Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Angie Thomas. You know them. You love them. These iconic Black female authors have used words to weave powerful stories of resilience and Black excellence. As a privileged cisgendered white woman, I read these books to learn about the Black experience. The weight of words written by a Black woman is a force to be reckoned with. I fall in love with every character, I feel my heart burst and bruise and break as I watch them rise and fall and rise. I share with you a list of books written by Black women about Black women that have stuck with me since I first read them.
- Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
Nigerian-Canadian author Francesca Ekwuyasi absolutely stunned the world with the brilliance of her debut novel Butter Honey Pig Bread in 2020. This story is one of African diaspora, with food, queerness, friendship, and family at its center. It connects the lives of three Nigerian women: Kambirinachi and her twin daughters, Taiye and Kehinde. The relationship between the spirit and the mind is explored intensely throughout the book, as Kambirinachi believes that she is an Ogbanje (or an Abiku), which is a non-human spirit that plagues a family with misfortune by being born and then dying in childhood to cause a human mother misery; Kambirinachi fights this and chooses to stay alive for the sake of her family, but fears the consequences.
- From Scratch: a memoir of love, sicily, and finding love by tembi locke
If you love food, you will devour this book. Tembi Locke shares slices of her life, from moving to Italy to meeting the love of her life to losing them, and how food and family saved her when grief threatened to swallow her whole. She shares recipes, vignettes of first bites and first love. She invites us into her world with such open vulnerability that I held her book in my hands like a delicate pastry, and can’t help but be overwhelmed with deep empathy and respect for her experiences.
- Becoming the baby girl by adachioma ezeano
I discovered this short story while reading The Best Short Stories 2021: The O.Henry Prize Winners, edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (another Nigerian female author you need to read ASAP!). Ezeano paints a vivid picture of what it’s like for a young Nigerian woman, Ofunne, to move away from home and start university. Exploring themes of racial identity to social status and sexual harassment, Ofunne grapples with trying to fit in with the tall thin girls and also bearing the guilt of disappointing her parents back home. What drew me into this story was Ezeano’s use of language and her ability to deepen Ofunne’s character in so few words. You can read an excerpt from the story here.
- The vanishing half by brit bennet
Brit Bennet weaves an intricate web of stories that span generations from the 1940s to 1990s. The novel centers around the lives of two twin sisters: Desiree and Stella Vignes, light-skinned girls growing up in the small southern Black community where they endure childhood traumas including the lynching of their father. The sisters flee their hometown at sixteen, their lives splintering apart for many years. It is long before their paths intertwine once more, as Desiree finds herself back in the town where she grew up and Stella passes as a white woman, concealing memories of her past from her new white family. This story is a gripping exploration of character motivation and issues of race, sexuality, and family expectation.
- Pride by Ibi zoboi
Everyone loves a retelling of a classic story, but we’ve all been waiting for this one. A colourful reimagining of the very white English classic novel Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, Ibi Zoboi’s Pride is the timely story of Zuri Benitez, an Afro-Latina living with her parents and four sisters in her favourite place: Brooklyn. Zuri loves her neighbourhood, from the bodega down the street to her wise, quirky landlord, Madrina. Everything is great until the rich Darcy family moves across the street. While this story is a young, flirtatious romance, it more importantly explores cultural identity and depicts the devastating effects of gentrification.
A few titles that are next my ‘To-Be-Read’ List that you should also explore are The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Seven Days in June by Tia Williams, Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas, and Luster by Raven Leilani. However you are choosing to honour Black History Month, make it count. Happy reading everyone!