The best books about or written by adventurous, brave, soulful women

The Books I Picked & Why

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women

By Jane Hirshfield

Book cover of Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women

Why this book?

Editor Jane Hirschfield writes that she is interested in “women who could not be held back from their chosen paths or spiritual practice.” And so am I. This collection includes writings by intrepid women over centuries and landscapes, representing an array of spiritual traditions stretching back to the beginning of recorded time. The canon of spiritual writings that have come down to us across cultures rarely includes the words of women. Hirschfield has taken steps to correct this omission. From the first entry – c. 2300 BCE – through a joyful poem of liberation from one of the earliest female Buddhist followers to Hildegard of Bingen and Emily Dickenson, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Owl Woman, and Penny Jessye. And beyond. Women across cultures, religious traditions, and centuries have inner lives that provoke them to write, sing and shout.


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When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

By Paula J. Giddings

Book cover of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

Why this book?

The writings in this book illuminate the experience of African American women from the 17th through 20th century. Its pages inform and inspire. I enjoy the narratives and absorb wisdom from the amazing women whose stories are recorded within. A lot has happened since the book was published in 1984. Yet the narratives recorded and explored in Giddings’s book include heroines barely mentioned in present-day: Ida B. Wells and anti-lynching campaigns, the National Colored Women’s Club movement of which my great-grandmother was an enthusiastic participant, feminism, and African American women. Even the chapter and section titles captivate: “To Choose Again, Freely”, “Black Brainmaster: Mary McLeod Bethune”. “Inventing Ourselves” is a caption inspired, I believe, by Toni Morrison in describing African American women: “…she may well have invented herself.”


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The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin

Book cover of The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

Why this book?

The Odyssean journey of a woman across a landscape both familiar and strange. Jemisin has written a tale that is entertaining and provocative. Essun, the primary character, has truly invented herself through multiple levels of social status, landscapes, names, lifetimes. She walks, runs, crawls, pushes through all, reminding the reader what is possible when one stretches the boundaries of imagination.


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An American Sunrise: Poems

By Joy Harjo

Book cover of An American Sunrise: Poems

Why this book?

The current United States Poet Laureate. She is an artist and not just of words. Harjo plays a mean saxophone. And writes poetry to send the soul soaring. Reminding me of the sky, the soil, the roots. My roots. “Do you know how to make a peaceful road through human memory?” Harjo’s Muscogee roots have their beginnings in the soil that nurtured some of my Georgia-born ancestors. What can I say? I feel the words.


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Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston

Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Why this book?

I first read this book in college. Wrote a paper on it. Said to myself, “OK. So what?” Went on with my life. Read the book again when I was in my forties. And said – aloud – “Mercy!” I think one may need a few years (ok, maybe a few decades) of grief, laughter, heartbreak, financial worries, i.e. life, to feel this Hurston tale in your bones. And then there is the novel’s opening line. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” True that.


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