For this week’s Fierce Feminist Friday, I want to highlight some forthcoming books by black women that I cannot wait to read.
Sometimes, when I talk to people about the importance of reading diversely (especially reading books by nonwhite authors), they say things like, “but I only read science fiction” or “but I just want to read really good stories”. Comments like these are deeply problematic and perpetuate racist ideas about who gets to tell stories, and what kind. If you think that “wanting to read really good stories” means “only reading books by white authors”, you’ve got a major problem. It’s absurd, but it’s also a dangerous way of thinking.
If you’re looking for good stories, you will read books by people of color. If you only read science fiction (or mystery, or romance, or poetry), you will read books by people of color. You will read books by women. You will read books by queer and trans authors. That is just fact. Nobody has a monopoly on bad stories; nobody has a monopoly on good stories, either. If you’re truly committed to finding the best that literature has to offer, your reading list had better be diverse–if it isn’t, you’re missing out.
I recently finished This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins, a book that explores and centers black womanhood. So I thought I’d share some of the (many, many) books by black women that I’m exited to read in the coming months. These fives titles are just a drop in the bucket. I chose them because: a) they are all books I’m personally looking forward to, and b) they represent a wide range of genres. From poetry to memoir to cultural critique and political analysis, from fantasy to literary fiction to history, there is not a genre on the planet in which black women have not written fantastic books.
I haven’t read any of these yet, so descriptions come from Goodreads.
Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper (St. Martin’s Press, February 20th)
“Black women are often considered angry and divisive in their interactions with others in both public and private. In mainstream feminism, our demand to have both our race and gender considered is called divisive from “all women’s issues.” In Black political spaces, our desire to have our womanhood considered is called a distraction from the real issue. However, the manner in which Black women have always insisted on their right to dignity, their right to be heard, and their desire to be considered on matters of national import has much to teach us about what makes American democracy work.
Eloquent Rage takes up this politics of critical dissent, asking: How do Black women resist stereotypical portrayals of them angry, aggressive, scary and violent? How do Black women dissent from a national narrative about heterosexual Black intimacy that says we are undesirable, unlovable, and unfit for partnerships or marriages? How do we dissent from religious patriarchy? How do we use our participation in politics to resist the march of fascism? How does our embrace of Beyonce act as a kind of dissent against those who would dismiss as frivolous Black women’s pursuit of pleasure and joy? Drawing together her funny, poignant, and often heartbreaking experiences of friendship, family, and intimate relationships, with insights from her career as a professor of women’s and gender studies, Cooper writes compellingly about how Black women’s critical dissent shows up in the everyday lives of women.”
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt, March 6th)
“Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.”
Happiness by Aminatta Forna (Atlantic Monthly Press, March 6th)
“London. A fox makes its way across Waterloo Bridge. The distraction causes two pedestrians to collide–Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist there to deliver a keynote speech. From this chance encounter, Aminatta Forna’s unerring powers of observation show how in the midst of the rush of a great city lie numerous moments of connection.
Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his “niece” who hasn’t called home in a while. Ama has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.
When, by chance, Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens–mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London–come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.
Meanwhile a consulting case causes Attila to question the impact of his own ideas on trauma, the values of the society he finds himself in, and a grief of his own. In this delicate tale of love and loss, of cruelty and kindness, Forna asks us to consider the interconnectedness of lives, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures, and the true nature of happiness.”
Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press, April 3rd)
“In Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith boldly ties America’s contemporary moment both to our nation’s fraught founding history and to a sense of the spirit, the everlasting. These are poems of sliding scale: some capture a flicker of song or memory; some collage an array of documents and voices; and some push past the known world into the haunted, the holy. Smith’s signature voice—inquisitive, lyrical, and wry—turns over what it means to be a citizen, a mother, and an artist in a culture arbitrated by wealth, men, and violence. Here, private utterance becomes part of a larger choral arrangement as the collection widens to include erasures of The Declaration of Independence and the correspondence between slave owners, a found poem comprised of evidence of corporate pollution and accounts of near-death experiences, a sequence of letters written by African Americans enlisted in the Civil War, and the survivors’ reports of recent immigrants and refugees. Wade in the Water is a potent and luminous book by one of America’s essential poets.”
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Atria, April 10th)
“Calling to mind the best works of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, this collection of moving, timely, and darkly funny stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.
A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.
Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.
Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.”