Reading Black Women in 2022
I have been reading and reviewing Black women's literary works for over a decade.
Back when I started doing this, it was hard to find titles.
I scoured libraries, bookstores - anyone remember Walden Books?, used book sales, any where I thought I would find a book.
Publishing then, as now, was timid/reluctant/downright hostile to stories by Black women about Black women that was not steeped in oppression, enslavement, or some other tragic trope.
When the urban lit genre came out, supposedly depicting life in "Black America", my stomach turned in knots. My son is a lyricist, hip hop rapper, and he refused to sign with the major record label that was courting him for the very reason I felt such disdain on the cover in these book back in 2008 - it was all hyper masculinity and hyper sexuality without an ounce of authenticity. For him, he wanted to stay true to his art and message and not be marketing a lifestyle that was not was "living in the hood" was about.
Yes, parts of Black America struggle with poverty, violence, hunger, drugs, and a lack of opportunity.
Guess what, so does America, or white America. Have you ever seen a trailer park? Been to some of the small towns? I'm originally from Missouri and a few years ago, on the way to a college visit with my husband, we passed through some of these one-stop-sign towns and blighted is the only word that came to mind. Social ills do not have a race, yet, that is what a lot of the media - news, books, music, magazines, social media - wants you to think when you think about nonWhite Americans.
So, in my love of books and having grown up reading Betty Smith, the entire Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, I still longed for stories that reflected me. I set out to find some.
One of The very first book review I did on this site that shifted a trajectory for me was a joint review in September 2009 of Annie John and Angel of Harlem. This was long before FB and IG and BookTok.
I go back to my origins to remember why I do what I do. That was also the summer I was beginning my work with Black teens reading Black lit.
A lot has changed since then, and a lot has stayed the same.
One thing that is constant is that literature informs my world.
I took a walk in my home library and pulled out books I'd read or reviewed. Then, I looked at all the ones I wanted to read. I don't speed read through literature, I feel it is a disservice to the author. I reserve that speed reading for when I was in seminary trying to cover a lot of dense writing. Literature is to be savored, like my custom coffee and morning lattes.
2022 has many debuts, as did 2021 and 2020, the pandemic has given us a lot to keep us company in our quarantine. My literary collection is carefully curated for my reviews of Black women and for what I do with The Hurston and Hughes Literary Circle®. We do not censure or ban books with our teens but do keep our lists pertinent to those historically excluded from the ELA curriculum in high school.
My 2022 reading list so far is the 1619 Project because it has fiction and poetry interspersed in the eighteen divisions of narrative and I am leading Mosaic: Woodbridge Reading in Community at the end of February. Read Until You Understand by Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin is a lovely tribute to so many gifts of Black literature. My Monticello is what I keep handy for those moments when I want to read but don't have the time to fully engage with a literary work, this is a collection of short stories. My YA pick for the month is Off the Record maybe because the protagonist is an aspiring journalist, a senior, wants to go to Spelman, and does not fit the European narrative of who is beautiful. It is in her voice, something else I really love.
What else am I considering and would recommend if you were going shopping right now? I visited my. library and then the collections at my list of Black owned bookstores that have a Bookshop storefront (why shop Amazon?).
Here is my list of stores owned by Black women:
Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery - Black women owned in Chicago
People Get Ready - Black woman owned in New Haven CT
The Key Bookstore - Black woman owned in Hartford CT
Mahogany Bookstore - Black woman owned in DC
Harriett's Bookstore - Black woman owned in Philadelphia (and her sister shop, Ida's)
Cafe con Libros - Black woman owned in Brooklyn NY
Of course, there are others and there are Black men with bookstores that I support, but in support of my sisters and in support of a Black women in the Supreme Court, I'm highlighting Black women owned stores that I have frequented.
If you are curating your list of 22 books by Black women to read in 2022, I recommend the following and that you purchase them from a Black woman owned bookstore. Parting from my usual literary fiction only reviews, this list includes non-fiction works. In no particular order, here is a list of forty books that I have read, reviewed, and recommended:
1. Gathering of Waters - Bernice McFadden
2. The Wake of the Wind - J. California Cooper
3. Wench - Dolen Perkins Valdez
4. I am the rage - Dr. Martina McGowan
5. The Personal Librarian - Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray*
6. Four Hundred Souls - Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Dr. Keisha Blain
7. Slavery in the Age of Memory - Dr. Ana Lucia Araujo
8. Caste - Isabelle Wilkerson (and The Warmth of Other Suns)
9. Sister Citizen - Dr. Melissa Harris Perry
10. Vanguard - Dr. Martha S. Jones
11. First and Only - Jennifer Farmer
12. The Street - Ann Petry
13. Maud Martha - Gwendolyn Brooks
14. Having Our Say - The Delaney Sisters
15. I'm Still Here - Austin Channing Brown
16. Rest for the Justice Seeking Soul - Susan Williams Smith
17. Negroland - Margo Jefferson
19. Claire of the Sea Light - Edwidge Danticat
20. Angel of Greenwood - Randi Pink
21. American Street - Ibi Zoboi
22. Mothers - Brit Bennett
23. Every Body Looking - Candice Iloh
24. Harbor Me - Jacqueline Woodson
25. Brown Girl, Brown Stones - Paule Marshall
26. Mouth Full of Blood - Toni Morrison
27. Ugly Ways - Tina McElroy Ansa
28. Kindred - Octavia Butler
29. Shifting Through Neutral - Bridgett M. Davis
30. River Woman - Donna Hemans
31. Angel of Harlem - Kuwana Hulsey
32. Dust Tracks in the Road - Zora Neale Hurston
33. Passing - Nella Larsen
34. Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo - Ntozake Shange
35. Disgruntled - Asali Solomon
36. Tempest Rising - Diane McKinney-Whetstone
37. Black Girl in Paris - Shay Youngblood
38. daughter - Asha Bandele
39. Salvage the Bones - Jesmyn Ward
40. The 1619 Project - Nikole Hannah-Jones
*co-authored by a Black woman based upon historical events of a Black woman
This is not an exhaustive list of books by, for, and about Black women. You can come to my site here, search going back a decade, and find works of fiction to read.
It is not enough to take pictures of stacks of books and post them on Instagram or make a video of it on Tik Tok, I've seen plenty of them. Read the books. I do not race through the books I'm reading, I am often reading two or three at a time in one month - non-fiction, something religious for my ordination process, and a fiction piece. When it is a big work, I annotate and give it the time it deserves to be fully appreciated.
There are books I've read that are in popular circulation, those heavily marketed by the publishing house, like The Other Black Girl- Zakiya Dalia Harris, that I've read but would not necessarily say is my favorite book. Here is the thing with that, not every one will be. That is because there isn't a single narrative about being Black in America or anywhere in the diaspora.
Black people in America were literally born on the water and mixed in with other cultures more so than our Black British and Caribbean counterparts because of the insidious nature of chattel enslavement that was uniquely something invented in the United States.
We, those descendants of the survivors of the most egregious and inhumane acts, are resilient, strong, have a culture that has been copied across the world, and continue to create amazing art. We gave the world music, fashion, and a style that can not be rivaled, so much that some have tried to legislate it away. Our joy will not end.
We read and keep reading, write and keep writing, and will not stay silent. No matter how many of our stories they try to ban from the schools. We always find a way.
Copyright 2022 by Antona B. Smith, The Tayé Foster Bradshaw Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.