Eight Must-Read Young Women of Color Authors [BOOKS]
Though young black women continue to produce thoughtful, exciting writing, their voices are often left out of mainstream literary canons. Thus, it is particularly important to highlight the literary achievements by young women of color—especially during Black History Month.
"It's important for black women—and any other group that is under/misrepresented— to write their stories because if we don't do it, then who will?" Terryn Hall, founder of DopeReads, told Campus Progress in an email. DopeReads is a multicultural blog about books with a focus on women and LGBTQ writers, as well as writers of color.
"You really see how writers like Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and even younger ones like Danielle Evans have been able to give voice to people who are historically overlooked through their stories. It's powerful stuff," Hall wrote.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it can be used as a jumping off point to discover or rediscover some of our favorite writing by young women of color.
1. Zadie Smith, "White Teeth" (2000)
When "White Teeth" was first published, many critics rushed to compare Zadie Smith to Salman Rushdie because of her ability to tell post-colonial stories about families. Smith’s sprawling multi-generational book tackles the cultural and religious values of the Joneses and the Iqbals, two families of unlikely friends living in London. "White Teeth" uses different perspectives to tell the stories of the mixed-race, blended immigrant families and their various cultural clashes. Smith’s prose is so dedicated and intimate, you’ll feel like you’re listening in on the conversations between family members.
2. Melissa Harris Perry, "Sister Citizen" (2011)
Before she was a notable talking head on MSNBC, Melissa Harris Perry wrote thoughtful examinations of blackness in America. Her book, "Sister Citizen" uses politics, literature and current events to analyze various depictions of black women in America. From powerful images of young mothers during Hurricane Katrina to black female politicians, Perry traces the America’s complicated relationship with—and mistreatment of—black women. Though Perry is an academic, her writing isn't bogged down by academic jargon. She uses the familiar—starting with the character Janie from Hurtson’s "Their Eyes Were Watching God"—to make her points about the depiction of black women in America accessible to a varied audience.
3. ZZ Packer, "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" (2003)
ZZ Packer made a name for herself with this collection of razor sharp short stories about being black and coming of age in America. In “Brownies,” her strongest story, a group of young black girls at Girl Scout camp devise a plan to get back at a group of white campers for a perceived racial slight. The tables are turned when the girls realize they badly misinterpreted the situation and what starts as a story about racial tensions becomes a study on the universal confusions of adolescence. Despite the fact that most of her characters are black, teenaged girls, the themes they experience are universal. They’re sure to resonate with any reader.
4. Danielle Evans, "Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self" (2011)
Despite only having only debuted two years ago, Danielle Evans’s collection of thoughtful short stories about various black existences solidified her as a bright new literary talent. At their core, her stories are about people trying to make sense of their complicated lives. Evans has a knack for describing female relationships in ways that ring true. Whether it’s two teenage girls thinking about how they’ll lose their virginity or two college roommates discussing egg harvesting for extra money, Evans is at her best when she’s writing about female characters relating with one another. Across the eight stories she authored, we meet college girls, well-meaning fathers, spunky roommates, and war veterans all trying make sense of love, sex, family, friendships and race.
5. Helena Andrew, "Bitch is the New Black" (2011)
Helena Andrews’ memoir about her time working as one of very few black political writers for the New York Times and Politico is laugh-out-loud hilarious. A self described “smart-ass,” Andrews writes the way people think. Not only are her meditations on her career and dating life funny, they resonate with today’s educated, successful women trying to balance career and dating regardless of their race. My personal favorite Andrews' anecdote is her awkward date with one of President Obama’s secret service agents.
6. Attica Locke, "The Cutting Season" (2012)
Attica Locke’s followup to her 2009 debut is both a murder mystery and a tender examination of the lasting impacts of slavery on modern life. On the surface, it’s about Belle Vie, an old sugar plantation in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Caren’s great grandmother was a slave at the property, and she now runs it as a wedding venue. [SPOILER ALERT] When a cane worker is found with her throat slit, Caren tries to solve the mystery of her murder while struggling to piece together unanswered questions about her own family’s past. "The Cutting Season" is about race, class, family and history and how the legacy of them all make their way into the present.
7. Ernessa Carter, "32 Candles" (2010)
Growing up in Mississippi, Davida is abused by her alcoholic mother and is bullied by her schoolmates who cruelly nicknames her “Monkey Night.” Davida’s crush on the popular jock at her school only highlights her status as an outsider. After watching "16 Candles," Davida decides to split town. [SPOILER ALERT] She moves away, grows up and becomes a successful singer. However, she must confront the past she left behind when her former crush shows up in her new town. "32 Candles" is amazing because it deals with what it’s like to be a dark-skinned, black girl growing up feeling ugly, a subject that the book handles with the tenderness and grace.
8. Imani Perry, "Prophets of the Hood" (2004)
Have you ever wanted to read a thoughtful, critical, and tender cultural examination of hip hop’s role in black communities? Imani Perry has given us just that with "Prophets of the Hood." Perry posits that hip-hop is a kind of democratic, black linguistic space and she urges fans to use that powerful space for the greater good. She also nicely summarizes women’s spaces in hip-hop and what can be done to improve their visibility in hip-hop music.
What did we leave off our list? Be sure to share your favorites in the comments section.
Bridget Todd is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetMarie.