Voices To Be Heard: Celebrate Black Women All Yearlong with These Noteworthy Titles

An essential collection for readers and students of black history and literature; an ambitious, electrifying memoir; a bawdy, laugh-out-loud tell-all with a liberal dose of heart; a much-needed addition to the endless catalog of celebrity memoirs.

redstarBlack Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading and Writing. 37 Ink: Atria. Jan. 2018. 272p. ed. by Stephanie Stokes Oliver. ISBN 9781501154287. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501154300. COMM

This collection brings together excerpts, essays, and interviews by 25 black authors, including legends in the canon and newer writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Roxane Gay, Colson Whitehead, and Marlon James. Written between 1845 and 2017, the works range from memoirs on the power of reading during slavery and emancipation to narratives of how certain books and authors shaped these writers’ lives and straightforward advice on composition; all address the centrality of literacy to black liberation, both personally and politically. Many of these pieces, such as those by Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglass, and Malcolm X, will be familiar to those steeped in black history and literature. In an effort to be a tight and fast-moving read, some samples feel disjointed excerpted from their original books, and the very brief introductions to each piece are at times lacking in necessary historical context. But taken as a whole, this survey of what it means to be a black reader and writer is an important and long overdue project. VERDICT An essential collection for readers and students of black history and literature.—Kate Stewart, Arizona Historical Soc., Tucson

redstarCooper, Brittney. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9781250112576. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250112897. memoir

American history and pop culture are put under a keen lens in this astute memoir. Cooper, cofounder of the Crunk Feminist Collective, traces her relationship with the concept of feminism, from a young skeptic to an outspoken advocate. This journey is not easy; the scholar documents her rural Louisiana upbringing in which the vibrancy of black womanhood at home jockeyed with the experiences of racism, sexism, and classism in school, with friends, and at church; the misogynist leanings of mainstream Christianity are a steady undercurrent through her grapplings with feminism. Deftly blending the conversational tone of a memoir with pointed critique, Cooper offers a comprehensive and accessible analysis of topics from the Bible to pop music to U.S. politics past and present. Searing insights regarding toxic neoliberal connotations of “empowerment” and the complicity of white feminism in oppression fall alongside vulnerable discussions of sexuality, growing up around domestic abuse, and increasing anxiety over black motherhood. Throughout, rage serves as a motif of black women; though often ignored, dismissed, or violently quelled, rage in its nuanced forms can act as a means of survival and a basis for change. VERDICT An ambitious, electrifying memoir. Recommended for readers seeking contemporary social commentary that’s unrelenting yet humorous.—Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal

redstarEddo-Lodge, Reni. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Bloomsbury Circus. Nov. 2017. 272p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781408870556. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781408870570. SOC SCI

Eddo-Loge’s powerful debut is based on a 2014 blog post of the same title about the frustrations of talking about race and racism. The post went viral and sparked deeper conversations further detailed in this book. Using research, personal experience, and firsthand interviews, the author details what it means to be black in Britain, especially in a theoretical postracial society. She clearly outlines the history of oppression in her country by examining systemic racism, white privilege, feminism, immigration, race and class, social justice, and more. Of note is the review of intersectionality in feminism and the difficulties of understanding feminism without considering class and race as part of the struggle. This informative work challenges readers to study the patterns of racism and how it has unwittingly upheld societies. Although frustrated with having frequent discussions about race, Eddo-Loge comes to terms with the necessity of continuing the conversation and the implications of remaining silent. VERDICT A provocative read for anyone interested in race, politics, social history, and the lives of people of color; a must-read that expertly reflects the challenges of addressing structural racism.—Tiffeni Fontno, Boston Coll.

Haddish, Tiffany. The Last Black Unicorn. Gallery: S. & S. Dec. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781501181825. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501181849. MEMOIR

Comedian Haddish was not born to a life of laughs. After an accident her stepfather later confessed to staging, her mother experienced severe brain damage and wild mood swings. Placed in the foster care system as a teen, and struggling to read at a basic level in ninth grade, Haddish found that humor and jokes helped her endure. When offered a choice between the Laugh Factory comedy camp or counseling to help recover from issues within the foster system, she chose the former and found her calling. In her first book, Haddish recounts her early life straight through to her powerhouse success both on the comedy circuit and in Hollywood with the 2017 film Girls Trip. She spares nothing in this no-holds-barred account, from laughable accounts of failed pimps for boyfriends and taking Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a swamp tour to graphic descriptions of a memorable one-weekend stand to unfiltered honesty on her struggle as a domestic abuse survivor. With an informal and conversational style, Haddish directly addresses readers, dares to be herself, and says, “You can’t fake funny.” VERDICT A bawdy, laugh-out-loud tell-all with a liberal dose of heart.—Stacy Shaw, Orange, CA

redstarHow We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Haymarket. Dec. 2017. 200p. ed. by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. ISBN 9781608468553. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781608468683. SOC SCI

Published on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective (CRC) Statement, Taylor (From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation) interviews five prominent black feminist leaders about the impacts this radical movement has had on American society from the time of the group’s formation in the 1970s to the present day. Taylor conducts lively interviews with founding members of the CRC such as Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, and Demita Frazier as well as Alicia Garza, cofounder of the Black Lives Matters movement. With closing statements from historian and longtime activist Barbara Ransby, this powerful examination of the origins of radical black feminism emphasizes the need of bringing the CRC’s forward-thinking vision to the present day. While modern feminism has just begun to include discussions of intersectionality in its framework, the women of the Combahee River Collective were already discussing this more than 40 years ago. Clearly, the collective has influenced modern culture even when it hasn’t been given credit for doing so. Includes a beneficial index. VERDICT An essential book for any feminist library.—Venessa Hughes, Buffalo, NY

Jerkins, Morgan. This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America. HarperCollins. Jan. 2018. 272p. notes. ISBN 9780062666154. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062666161. SOC SCI

Jerkins provides a critical view of American culture, similar to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, which is about the intersection of race and feminism in British culture. Here, the pop culture essayist examines her life as a feminist woman of color while sharing insight on her faith as it relates to contemporary culture. Weaving personal narratives with historical, social, and cultural anecdotes, Jerkins discusses such topics as body image, race identification, fitting in, dating, sexuality, faith, disability, and the Black Girl Magic movement. Each chapter provides insightful, personal, and frank analysis of how several identities can and do overlap with one another; especially being a black women of faith in white America. Jerkins provides awareness into her own complexities—college-educated, black, female, Millennial, feminist—in an attempt to figure out where she fits in and in an effort to uncover the intricacies of her multilayered identity. VERDICT For those interested in a younger perspective on black studies and feminism.—Tiffeni Fontno, Boston Coll.

redstarKhan-Cullors, Patrisse & Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9781250171085. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250171092. MEMOIR

A foreword by Angela Davis opens this powerful memoir by Khan-Cullors, one of the three founding women of the Black Lives Matter movement. Part 1 describes her childhood in L.A. during the height of the late 1980s/early 1990s war on drugs, when police rained constant surveillance and harassment upon her poor, predominantly black neighborhood. Khan-Cullors describes, in wrenching detail, the severe exacerbation of her brother Monte’s schizoaffective disorder through multiple violent arrests and torturous incarceration, alongside the effects of criminalization upon friends, father figures, and her younger self. Part 2 centers the galvanization of her community organizing experience into Black Lives Matter, a Facebook comment–turned–collective action sparked by the murder of Trayvon Martin and fanned by subsequent acts of police brutality. Khan-Cullors’s prose is dynamic; a rhythmic call to action that deftly illustrates the impact of living in a place that systematically demeans black personhood through neglect and aggressively racist state policy. The text also serves as an informal resource guide, with notable activists and artists cited in chapter headings and referenced throughout. VERDICT This searing, timely look into a contemporary movement from one of its crucial leading voices belongs in all collections.—Ashleigh Williams, School Library Journal

Lewis, Jenifer. The Mother of Black Hollywood. Amistad: HarperCollins. Nov. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780062410405. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062410429. MEMOIR

Currently known for her role as matriarch Ruby Johnson on the hit TV show Blackish, Lewis has risen from modest beginnings in small town Missouri to become a self-described “entertainer’s entertainer.” Lewis lived for the high of performing on stage in cabaret productions and the imminent applause afterward. Finding that her moods would often become dangerously low upon returning home, she sought to prolong the pleasure by taking men home with her. This frank debut charts her upward career trajectory on Broadway, as a back-up singer for Bette Midler, and in films such as The Preacher’s Wife, while also divulging details about her struggles with bipolar disorder and sex addiction. After a long search during her 30s to find a psychologist she trusted, Lewis realized she had the support and direction to work through deeply ingrained pain from her childhood. This newfound confidence led to further success, often playing the role of mother, as evidenced by the title of this book. VERDICT An insightful memoir of Lewis’s road to success and eventual path to self-healing, told with honesty and hubris that will appeal to her wide fan base.—Stacy Shaw, Orange, CA

redstarOluo, Ijeoma. So You Want To Talk About Race. Seal. Jan. 2018. 256p. notes. ISBN 9781580056779. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781580056786. SOC SCI

In her first book, writer and activist Oluo offers direct advice on how to have a conversation about race. She analyzes topics that may lead to contentious conversations, such as cultural appropriation, affirmative action, police brutality, the N-word, microaggressions, and the model minority myth. In doing so, Oluo provides background information on each topic and talking points to allow for having more constructive conversations. With a clever approach that uses anecdotes, facts, and a little humor, the author challenges all readers to assess their own beliefs and perceptions while clearly looking at polarizing issues. She encourages us to overcome the idea of debating someone else without the ability to listen to other perspectives. Most relevant is a sobering and enlightening chapter on checking and recognizing one’s privilege. VERDICT A timely and engaging book that offers an entry point and a hopeful approach toward more productive dialog around tough topics. Highly recommended for those interested in race, ethnicity, and social commentary, and anyone wishing to have more insightful conversations.—Tiffeni Fontno, Boston Coll.

redstarUnion, Gabrielle. We’re Going To Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True. Dey St: HarperCollins. Oct. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9780062693983. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062694003. MEMOIR

Union’s raw and unflinching portrayal makes you feel like you’re getting to know a new friend, or reacquainting yourself with an old one. Each essay brings readers closer into the fold and forces us to question our own truths. We learn about Union’s struggle to lead a “double life”—retreating from her blackness to fit in at a mostly white school in California while trying to embrace it among skeptical black friends in Omaha, her internal meanderings over hair and makeup that carry specific cultural weight (Natural hair or weave? Narrow the nose, or...?), and the unequal expectations carried by people of color as they navigate professions that make them an “other.” Union also details her experience as a rape survivor and includes these telling lines: “I am grateful I was raped in an affluent neighborhood with an underworked police department (and) overly trained doctors and nurses. The fact that one can be grateful for such things is... ridiculous.” Considering that the narrative of sexual violence in the United States largely focuses on white women, Union’s voice as a survivor holds unique importance and poignancy. That said, she is much more than this single experience, as her book boldly shows. VERDICT Union invites readers into her world with honesty, grit, and grace. A much-needed addition to the endless catalog of celebrity memoirs.—Erin Entrada Kelly, Philadelphia

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