I Only Read Books Written by Black Women and Women of Color in 2018. Here’s a Review of My Faves…
I never realized how much of what I read was written by white men until I realized how few Black authors I had on my bookshelf. That’s when I decided that 2018 was going to be the year of all Black and Brown non-men authors.
Sadly, I didn’t fulfill my goal of reading 100 books in one year (35 total — but, come check me next year, tho!). However, I expanded my literary range and challenged myself. College textbooks like Colored No More and Beyond Respectability made me take my time while reading, rather than skim through the pages. Reading books written by Black women and women of color made me realize how little I know about my lineage, the obstacles Black women face, and the power that comes from my voice.
The following list isn’t all the literature I read this year, but they are my favorite (and not-so-favorite) books from their respective categories.
The Best Book I Read in 2018
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. The non-fiction focuses on three living survivors of the Great Migration; George from Florida, Ida Mae from Mississippi, and Robert from Louisiana. Wilkerson goes back to their hometowns and speaks with their neighbors, old teachers, and living relatives. She provides intense research to prove the urgency in which each subject left.
A monster of a book at 643 pages, The Warmth of Other Suns provides detail information for Black Americans who are in the process of tracing their lineage. For my family, it helped us connect dots from my maternal grandfather’s journey from Atlanta to New York. For all of us adults who grew up as children who traveled south to visit relatives, the connection between where we are and where we’re from is one that’s rooted in as much pain as it is pride.
4. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera — 2016, 264 pages
Juliet Takes a Breath is a new millennium coming-of-age tale of self-discovery, gender identity, and ethnicity, examining intersectionality, white feminism, and tokenism along the way.
3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The film version and Angie Thomas have taken some heat for associating the premise with Black Lives Matter, however, the book does not mention or refer to the movement at all. If you’re reading to be entertained than it won’t disappoint; just don’t mix up the fictional plot with real people from BLM.
2. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones — 2018, 306 pages
Roy and Celestial are in the romantic stage of their marriage. Sadly, one night in a hotel down south, Roy goes out for a bucket of ice and doesn’t come back for more than five years. While Roy’s in prison, wrongly accused of a rape he did not commit, Celestial is forced to live a life she did not plan with a husband who showed no hope of returning. However, after a crack in Roy’s case, he’s exonerated and released from prison, expecting to pick things up with his wife where they left off. However, Celeste… I picked the book up and didn’t put it down until I was finished. It’s romantic, realistic, endearing, and filled with suspense. Every character strikes emotion and the ending will leave you fucked up in your feelings.
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison — 1970, 206 pages
The Bluest Eye not only explores the consequences associated with colorism, but it also dissects many issues that stem from poverty and race, from child neglect to domestic violence. Toni Morrison does something with words that no other writer is able to pull off. She makes them dance and pulsate and ache. The book was written 1970, yet, it’s so relevant it reads like it could have been written today. I’m still trying to process the ending.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Purchase the novel at mahogany.com
4. The Sisters are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris — 2015, 123 pages
Tamara Winfrey Harris takes on the anti-Black-women tropes that distort the image and progress of Black women. Pairing headlines that fuel stereotypes, along with statistics that suggest the contrary and commentary from Black women, The Sisters are Alright provides the same assurance for Black women that are promised in its title.
3. Beyond Respectability by Brittney Cooper
History isn’t so kind to Black women in regard to our intellectual contributions. Brittney Cooper fixes that in Beyond Respectability. The book is a reminder that Black women who exist in the intersection of gender and race are not just survivors, we are thinkers and creators with equal measure.
2. Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C. by Treva B. Lindsey — 2017, 143 pages
Colored No More examines the success of Black women in the New Negro era during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. From Madame C.J. Walker and the boom of the Black hair care market to Lucy Diggs Slowe as Howard University dean living with her girlfriend. Lindsey fills the book with stories of hidden figures who played a huge part in Black culture and progression.
1. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps — 2001 (I read the Revised and Updated 2014 version), 227 pages
Hair Story begins in the 15th Century when we were still in our native land of Africa. It spans centuries of Black hair maintenance, progression, and hairstyles, all the way up to Blue Ivy. The book takes its time while examining the generations of Black hair trends, never failing to include the political, social, and cultural implications and presumptions that come with each style. From the defiance of the Afro in the 60s, to love/hate relationship with creamy crack, and the policing of women’s hair in the workplace, Hair Story leaves (almost) no hair moment unturned. It never lets you forget the respectability politics and social pressure entwined in every hairstyle a Black American woman chooses.
4. How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective — 2017, 186 pages
Activist and scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor edited How We Get Free, a collection of interviews from surviving members of The CRC. The book provides the full legendary written statement Combahee River Collective published, which coined the term identity politics on spoke directly to the women existing in the intersection of race and womanhood.
3. Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Ph.D. — 2003, 278 pages
The act of conforming to white society is cultural assimilation for many people of color, and code shifting for Black people. However, for Black women, the act of code shifting is done not just to blend in, but, to escape racial tropes that restrict our opportunities. Shifting is filled with stories from Black women who are burdened with code shifting. For those of us who are no stranger to the ‘bill collector voice’, this book can be very cathartic.
2. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde — 1984, 189 pages
Writing about intersectionality without using the word, Lorde uses Sister Outsider as a canvas to paint the plight of Black femmes. Her words melt into each other effortlessly, and her points are made with a directness that leaves no room for misinterpretation. It’s a classic with good reason.
“never close our eyes to the terror, to the chaos which is Black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is…” — Audre Lorde
- Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa V. Harris-Perry — 2011, 300 pages
Using the literature of Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, Harris-Perry addresses the racial tropes and white supremacy used to oppress Black women. The revelations provided are as mind-blowing as they are true. It’s not in your head, Sis: living in America as a Black woman is like trying to walk straight in a crooked room.
4. Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper — 2018, 279 pages
In what became the year of ‘girl rage’, Brittney Cooper leads the pack with Eloquent Rage. Cooper, a proud Black feminist, intensely examines the unique variables and criticisms that Black women experience. Highlights include Cooper dissecting Michelle Obama’s image both during and post-White House days (down to the ponytail she wore the morning after the 2016 election day) and addressing the conflict Black women had with supporting Hillary Clinton, even when we were aware she wasn’t supporting us.
3. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo — 2018, 238 pages
So You Want to Talk About Race unpacks everything from intersectionality and affirmative action to the model minority myth and Al Sharpton. Using a perfect balance of lived experience and research, Oluo breaks down white privilege and the consequences Black women and people of color face because of it. The book was a hit in SWA’s Book Club.
2. White Spaces Missing Faces: Why Women of Color Don’t Trust White Women by Catrice M. Jackson — 2017, 127 pages
In White Spaces Missing Faces, Jackson details the reasons why Black women and women of color choose to keep a distance from white women, on social, personal, and political levels. It doesn’t just provide a mirror to show white women the damage their white supremacy causes, it gives them suggestions and resources to change for the better. Gift it as a stocking stuffer. I dare you!
1. Women, Race, & Class by Angela Y. Davis 1983 244 pages
This was the first book selected for SWA’s Book Club (we actually purchased so many copies Amazon ran out #humblebrag).
Kimberle Crenshaw does an abfab job of explaining how to apply the framework of intersectionality to address obstacles that marginalized people face. belle hooks’ break down of feminism has proven true and relevant decades later. However, no one spells out the difference between Black American women and white American women better than Davis does in Women, Race, & Class.
From the beginning, Women, Race, & Class addresses the inhumane treatment Black women experienced during slavery. Davis exposes the truth about white women who are highly regarded by modern feminists, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton. Backed by a load of receipts, Davis reveals the true heroes of the suffrage era, Ida. B. Wells and Sojourner Truth, among others.
4. Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat by Patricia Williams — 2017, 222 pages
A mother to two children by fifteen, Williams describes being shot twice, being incarcerated for selling drugs, and the neglect from her mother, all by the age of 21. Today she’s a comedian, author, and poster child for making something out of nothing. Her story is sad, but, the way she tells it is hysterical.
3. The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Lewis, 2018 306 pages
Jenifer Lewis has a spirit that is Black, creative, loud, and funny as hell. All of that transcends into the Mother of Black Hollywood. I laughed as hard as I cried.
2. We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union
Whether weighing the pros and cons of negotiating a prenup with then-fiance, Dwayne Wade, or, recalling the time she was spoken to like a child on the set of Friends, Gabrielle Union keeps it all the way real. She shares experiences as common as shopping in the feminine products aisle in the pharmacy to addressing her own anti-Blackness and issues with colorism. Union offers honesty, humility, and amusement on every page. Her writing style is clean and her tone is direct. Loved it.
1. Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry, 2018 206 pages
Looking for Lorraine is proof that the intersection of Black art and Black liberation is very real and indeed relevant. Though she was married to a white Jewish man, it was no secret that Hansberry was a lesbian. Paul Robeson was among her mentors, James Baldwin and Nina Simone were dear friends, and her essays and reviews had been published in major publications. She. Was. Iconic.
Even as Hansberry’s fame increased after the debut of her hit play, A Raisin in the Sun, she used her art as a form of protest, writing scathing articles about everyone from Arthur Miller to beatniks. Imani Perry takes such delicate and considerate care of Hansberry’s legacy. She writes about aspects of Hansberry’s life with the same joy and respect that fans likely feel when reading Looking for Lorraine. It’s the affection for Lorraine Hansberry and the envy of her liberated spirit that makes her such a mysterious icon. For huge fans of Hansberry, like myself, the book provided a brand new image for the stylish writer from Chicago, as well as an everlasting appreciation for Imani Perry for the labor she put into the bio.
4. My (Underground) American Dream by Julissa Arce 2016, 300 pages
Julissa Arce is a young, brilliant, Texas teen heading for an internship at a major law firm in New York. When she gets the position, The only thing in the way between her and her destiny is citizenship.
3. Rest in Power: A Parent’s Story of Love, Justice, and the Birth of a Movement by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
Written by both Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, their firsthand accounts provide details and realities to the life and trial of Trayvon Martin’s murder that hasn’t been previously discussed. Not only does Rest in Power provide facts and clarity, but it also humanizes Trayvon. There are parts that are tough to read, and the ending is still sad even though you expect it. Still, it’s a bittersweet look into the lives of two parents who turned their tragedy into an international movement, and it’s worth reading.
2. When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele — 2017, 257 pages
When They Call You a Terrorist is referred to as a Black Lives Matter memoir, but really, it’s a memoir into Patrisse Khan-Cullors world — specifically, in regard to her brother Monte. What started out as a hashtag is now a worldwide organization that was created at a time when it was clear that no one cared about Black lives. The men in Cullors life are closely examined, but she doesn’t write about anyone with the same urgency as she does her brother, Monte. Cullor’s writing style is creative and raw, and her testimony lingers long after finishing the book.
1. Assata by Assata Shakur — 1987, 274 pages
Assata is an autobiography based on Shakur’s experience with the judicial system while incarcerated for the 1977 shooting of a New Jersey Highway patrol officer. The autobiography smoothly bounces back and forth from Shakur’s time in prison to her childhood growing up in New York City. Through the course of her life Assata Shakur blossoms from a round-the-way girl to a full-blown revolutionary, standing firmly in her fight for liberation. Assata is filled with Shakur’s poetry, as well as reflections on colorism, racism, white supremacy, and the American judicial system. Shakur was clear about what she believed and wanted to make sure that Black people knew the whole truth.
4. You Can’t Touch My Hair: and other things I still have to explain by Phoebe Robinson — 2016, 280 pages
Obviously, Black hair is a topic of conversation in You Can’t Touch My Hair. However, Phoebe Robinson doesn’t stop there. She takes all the annoying, humiliating, Why me? Black girl moments and makes them funny. You Can’t Touch My Hair makes something clear that Black girls have been saying forever: our experience is wayyy different from everyone else’s and it’s not cool to act like it isn’t.
3. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul — 2017, 237 pages
Scaachi Koul’s collections of essays are equal parts humorous, insightful, and liberating. The Indian born, Canadian raised feminist writes with biting sarcasm and a bleak perspective on mortality. Using her lived experiences as a backdrop, Koul uses her well-crafted essays to address issues ranging from colorism and body image to sexual assault and dating an older white man.
2. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby — 2017, 272 pages
Hands down the funniest book I read all year. Through the darkest of times, Irby finds humor and gets off on her own bad attitude and unapologetic shame. I’m so here for it. We Are never Meeting in Real Life is one of those don’t-read-in-public books unless you don’t mind laughing maniacally in front of strangers. Though the essays aren’t interconnected, each one gives more detail into the freedom Irby’s given herself by embracing her “I give no fucks” ways.
1. Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim
Well-Read Black Girl is a brilliant anthology, filled with short essays written by today’s most amazing Black femme authors, poets, and playwrights. All of whom shared the literature that inspired them to pick up a pen and write their own story. Notable writers include Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and Morgan Jerkins. Well Read makes an effortless correlation between Black women who love to read and Black women who write incredibly well. From Jacqueline Woodson writing about the challenges of getting her first book published, or Lynn Nottage realizing that “I wrote a play about men because I had been taught that that was what constituted good writing,” the words never stray far from what’s familiar to Black women who write.
It Was… Okay
Note: This does not mean that the book wasn’t good. It just means that it wasn’t that good to me.
4. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
I didn’t hate it, I just… couldn’t stop rolling my eyes at certain parts. I mean, Alexa’s this hot, curvy Black professional from Oakland, and Drew’s a sexy L.A. based doctor. The book revolves around them falling in love with each other after getting trapped in an elevator. Plus, it creates that this dramatic long distance relationship even though they both live in California (I know Cali is a big state, I just wish Drew was in Seattle or something). It was… cute. Even though they’re clearly embarking on an interracial relationship, it’s only mentioned in a cheeky fashion which is pretty wack.
3. The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
Tiffany Haddish is a good actress, a funny comedian, and a beautiful soul. Sis can miss me with the memoirs, though. Granted, she has a testimony worth telling. The product of foster care and the survivor of domestic violence, Haddish’s message of perseverance and believing in one’s self is worth listening to. However, The Last Black Unicorn left me underwhelmed. I wasn’t a fan of her writing style or her delivery.
2. Everything’s Trash but It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
So, I loved the beginning of the book when she writes about dating as a Black woman. It’s clear early on that Robinson was intentional in her need to explain the fundamentals of intersectionality, white feminism, and all the other terms that make white women squint and ask, “What does that mean?” Soon enough I realized that she was essentially speaking to white women. I was even less impressed with the fanning out over Julia Roberts family and U2. It sucked because I really enjoyed You Can’t Touch My Hair, but wound up feeling like Everything’s Trash wasn’t written for me.
- Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Maybe it’s because I read the book when I was PMS-peaking, or because I had -$0.77 in my bank account, but this book was a turn-off for me. I love me some Shonda; as a prime-time powerhouse she is my idol, but as a wealthy Black woman in Hollywood, she is my stranger I would not say hello to. Year of Yes is essentially filled with amazing opportunities that Rhimes did not turn down, awards she accepted, and events she attended. Ain’t nobody gonna say no to none of that! I’m sure there were relevant points or aha moments or whatever, but I missed them because I was being so shady.
Tamela J. Gordon is a New York-based writer and founder of SWA’s Book Club. You can contribute to Tamela’s work and future projects HERE and SUBSCRIBE to her Patreon page! To contact Tamela, email email@example.com