I once took a course called “Modern American Literature” in college. The syllabus didn’t include one single Black female author. Every author we read was a white guy. I wondered why the works of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison or Alice Walker—voices that turned the pretentious, white male-dominated literary canon on its head—did not qualify as Modern American Literature. As the lone Black female student in this class, I couldn’t help but feel that the lesson here was that I didn’t belong. My blackness, my womanness, was not American Literature. As I grew older and delved deeper into diverse literature, I discovered that Black and brown women were not superfluous or alien to Americanness, but essential to the story of the United States, and as long as our voices are suppressed, the story would never be complete.
As we observe a wave of protests across the world, demanding justice for George Floyd and the countless other black people killed by police brutality, it’s increasingly important to understand the Black experience in order to be an ally for racial justice. Although the conversation on racial justice is often centered on Black men, we must not forget the names of the Black women who have recently been killed by law enforcement and racist vigilantes: Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, and countless other voices that were silenced. In their honor, we celebrate Black female voices from across the diaspora through literature.
One of the most powerful things people can do right now is to educate themselves by going directly to the source, that is, #ownvoices texts and literature that speaks directly to the impact of racial injustice in the United States. It’s important to note that the struggle for racial equality is far more expansive than this troubling moment in time—it’s a movement, one that Black women and women of color have been documenting for decades. The following anthologies capture the voices that always existed but were often shunned, ignored, or silenced altogether.
Sisterfire: Black Womanist Fiction & Poetry edited by Charlotte Watson Sherman
The Sisterfire anthology came as a response to troubling times. Editor Charlotte Watson Sherman writes: “Shortly after the Rodney King Uprising, I woke from a dream with a voice telling me to ‘do the anthology.’” The anthology features writers such as Alice Walker, Bell Hooks, Ntozake Shange, Lucille Clifton, and more. The book is divided into nine parts, beginning with “Becoming Fluent: Mothers, Daughters, and other Family” and “Night Vision: Crack and Violence Against Black Women,” with each part alternating between poetry and fiction to paint a landscape of the issues heavy on the minds of women writers at the forefront of the Black womanist thought movement.
This book is the ultimate ode to Black women writers. A collection of essays written by the most prominent Black women writers of our time reflecting on the role literature played in their own coming of age journeys. The collection includes essays by Jesmyn Ward, Jaqueline Woodson, Gabourey Sidibe, Tayari Jones, and others. With this anthology, Edim sends a clear message, “The essays in the following pages remind us of the magnificence of literature; how it can provide us with a vision of ourselves, affirm our talents, and ultimately help us narrate our own stories.”
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldua
Through personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, this collection (edited by Chicana writers, but including work from women with a range of racial identities) explores, as coeditor Cherríe Moraga writes, the “complex confluence of identities—race, class, gender, and sexuality—systemic to women of color’s oppression and liberation.”
Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology edited by Barbara Smith
This collection of essays and poetry by Black feminist and lesbian activists is one of the leading texts in the field of women’s studies. Editor Barbara Smith brought together Toi Derricotte, Audre Lorde, Patricia Jones, Jewelle L. Gómez and many more. Since its initial publication in 1983, it has become an essential text on Black women’s lives and writings.
New Daughters of Africa edited by Margaret Busby
New Daughters of Africa spans a range of genres—autobiography, memoir, oral history, letters, diaries, short stories, novels, poetry, drama, humor, politics, journalism, essays, and speeches—demonstrating the diversity and extraordinary literary achievements of black women who remain underrepresented. The anthology includes work from Margo Jefferson, Nawal El Saadawi, Edwidge Danticat, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Imbolo Mbue, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Taiye Selasi, and Chinelo Okparanta. Each of the pieces in this collection demonstrates an uplifting sense of sisterhood, honors the strong links that endure from generation to generation, and addresses the common obstacles female writers of color face as they negotiate issues of race, gender, and class and address vital matters of independence, freedom, and oppression.
The Black Woman: An Anthology edited by Toni Cade Bambara
The Black Woman is a collection of early, emerging works from some of the most celebrated Black female writers. First published in 1970, The Black Woman introduced readers to groundbreaking original essays, poems, and stories. The anthology features bestselling novelist Alice Walker, poets Audre Lorde and Nikki Giovanni, writer Paule Marshall, activist Grace Lee Boggs, and musician Abbey Lincoln. These legendary voices tackle issues surrounding race and sex, body image, the economy, politics, labor, and much more.
Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
Color of Violence addresses the pervasive issue of violence against Black and brown women. With social media being more accessible than ever, we are seeing an endless stream of names turned into hashtags after violent encounters from police brutality to domestic and sexual violence. One in five women will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes and these numbers increase significantly for women of color, immigrant women, LGBTQIA+ women, and disabled women. The volume’s 30 pieces—which include poems, short essays, position papers, letters, and personal reflections—ask one haunting question: “What will it take to stop violence against women of color?”
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