30 books by women of color to read on International Women’s Day

Here are our favorites.

Credit:patpitchaya/iStockPhoto
Credit:patpitchaya/iStockPhoto

Wednesday marks the 106th annual International Women’s Day, commemorating the movement for women’s rights.

This Women’s Day, don’t just pick up any book. Pick up a book by a woman of color.

Here are some of ThinkProgress’ favorites:

1. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women In America, by Melissa Harris-Perry

In this book, American writer and onetime television host Melissa Harris-Perry delves into how Black women think about themselves and what they want from political movements. She analyzes their reactions to the negative race and gender images they face in society through political theory, focus groups, surveys, and more. It will make you rethink the pervasive racism Black women face in America.

2. Kindred, by Octavia Butler

Half time travel yarn and half slave narrative, Kindred follows the story of Dana, a 26-year-old Black woman, who travels between her home in 1976 California and a plantation in pre-Civil War Maryland. While there, she meets her ancestors and learns their stories — but the longer she stays in the past, the harder it is for her to stay alive in the present.

3. Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay

In this collection of essays, American feminist writer and professor Roxanne Gay discusses politics, feminism, pop culture, and much more, while taking the reader through her own story as a woman of color and Haitian American. It will inspire you to do better as a feminist, and as a member of society.

4. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Beyoncé’s favorite feminist is a household name, but don’t let her popularity distract from her staggering talent and skill. Americanah is by far her most popular work, chronicling the story of Ifemelu — a Nigerian woman who immigrates to the United States only to confront a deeply divided American society — and her lover, Obinze, whose life takes a dramatically different turn. Once you’ve started reading one book by Adichie, you will probably never stop.

5. Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde

It’s hard to sum up the contributions of Audre Lorde. The grand matriarch of Black lesbian activism, Lorde’s staggering body of work deserves to be read, re-read, and re-re-read, by all. One good place to start: Sister Outsider, a collection of Lorde’s speeches and essays. Then, read Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Lorde’s “biomythography,” which addresses her relationship to her gender, race, and sexuality, as well as her coming-of-age struggles.

6. Here Comes the Sun, by Nicole Dennis-Benn

There’s a depressing lack of fiction catering to queer women of color, something that Nicole Dennis-Benn worked to rectify with Here Comes the Sun, arguably one of the best things to come out of the year 2016. The New York Times called it an “antibeach novel,” which is fair enough; set in a struggling post-colonial Jamaica, the book stars Margot, a sharp, bright, closeted lesbian just trying to make things work in a world where all of the odds are neatly stacked against her. As in life, happy endings here are hard to come by, but the beauty of Dennis-Benn’s prose is more than worth the ride.

7. There Are Things More Beautiful Than Beyoncé, by Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker is a relatively new name in the literary world, but she’s already proving herself invaluable. There Are Things More Beautiful Than Beyoncé, Parker’s second work after 2015’s Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night, is a perfect read regardless of era, but it feels especially salient in the racist, queerphobic age of Trump. The poem from which the book takes its name begins without mercy: Please wait to record Love Jones at 8:48 Saturday on BET/Until your life is no longer defined by Beyoncé/Ants crawling over fallen leaves and little pieces of dog shit/Empty chicken boxes glowing with the remembrance of grease/There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé.

8. Salt., by Nayyirah Waheed

Nothing if not a minimalist, Waheed’s first book of poetry, Salt., features short, tight sentences that often imparting bombshell observations about gender and race in remarkably few words and are set against a white, undecorated background, much like its cover. White male poets have been unable to express in entire books what Waheed manages with a few words; that alone should encourage you to explore her work.

9. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

It’s hard to get more frank than The Color Purple. The book has a very basic premise: Celie, a young Black woman without education, will do anything to keep her sister safe. (This ultimately means a dark series of events for Celie, but one with a queer, feminist ending that defies trope and genre alike.) Critics miss the point when they condemn Walker’s depiction of sexual violence, racism, and poverty: that even in the face of unspeakable evil, women of color — especially queer women of color — are able to find light and salvation in one another.

10. The Other Side of Paradise, by Staceyann Chin

A lesbian poet, spoken word artist, and political activist, Staceyann Chin’s work is nothing if not intersectional. The Other Side of Paradise, Chin’s memoir of growing up as a biracial woman in Jamaica, struggling with her sexuality, and ultimately immigrating to the United States, is sharp, funny, and devastating — not least so because it speaks to experiences shared by many but discussed by few.

11. Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur

A Sikh Indian Canadian, Rupi Kaur delves into womanhood, violence, abuse, love, and loss in this collection of poems, prose, and drawings. Each chapter in this New York Times bestseller contains a different theme, taking the reader on a journey of healing.

12. Another Birth and Other Poems, by Forough Farrokhzad

Forough Farrokhzad was one of the most influential — and controversial — Iranian poets of the 20th century. Her poems were all written with a strong female voice, and cover the role of women in society, marriage, children, desire, and love. Though she died 50 years ago, her poems are still incredibly powerful today.

13. Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock

Redefining Realness, the memoir of activist Janet Mock, takes on the trans experience in a way that is warm, open, and honest. Mock’s account of her brushes with transphobia (and transmisogyny), racism, poverty, and the intersections of oppression is a critical read in an era when murders of trans women of color happen with appalling frequency. Most importantly, Mock forces us to examine what may be the question at the heart of discrimination: what does it mean to be real, and who gets to decide?

14. The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz

In The Queue, Basma Abdel Aziz illustrates how life in an authoritarian state is normalized not just by the government, but by the people. This novel is an appropriate read under an administration that seeks to impose a culture of subjugation and homogeneity.

15. Lipstick Jihad, by Azadeh Moaveni

A memoir grappling with ideas of diaspora, identity, and home, Lipstick Jihad is the story of an Iranian American journalist who moves to Iran for work. The book gives a glimpse into ordinary Iranians’ lives during the early reformist movement — taking the reader through underground parties, fashion shows, ski slopes, and into the modern reality of Tehran.

16. Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, by Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born, Somali poet and activist based in London, whose poetry has given a voice to refugees and inspired many (including Beyonce). This collection of poems was her debut pamphlet and is marked by its beautiful simplicity.

17. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli moved from Calcutta, India to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they raise a family far from their own. When their son is born, the question of what to name him brings to the forefront the clashes between their two worlds. The Namesake follows the story of their son and the entire Ganguli family, grappling with ideas of immigration, assimilation, and identity along the way.

18. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi

A retelling of the fairy tale Snow White, this book is set in the winter of 1953 in a small town in Massachusetts. Boy Novak moves from New York, marries a local widower, and becomes stepmother to his daughter Snow. After giving birth to a dark-skinned daughter, Bird, she learns that her family are light-skinned African Americans passing for white, and she slowly becomes a wicked stepmother. The book grapples with the subjects of race, beauty, vanity, and family.

19. Citizen, by Claudia Rankine

Part essay and part poetry, Citizen begins with observations on the experience of being a Black woman traveling in elite white academic circles and the racial aggressions that come with it. But the slim book is also about so much more than that, and addresses subjects ranging from Serena William to Trayvon Martin. A New York Times bestseller, it has won a number of awards, including the 2015 PEN Center USA Poetry Award and the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry.

20. A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems, by Simin Behbahani, translated by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa

Referred to as the “lioness of Iran,” Simin Behbahani is one of the strongest female voices in modern Persian poetry and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature twice. This collection of poems was written over 50 years and covers much of Iranian history in that span of time, including periods of revolution and war.

21. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

This book spans generations of a family impacted by the slave trade in Ghana. It begins with two sisters: one who lived in a castle along the Ghanaian coast after marrying a British trader, and her sister who lived in the dungeons below her. You’ll learn a lot about Ghana and American history that’s left out of your average textbook. It’s gripping from start to finish and beautifully written.

22. Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue

Set against the backdrop of the 2007–2008 financial crisis, this book will leave you understanding a bit more about why immigrants chase the American Dream. In the book, a Cameroonian immigrant family struggles to adapt to New York City, revealing a class divide that is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

23. Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, by Helene Cooper

This is a biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s first democratically-elected female president, whose election was driven by the grassroots mobilization of female street vendors and traders. The book not only provides insight into Sirleaf’s personal story, but it also delves into the role that these “market women” played in getting her elected. If you wanted perspective on female leadership, inspiration, and a big helping of African history, then this book is for you.

24. Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson, by Blair L.M. Kelley

This book focuses on the struggle for Black freedom and against Jim Crow laws, focusing on the cities of New Orleans, Richmond, and Savannah. Kelley brilliantly breaks down the organizing against segregated rails and the divisions of class and gender that at times fractured the movement.

25. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

Arguably one of the most important works of the 20th century, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is only one of the many great gifts the late Maya Angelou left to us. Somehow both tragic and uplifting, Angelou’s coming-of-age magnum opus leads us through a story marred by Southern racism, sexual violence, and the sharp disparities facing Black women attempting to come into themselves. For all of its pain, however, Caged Bird never becomes hopeless — even the title is a tribute to triumph over oppression. So too is Angelou’s beautiful, incomparable work.

26. When I Was Puerto Rican, by Esmeralda Santiago

A memoir, When I Was Puerto Rican covers the story of how Santiago immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico as a child. After one of her brothers was injured in a bicycle accident, her mother decided the New York doctors would be better able to care for him and moved to the states with her seven — later 11 — children. The memoir covers the enduring questions of assimilation, immigration, and language.

27. The House On Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

This novel follows the story of a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, growing up in Chicago with Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. The staple of Latino literature crosses genres and seems to be part poetry, part autobiography, and part fiction.

28. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, by Sandra Cisneros

Yes, Cisneros is on this list twice, and for good reason. For anyone who grew up feeling out of place in their community, she is required reading.

29. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, by Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown, the first and only female chairman of the Black Panther Party, tells her story from growing up in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, to her political awakening when she was older, to her rise through the Panthers. This is a must-read story of self-discovery, race, sex, and power.

30. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, by Issa Rae

Long before Issa Rae became a Golden Globe nominee for HBO’s Insecure, she was Awkward Black Girl, the mastermind behind a popular web series on YouTube and a comical book of essays. All of the stories in her 2015 book will have you in stitches — especially if you’re a black woman trying to get your life in order.