We are actively living through a revolution. In the midst of pain and trauma, I have never in my life felt more hope for humanity and my own energetic possibility. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the country sat at home for months not working. Stirring, collecting unemployment often without insurance, and reflecting on the way things were “before.” I, like I’m sure many of you, have come to the conclusion more powerfully than ever that “normal” was dysfunctional. Normal was demoralizing. Normal was soul-sucking. And it is with these thoughts in mind that we reacted to George Floyd’s death collectively as a nation. As an acquaintance remarked to me recently, had we been going about our “normal” lives, George’s death likely would have only been a hashtag to drift into public consciousness and then float away.
This is what the ultra rich, white, male rulers of our society have been desperately trying to suppress. This is how white male supremacist capitalism survives and thrives. Tire us out, beat us down with shitty jobs, staying broke, and trying to stay afloat in expensive ass cities. They tried to downplay the pandemic so that we could keep working. To exploit our labor for their profit. If we sat at home too long, we’d finally figure out that a fruitful life can exist outside of the systemic structures that imprison us. We’re breaking from our chains, and it’s beautiful.In America specifically, most of our social movements have been either initiated or led by Black women. Unfortunately, due to white patriarchy being the arbitrary lens through which we read our history, many of these women did not receive their flowers as they should have. I am forever inspired by the work, spirit, and resilience of Black women. In quarantine, I have been drinking from the cup of wisdom that Black women writers, past and present, have set out for me. I want to share in this moment of revolution some Black female writers we should be giving flowers to, by category.
Toni Morrison. I took an embarrassingly long time to read my first Toni Morrison novel. I did so last year, a few months after muva’s passing. Don’t be like me — read Black women’s work while they are alive. Although Miss Morrison didn’t need my help. As one of the most prolific and unashamedly Black writers to ever exist, it is never too late to feel for yourself the impact of her words. Beloved, Sula, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, take your pick and get into it. I promise you won’t regret it.
For the girls who:…could truly give a flying fuck about your feelings; is unfazed by white fragility; loves superstition and allegory
Octavia Butler: I first read Octavia Butler in high school. I read Kindred and felt….??? I truly, at the time, had no idea what to do with anything that occurred in that book (haha). I encountered Octavia again in college in a utopian/dystopian lit class, with Parable of the Sower. Again, I intellectually had not yet reached a place to understand everything that Octavia was doing. But with either book and in general, I always regarded Octavia as an important Black woman writer for the simple fact that she revealed to me that it was okay to be a little weird and smart and sure of what you wanted to say, no matter how “unrealistic” it reads.
For the girls who:….will take their science fiction with a side of racial + gendered commentary; are fucking weird
N.K. Jemisin. I’ll be honest. I’ve read none of N.K. Jemisin’s work, but I didn’t write this to highlight only people I’m familiar with. N.K. is an award-winning science fiction/fantasy writer who has a reputation of being outspoken about the erasure of Black writers in the SFF genre. She is the legacy of Octavia.
For the girls who:…love big books and trilogies.
Audre Lorde. Audre Lorde is a feminist author I have purposely waited to read. I wanted to wait until I was worthy, until I was ready to receive what mama had to say. Her work is that rich. I bought Sister Oustider and it is currently in my queue to read. As we enter Pride month we must remember that Audre, the self-proclaimed “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” stood fully in her queerness at all times. It informed her life perspective and feminist praxis. Let Audre inform you of what you’ve been missing.
Oh, and if you haven’t read “Uses of the Erotic,” get on that. It is a biblical text for me.
For the girls who:….want to reach their fullest potential; want to be fed spiritually and intellectually; love a reference text
bell hooks. I owe much of my feminist awakening to bell hooks. I remember reading an essay of hers in a college class, and then seeking out one of her books to learn more about what this woman had to say. The first book of hers I read was Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. This book blew my fucking mind in college. I had my husband read parts of it. bell hooks helped me to realize that feminism is an everybody problem, not just women, and the ways that oppressions compound one another, explained in a matter-of-fact way. I’m currently reading All About Love and it’s a breezy, hella-thought-provoking read.
For the girls who:…luv critical thinking, period.
Ijeoma Oluo. So many people have recommended Ijeoma’s book So You Want to Talk About Race to white people since protests began. And they’re right. While I have not read this book myself, I have followed Ijeoma in the year or so leading up to this book being published, and this woman is the real deal. Her scathing yet conversational anecdotes about race and Black womanhood opened me up to the possibility that yes, I can just talk about my experiences frankly without remorse. Her essays are affecting; I dare you to read a piece of hers and not sit with it for at least 5 minutes afterward, lost in thought.
Check out this article from Ijeoma on why poor people deserve dignity. This one about the conversation she had with her white mother about race is everything.
For the girls who:…want to think about race conversationally; are seeking a call-to-action for themselves or their peers
Roxane Gay. I have not read any of Roxane Gay’s books, but I have been following her on Twitter for years. Roxane’s frank discussion about various topics from politics to pop culture make her a feminist for the current moment. She also has a wealth of work around existing in a fat body, which is detailed at length in her book Hunger. She’s perhaps known best, though, for her book of essays, Bad Feminist.
Whether she’s concisely analyzing race, gushing over Channing Tatum, or complaining about the dimly-lit episodes of Game of Thrones, Roxane has the range. She’s fully human in everything she does, which is demystifying in the best possible way.
Here’s a great essay about her complicated relationship to her weight-loss surgery, and a hilarious one about her first edible experience. (I couldn’t make it through this article without stopping every 6 sentences to laugh.)
Oh and, while Gay is in fact her real last name, it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Gay is a lesbian. A hilarious irony befitting of such a brilliant and hilarious woman.
For the girls who:...can write you a dissertation on why TLC’s entire content model is problematic; can love trashy reality TV and nuanced feminist discourse simultaneously
adrienne maree brown. Whew. The woman who shares a name with my mother likely just transformed my whole feminist lens with her book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. I never understood why I felt a bit repelled by activist spaces as many of us have known them. I couldn’t put my finger on why, until I read this book. Through numerous essays and conversations with others doing pleasure activism, adrienne posits that liberation should be pleasurable. In fact, it should be the most pleasurable experience in our lives. Rather than forming community around trauma and rebellion against what we don’t like, we can instead center feeling good in the liberation work we do, with ourselves and other people. We can work from a place of abundance rather than lack. Her first book, Emergent Strategies, is a precursor to Pleasure Activism, in the way it explores somatics in more depth
.For the girls who:…can’t keep their clothes on; use their vibrators OFTEN; are tired of suffering
Mikki Kendall. She wrote a book called Hood Feminism. Period! Miss Kendall is a bit older than many of the women I’ve named on this list, which unintentionally mothers her. Even still, like any good mother, she’s gonna tell you what the fuck you need to hear, whether you like it or agree with her. I haven’t yet experienced her writing, but I do know that she has earned respect from nearly everybody I follow. Because she demands it. Best of all, she hails from my city, Chi city.
For the girls who:...come from around the way and also love feminist theory
Ashley C. Ford. This woman affirms that I am on the right path. She’s from a small Midwestern town, kinda nerdy, and somehow always has the best take in the room. Ideologically, Ashley is closest to my style of writing and thinking. What is the under-discussed aspect of any given issue? Refer to Ashley when you want a well-thought out take not served in haste. She’s writing a book right now about her complicated childhood relationship with her incarcerated father, and in turn how the carceral system degrades families. Honestly a shining light for the LGBTQ community, as a bisexual woman married to a man who is still queer as fuck.
I loved this story she wrote for one of my favorite lifestyle blogs about being bigger than her now-husband, as well as this article on generational class dynamics in Black families.
For the girls who:…LOVE NUANCE; want a break from hot take culture; want to feel good when they read
Doreen St. Felix. Doreen is a writer I hold in great reverence. She’s about my age, similar educational background to me, and killing it at writing. I want to be like her. A former writer for MTV News, she was let go during that whole “pivot to video” phase a lot of online publications shifted to in the mid-to-late 2010s. She leveled up and now writes for The New Yorker. Doreen writes articles that are almost poetic in their beauty and power. What I love about Doreen is that she has versatility in tone and interest. She lets her writing really speak for herself, as she only occasionally tweets or uses social media.
Plus, she wrote a whole ass article about Tiffany “New York” Pollard GIFs. We have to stan forever. Also check out this brilliantly reported article she wrote in the wake of Saheed Vassel’s police murder.
For the girls who:…have the time to immerse themselves in good pop culture journalism; are mysterious but rad as hell
Eve Ewing. Also known as “wikipedia brown” on Twitter, this woman writes comic books!!! And she’s from Chicago as well! For all of the nerdy, anime and comic-book loving Black boys that became men that won’t date Black women because “they make fun of his interests” — behold the embodiment of your hypocrisy. She exists, we exist, SEE us!
For the girls who:…are cool nerdy Black girls that won’t shy away from Karen discourse; don’t shy away from crucial “in-community” conversations.
I’m excited for all of you to begin your homework! But if you buy one of these books, do make your purchase from a Black-owned bookstore. You can see a list of stores around the country here.
Wherever you are on your anti-racist journey, I welcome you to begin or continue the journey with any one of these women. But I will leave you with this: my list is one of many published in the last week, of Black people in all types of media/culture, from fitness to writing to cooking. Suddenly, these lists appeared, and most every publication could suddenly find Black people. Ope, there you are! They found us. Change is only made if we can keep doing the work without being prompted. If you are non-Black, I want you to ask yourself: why must a Black person die, and the world erupt in mass protests, for me to suddenly begin the work of promoting and caring about Black stories, Black companies, Black lives?