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It’s OK to feel lost and not have the answers. And it’s OK to not immediately understand or relate to others’ very-real struggles and conflicts. But instead of sitting back, throwing your hands up, and moving on with your life in that bubble of yours, why not take action to educate yourself? Why not expand your worldview? The easiest way to do so is by picking up a book — particularly books written by and from the perspective of profound, intelligent, witty, award-winning Black women authors.
From tackling topics of race, poverty, and violence, to curating a collection of provocative essays about feminism and culture, ahead are books written by Black women that should be required reading for everyone.
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‘Thick: And Other Essays’ by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Awards & recognition: Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award
About: Comprised of eight essays on beauty, money, and more, Cottom describes Thick as “thick where I should have been thin, more where I should have been less.”
Praise: “To say this collection is transgressive, provocative, and brilliant is simply to tell you the truth. Thick is a necessary work and a reminder that Tressie McMillan Cottom is one of the finest public intellectuals writing today,” said Roxane Gay, author of Hunger and Bad Feminist.
‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Awards & recognition: National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, 2013
About: Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah tells the story of two Nigerians making their way in the US and UK, in search for not only a home, but also identity.
Praise: “Masterful … An expansive, epic love story … Pulls no punches with regard to race, class and the high-risk, heart-tearing struggle for belonging in a fractured world,” writes O, The Oprah Magazine.
‘The Fifth Season’ by N.K. Jemisin
Awards & recognition: Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row
About: N.K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, all for her Broken Earth trilogy, which tells the tale of a woman in search of her kidnapped daughter.
Praise: “This is an intense, exciting novel, where survival is always on the line, set in a fascinating, original and dangerous world with an intriguing mystery at the heart of it. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book!” says science fiction and fantasy author Martha Wells.
‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Awards & recognition: British Books Awards Non-Fiction Narrative Book of the Year, Foyles Non-Fiction Book of the Year, Blackwell’s Non-Fiction Book of the Year, winner of the Jhalak Prize
About: Award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge turned a viral blog she published in 2014 titled “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” into this award-winning eponymous book, which has since been dubbed “one of the most important books of 2017” by The Good Immigrant author Nikesh Shukla. Three years later, it’s as relevant as ever.
Praise: “Laying bare the mechanisms by which we internalise the assumptions, false narratives and skewed perceptions that perpetuate racism, Eddo-Lodge enables readers of every ethnicity to look at life with clearer eyes. A powerful, compelling and urgent read,” says Ann Morgan, author of A Year of Reading the World.
‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison
Awards & recognition: Pulitzer Prize in 1987, the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993.
About: The Bluest Eye follows Pecola Breedlove, a young Black girl who yearns for blond hair and blue eyes — to conform and “fit in.” “Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing,” the book description continues.
Praise: “You can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else — they’re transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them,” says Barack Obama.
‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama
Awards & recognition: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature 2019, Grammy Award for Beset Spoken Word Album 2020, Audie Award for Autobiography/Memoir 2020, Nonfiction Narrative and Audiobook Award at the British Book Awards 2019
About: Michelle Obama’s memoir is described as intimate, powerful, and inspiring, taking readers through her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her time spent in the White House as FLOTUS.
Praise: “In finally telling her story, Obama is doing several things with this book. … She’s meditating on the tensions women face in a world that speaks of gender equality but in which women still bear the greater burdens of balancing career and family, even with a forward-thinking husband like Barack Obama,” writes Isabel Wilkerson for the New York Times.
‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay
Awards & recognition: New York Times bestseller, National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, Lambda Literary Award winner
About: In her memoir, Roxane Gay writes about her relationship with food, her body, and “means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen.”
Praise: “If you’re a woman in America, chances are, no matter your size, you probably have a somewhat fetishistic relationship with food. … Through Gay’s experience we learn one of lessons she eventually did, that ‘all of us have to be more considerate of the realities of the bodies of others,’ and more accepting of our own,” writes Amazon’s Erin Kodicek.
‘Well-Read Black Girl’ by Glory Edim
Awards & recognition: Nominated for an NAACP Image Award
About: Well-Read Black Girl is a collection of essays written by Black women writers and is curated by the founder of the popular eponymous book club, Glory Edim.
Praise: “Yes, Well-Read Black Girl is as good as it sounds … [Glory Edim] gathers an all-star cast of contributors—among them Lynn Nottage, Jesmyn Ward, and Gabourey Sidibe,” writes O: The Oprah Magazine.
‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward
Awards & recognition: National Book Award for Fiction 2017, Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal, Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
About: Set in contemporary Mississippi, this family epic tells a tale of hope and struggle, tackling race, poverty, and past violence.
Praise: “Read Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and you’ll feel the immense weight of history—and the immense strength it takes to persevere in the face of it. This novel is a searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed, and anyone who assumes the ghosts of the past are easy to placate. It’s hard to imagine a more necessary book for this political era,” writes Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You.
‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ by Claudia Rankine
Awards & recognition: NAACP Image Award, L.A. Times Book Prize, PEN Open Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
About: This award-winning “book-length poem about race and imagination” is a follow-up to author Claudia Rankin’s 2004 Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric.
Praise: “Part protest lyric, part art book, Citizen is a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of black life in America,” the Washington Post writes.
‘The Women of Brewster Place’ by Gloria Naylor
Awards & recognition: National Book Award 1983
About: Gloria Naylor’s first novel — and one that would later be adapted into a miniseries on ABC in 1989 — The Women of Brewster Place tells the stories of seven women living in Brewster Place, an inner city sanctuary.
Praise: “The most refreshing voice in the black idiom since readers first discovered Toni Morrison,” says Claude Brown, author of Manchild in the Promised Land.
‘Cannibal’ by Safiya Sinclair
Awards & recognition: Whiting Writers’ Award, Metcalf Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, An American Library Association Notable Book of the Year, 2017 Phillis Wheatley Book Award in Poetry
About: The poems in Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal are not only inspired by her childhood in Jamaica, but they also explore race relations in America, womanhood, and more.
Praise: “Follow her sparkling, detailed phrasings and lines and you will arrive drenched in human contact…There often seems to be dialectics at play between wildness and control. Her poems reveal she is in full bougainvillea bloom,” writes the 2016 Whiting Award Selection Committee.
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