Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book Between the World and Me quickly ascended to bestseller status on Amazon after its release last week (moved up from September due to demand), raising with it concerns and criticisms of the work. The memoir details the Atlantic writer’s experiences as a black child on the streets of Baltimore, a black student at Howard University, and a black man skeptical of the “American Dream” in New York and beyond.
Between the World and Me is presented as a letter to Coates’ adolescent son, perhaps taken as a piece of advice on how to live in a black man’s body in today’s America. The response has been largely positive and full of praise, but some have criticized the work for ignoring the black woman’s experience. Coates, however, holds that the story of the black woman is not his to tell, nor is it one he knows as viscerally and truthfully as his own, and thus, it was not appropriate to address in his book.
If not Coates, to whom can we entrust the responsibility to document the black woman’s experience in a way as thought-provoking, passionate, and revelatory as Between the World and Me? “I think the answer to this … is to have more books like this. That’s ultimately the answer,” Coates told Gawker. “Whenever you have a book that says, this is going to speak for us right now; this is the book that addresses the moment right now, people look for themselves in that book.” Black women didn’t see much of themselves in Between the World and Me.
ThinkProgress brainstormed a list of five distinguished women we think should write on their experiences, bearing in mind their own intersectional identities. This list is in no way exhaustive, but rather a starting point in an effort to address issues facing communities of color from a woman’s perspective.
1. Bree Newsome
North Carolina activist and filmmaker Bree Newsome shot into the spotlight last month when she scaled the pole that flew the Confederate flag on South Carolina State House grounds and removed it herself. The Internet named her a superhero and rejoiced in the act of rebellion that resulted in her arrest and the immediate replacement of the flag (which came down once again less than two weeks later, this time for good). Newsome’s memoir would be full of anecdotes as an activist fighting for equal rights, as a black woman living in the South, and a filmmaker addressing social justice issues through her work.
2. Renee Cox
Cox is best known for her bold photography, which celebrates the beauty and power of black women in a society “she often views as racist and sexist.” The Queens native has a lot to say about womanhood, America, slavery and contemporary racist institutions, the role of religion and history in racism, and self-love. And there’s no doubt readers could gain insight from a book detailing her lived experiences as a black woman in America determined to make a statement. The only question is whether she’d be willing to step out of her usual artistic medium of photography and venture into literature.
3. Roxane Gay
A Guardian writer once described Roxane Gay as having “the voice of the friend you call first for advice, calm and sane as well as funny, someone who has seen a lot and takes no prisoners.” Gay has written two fiction novels, but is perhaps most recognized for her collection of essays, titled Bad Feminist, released in in August 2014, in which she writes about some personal experiences. In an interview, she said her next book will also have some aspects of a memoir. We hope this one will detail her many moves during childhood, her Haitian-American heritage, and her initial skepticism of feminism as a movement for straight, white women, and tie it all together to reflect on her experience as a black woman.
4. Ava DuVernay
The Selma director was the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. DuVernay’s film, released 50 years after the Civil Rights march from Selma, breathed new life into the people and places of that era and renewed a nationwide discussion on the state of race in America today. Many parts of the journey that brought her to such success are not well-known; but she did relay some advice at this year’s BlogHer conference that may point to her journey. “You gotta follow the white guys,” she said. “Too often, we live within their games, so why would not study what works?” DuVernay is clearly very cognizant of race and gender in the filmmaking industry, and has figured out how to navigate any obstacles those things could present. How did you do it, Ava? We want to know. As a black woman who grew up in Compton, California, and spent much of her youth in Alabama, her memoir would likely be both informative and inspiring.
5. Laverne Cox
The Orange Is the New Black star is now a household name for her transgender activism. She announced last year that she would publish a memoir this year, but we haven’t heard much about it since then. Cox has said she had a difficult childhood in Alabama, and has shown us that she has a lot to say about “race, class, gender, abuse, violence and trauma.” So let this serve as a reminder: Laverne, we still want this!