorde
It’s always a great time to discuss books! In previous blog post I wrote about falling in love with reading (again). Today I’ve compiled a list of 5 books written by Black women you should read.
“Why highlight Black women?”, you may ask. Because Black women writing and telling their stories challenges the status quo. For so long we’ve been stripped of the ability to determine what is said about us. Ownership of narratives is crucial to empowerment and identity, therefore Black women’s literary and academic work is inherently subversive and arguably revolutionary. This is particularly apparent in the book publishing industry wherein there are very few people of colour in decision making positions. The result is wide-spread implicit biases such as the belief that books written by Black women are unmarketable to mainstream audiences, or worse that we don’t write well (if at all).
Due to gatekeepers continuing these harmful practices, many Black women have resorted to self-publishing or creating their own online platforms. While self-publishing is admirable and an exciting area of growth in the literary world, supporting and promoting traditionally published Black female writers, especially financially e.g buying their books from authorised sellers remains critical. It helps us carve out spaces for ourselves and for those who follow. Not only are these stories important, they’re simply brilliantly written.
1. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I couldn’t compile a list of book recommendations without including something by my favourite author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’, presents advice on how to raise girls (or boys!) as a feminists. This is a manifesto we can all live by as persons aspiring for a society with greater gender parity. What I love most about Adichie’s writing is it is accessible. When Adichie discusses concepts such as the unequal distribution of labour between men and women – she is concise and witty, not abstract or weighed down by jargon. It’s a quick read that everyone can benefit from.
2. Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge
In 2018 it’s virtually impossible to avoid the discussion around and about race. Black people cannot escape considerations of race as it dictates so many facets of our lives, whether one chooses to acknowledge it or not. Paradoxically, this essential conversation is often a painful and potentially harmful one to have, particularly with white people who cannot see past their privilege. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s debut book expands on her 2014 blog post in which she lamented having to constantly reach across the void of white ignorance to express her frustrations, as she wrote; ‘I can no longer engage with the gulf of an emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience.’ As the hardest conversations are arguably the most urgent ones to engage in, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race is a great tool for delving into Britain’s history and how it affects life for Black people in the UK today.
Reni Eddo-Lodge and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently sat down for a conversation at the #WOWLND Women of the World festival and the Southbank Centre in London. Give it a listen:
3. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
With the advent of social media the #BlackLivesMatter movement has gained prominence not only in the United States but globally. The Hate U Give humanises the scourge of police brutally, which affects African-Americans at a disproportionally high rate compared to other ethnic groups. The young protagonist Starr, has to deal with the death of her childhood friend at the hands of the police, and the chaos which ensues in her family, at school, and her community. Angie Thomas’s debut novel has added a fresh perspective to young adult fiction canon, an author to keep your eyes on.
4. Rotten Row, by Petina Gappah
Ironically, I often neglect stories from my home country in favour of those from further abroad. This interwoven short story collection by Petina Gappah is based around the infamous Rotten Row criminal courts in the capital city Harare. Life in Zimbabwe; it’s intricacies relating to race, money, power, politics, are masterfully placed against the backdrop of a society trying to come to terms with itself. If you’ve ever wondered what life in Zimbabwe is really like, pick up Rotten Row.
5. Questions For Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
I am writing for all these women who still show up with a smile after battling their demons the night before.
– Ijeoma Umebinyuo
Poetry was my first love. I believe it taps into a special part of ourselves in the same way music does. I’ve enjoyed the rise of Black female poets in the last few years. Ijeoma Umebinyuo is a leading writer in this genre, a powerful Igbo, Nigerian storyteller who conveys so much with very few words. Questions For Ada is a brutally emotive collection of poems about womanhood, sex, life, love, and self discovery. Reading Umebinyuo makes you want to sit down with a cup of peppermint tea and reflect on whether you’re living life for yourself, an immense accomplishment.
Which Black female writers are you reading at the moment? I’d love to read more authors from the Caribbean, any recommendation would be greatly appreciated. Don’t forget to check out my Goodreads account for regular updates on what I’m reading and my book reviews.