Have you ever paid attention to the authors behind the beloved stories on your bookshelf? When you do, it’s common to realize that, maybe, most of your favorite books are written by white authors. A data survey done by the New York Times in 2020 shows that only 22 of the 220 books on the newspaper Best-Sellers list of fiction in that same year were written by people of color. When entering the editorial market in Brazil, it’s clear that a specific group has been favored: 72% of national authors published between 1990 and 2010 are middle-class white men.
These are just a small reflection of the structural gap between white and black people and the lack of diversity among the editorial market. Reading books should be seen as a political act because, by doing so, a space is opened up to hear and amplify marginalized voices.
To help you start supporting black authors and encourage your reading, here are 6 books written by black women everyone should read. In this selection, you will find different kinds of books: about racism, feminism, and daily racial struggles, but also, romance and fiction. It is always important – and healthy – to remember that while anti-racist books are crucial to a better understanding of the world we live in, there is so much more to black lives than pain and trauma.
Have a good reading!
- We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book is all about it means to be a feminist in the 21st century, and how “feminist” isn’t a bad word. Chimamanda is a Nigerian writer, responsible for attracting a whole new generation of young readers of African literature. In this adaptation from a TED Talk given in 2012 by her, she explains how disparities between men and women negatively affect both sides.
Essentially, she shows us how feminism can liberate women and transform the limiting idea of how masculinity has been constructed in society. Adichie also reinforces the fact that the movement is about gender equality and, to reach that, society as a whole needs to recognize that sexism exists and change together.
- Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
Originally published in 1979, this fiction book is still very relevant and admired, with over half a million copies sold worldwide. Octavia tells the story of Dana, a young African-American writer living in California in the ‘70s, who is inexplicably taken back in time to 1815, in a pre-Civil War plantation to save one of her ancestors. Among many episodes of time travel like the first one, the novel goes deep into how easily people can be taught to accept slavery as the norm.
Kindred is a strong metaphor for the illusion world has created that we made so much progress towards the slave heritage that exists in society, when in fact we haven’t.
- Child of the Dark: The Diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus (Quarto de Despejo: Diário de uma favelada), by Carolina Maria de Jesus
Child of the Dark is a book about suffering, survival, and resilience. Carolina Maria de Jesus lived in a favela in Canindé, in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, when she wrote over 20 notebooks with her everyday experience in this extreme environment. In 1960 the stories became a book with the most significant passages, exposing to the world her one-of-a-kind talent.
In this powerful narrative, you can see a first-person insight into what it is like being a black woman living in a favela. At the time, she worked collecting garbage and washing clothes to put food on the table for herself and her three children. Her fight for survival was an everyday struggle and this book is a raw description of that.
Quarto de Despejo was translated into more than 13 languages and Carolina Maria de Jesus became one of the first and most important Brazilians black writers.
- The Wedding Date, by Jasmine Guillory
If you love fun novels and fake realistic relationships, this book is for you. Alexa Monroe gets stuck in an elevator with Andrew Nichols – both total strangers to each other -, and, on this occasion, Drew invites Alexa to be his last-minute plus one for his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. And she accepts it! After faking their relationship for the weekend, they sense a greater connection and begin a journey of encounters and mismatches while trying to navigate this new romance.
The romantic narrative is fluid and captivating, but it doesn’t fail to bring up deeper reflections such as interracial relationships, white privilege, body image, and career versus love dilemmas.
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Alice Walker made history as the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1983 with this book. Later, in 1985, Steven Spielberg directed a movie inspired by it.
The Color Purple tells the life story of Celia, a poor young black woman, through letters she wrote firstly to God and later in life to her sister. In these letters, she tells the story of her traumas: physical and psychological abuse, rape, forced marriage, repressed sexuality, racism, poverty and loss.
Celia lives in an environment of submission, but, along with her sister and lover, thrives to resist all the violence and lack of power that surrounds them. Sending a message to all women out there, the strong female characters in the book refuse to bow down, instead, they fight for their right to happiness and respect.
- Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, by Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes is most famous for directing Grey’s Anatomy and other brilliant movies and TV shows. However, this book it’s not about any of those, it is about a specific year in her life. A year where she opened herself up to new experiences and said yes to everything! Can you imagine doing that?
In this funny and intimate story, Shonda tells us how often she caught herself denying opportunities, being nervous, or even having panic attacks before interviews, until she decided to change her attitude.
According to her, saying yes to anything changed – and saved – her life, and, in this book, she will tell you all about how and why you should try doing the same.
These 6 books are just a small selection among an infinity of many other incredible ones written by amazing black women. Reading books from black perspectives is crucial to understanding how racism still manifests itself today, and the more you read, the better you become an ally to the cause. We hope this has helped you broaden your horizons – and your bookshelf!
The article above was edited by Giulia Lozano Pacini.
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