I never realized the importance of Black feminist books and literature until I was an adult. I simply didn’t understand Black feminism until I was much older. I believe my first introduction to Black feminism was Assata Shakur’s autobiography. Reading about her life and how she found political asylum in Cuba impacted me so much as a teen because I could not conceptualize having so much courage when everything and everyone is against you.
When I watched The Color Purple as a young girl, I was traumatized but also it was a reminder that as a Black girl, my experiences as far different than white women and Black men. I suddenly found myself going down a rabbit hole of Black women writers who centered Black feminism in their works. Alice Walker, who coined the term womanism, gave me a better grasp of how Black women navigate and the language needed to express how I felt.
When people ask me for a list of Black feminist reads, it’s almost an impossible task because there are just so many! So here I have listed a mix of fiction and nonfiction books, illustrated novels, and comics that are full of Black feminist thought, critiques, storytelling and historical analysis.
Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (Early American Studies) by Jessica Marie Johnson
Black womanhood and sexuality as it relates to feminism are typically discussed under the lens of how Black bodies are often sexualized and exploited. Johnson presents historical documents to illustrate the physiological and emotional impact slavery had on Black women from a reproductive point of view. Johnson also centers New Orleans as the epicenter of how Black women reclaimed their agency and embraced their sensuality.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
Poor Black women can be feminists, too. Even though their voices seem to get silenced in mainstream conversations, the impact of poor and working class Black women are often overlooked. They remain some of the biggest advocates and organizers and in this collection of essays, Kendall praises them.
Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
I read this book when I was a teen and it has stuck with me all these years. It’s a unique autobiography at a first-hand account of being a Black Panther as a Black woman. She details how she got involved in the movement as well as her experiences as being a Black woman revolutionary.
Letters to the Future: Black Women/Radical Writing by Erica Hunt (Editor), Dawn Lundy Martin (Editor)
A collection of writings and poems that centers not just cis het Black women but also Black LGBTQ+ people. The poems and essays include Black voices and experiences across generations and the African diaspora.
The Selected Works of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde and Roxane Gay
Audre Lorde is rightfully praised for her groundwork for Black feminism as a self-identified lesbian. This would make a great introduction for someone who is new to Lorde’s writing and work. Lorde’s Black queer theory is legendary amongst Black feminist scholars and readers. The book will be available on September 8, 2020.
Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing by Stephanie Andrea Allen (Author, Editor), Lauren Cherelle (Editor)
Is there room in Afrofuturism for feminism? Of course there is. Looking in the future is where a lot of hope lies and for Black women that write sci-fi and speculative fiction, and dismantling patriarchy is not only possible in the future, it is required.
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers
If you need a crash course on how to be an intersectional Black feminist, this is a good crash course to fit in your bag if you are on the go. It’s straight to the point without any fluff and it centers Black queer women—who are more marginalized than cis het Black women.
The Black Woman: An Anthology by Toni Cade Bambara and Eleanor W Traylor
This book was published in 1970 and it is remarkable how evergreen these essays remain. This book covers all topics including race, sex, politics, entertainment and the economy. No topic is left untouched. Read the works of Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, and more before they were known as bestselling authors and writers.
Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Davis
You may not have thought about music, let alone Blues, as a feminist medium for Black women, but Dr. Angela Davis lays the framework on how these three Black women used Blues to voice their radical sentiments on Black womanhood.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
I can’t believe I found out about this book on Twitter. This book is for people who love dark fantasy books, witches, and occult stories with a feminist tone. It centers Immanuelle Moore who tries to follow the law of the land. However, she finds herself learning of her mother’s life and how it ties to witches and makes it her mission to undo all the wrong the Church in Bethel has done.
(H)afrocentric Comics: Volumes 1–4 by Juliana “Jewels” Smith (Author), Mike Hampton (Illustrator), Ronald Nelson (Illustrator), Kiese Laymon (Foreword)
There aren’t a lot of Black feminist comics, however, (H)Afrocentric does a great job in illustrating what radical social justice movements entail. Enjoy the illustrations of a story that paints a picture of how Black women and other people of color fight gentrification in their neighborhood and local campus.
The Keepers: Origins by by Jazmin Truesdale and (Author), Remero Colston (Illustrator)
Truesdale has created an entire universe of women characters that are superheroes. In this illustrated space opera adventure, women are selected to be the keepers of their universe. This is a book for all ages, especially younger readers who need to see more representation of themselves.
Sula By Toni Morrison
Sula examines Black feminism on how women treat each other in platonic relationships, especially when you involve men. This book is both a drama and a slight horror story on how intra-community dynamics can be just as harmful as navigating mainstream society.
To Be Young, Gifted and Black By Lorraine Hansberry
Hanberry became the first Black woman playwright to have a play on Broadway for A Raisin in the Sun, but her autobiography paints her life as an ambitious queer Black creative from Chicago. In her book, she talks about how she navigates Blackness with her sexuality and art.
I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston, a writer, visionary, and anthropologist, wrote in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a lot of her works. She highlighted southern Black life as a culture that was often forgotten when it came to Black America. This is book that combines Black folk art storytelling and feminism.
Stupid Black Girl: Essays from an American African by Aisha Redux (Author), Brianna McCarthy (Illustrator)
There is no one way of being Black, and being Black as a first generation American can be a uniquely different experience altogether. Redux talks about a variety of topics such as gentrification to their personal experience with the September 11 tragedy.
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose By Alice Walker
Walker created the term womanism which means Black feminism and is meant to center Black women’s experience, because white feminism does not. In this collection of essays, Walker relives her experiences and recounts of the Civil Rights Movement under the scope of Black womanism thought.
Young Revolutionary: A Teen’s Guide to Activism by Chanice Lee
When I was a teen, I would have loved to have had the chance to read about other Black teen girls and how they are making waves to have a progressive future. This guide is perfectly executed as teens give their experiences on how they became activists and what they seeking to change.
Unf*uckablewith: Rising From The Ashes Into Your Black Woman Badassery by Catrice M. Jackson
Sometimes we just need to sit and think about the women who came before us. Jackson gives us a bold and unapologetic self-help guide that’s also a memoir on Black feminism, self-care and being resilient when the odds are against you.