The best books about Black women

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Black women and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe

By Akwugo Emejulu (editor), Francesca Sobande (editor),

Why this book?

While the Black freedom struggle is often approached through the activism of Black males, the history of the struggle in Europe—like in the United States and elsewhere in the world—owes much to Black women, Black female scholar-activists, and Black feminist and Queer networks. Yet they remain woefully underrepresented in scholarship and collective memory.

I, therefore, chose this edited volume, because it uniquely presents the stories, intersectional experiences, and visions of contemporary Black female activists, artists, and scholars from across the continent. This not only uncovers the significant intellectual, political, social, and cultural contributions of Black women, but also expands definitions…

From the list:

The best books on Black Europe

Book cover of Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture

Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture

By Emma Dabiri,

Why this book?

Dabiri’s use of history and personal storytelling to deconstruct and illuminate the long story of Black hair is crucial in that it allows readers to understand that our Black hair has history. The movement against natural Black hair is rooted in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and our own structures of government have always backed the anti-blackness that criminalized, scapegoated, or invisibilized our hair; this book celebrates our natural hair but also serves as historical education, which is so important if we’re to see natural Black hair not as a stylish trend but as a necessary part of our liberation.…

From the list:

The best books celebrating Black hair

Book cover of Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals

Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals

By Alexis Pauline Gumbs,

Why this book?

Many of us ground our relationship to nature and ecosystems through animals: a pet, the songbirds at our feeder, a glimpse of an urban coyote or deer, a favorite species. This short, profound, joy-filled book offers glimpses into the world of bowhead whales, leopard seals, river dolphins and so many others. But it doesn’t stop with natural history, as fascinating as the walrus whiskers and spinning dolphins in this book are: Gumbs teaches us about each species so they can teach us about our own societies. The result is so poetic it begs to be read aloud, and an exuberant…

From the list:

The best books on humans and their relationship with nature

Book cover of The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain

The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain

By Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, Suzanne Scafe

Why this book?

Heart of the Race is the single most important text of British black feminism. First published in 1985, the book captures the collective experience of black women in Britain and its colonies, highlighting how the long history of slavery and empire, and women’s resistance to them, continues into the present with struggles over healthcare, education, migration, and work. Coming out of the work of the pioneering Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent, the book carefully traces the ways that race, class, and gender are structured together in the lives of African-Caribbean women – what activists would today call…

From the list:

The best books on racism in Britain

Book cover of Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands

By Mary Seacole,

Why this book?

The first autobiography published by an Afro-Caribbean (“Creole”) woman, this “adventure story” chronicles the life of Jamaican icon and national heroine, Mary Seacole who, in her own time, rivaled Florence Nightingale as a founder of modern nursing. The “yaller doctress” became known for her devising of successful treatments for cholera, yellow fever, and malaria in Jamaica and, later, Panama, and became internationally renowned after founding her own hospital-hotel at the frontlines of the Crimean War (1853-1856) where she nursed members of the British military. Upon publication, Seacole’s best-selling life-story gained her awards, acclaim, and the respect of the British nation…
From the list:

The best books on travel and exploration written by women in the Victorian Era

Book cover of Queens: Portraits of Black Women and their Fabulous Hair

Queens: Portraits of Black Women and their Fabulous Hair

By Michael Cunningham, George Alexander,

Why this book?

The narratives in this book from women in the United States, London, and Ghana--accompanied by gorgeous portraits--capture a slice of the Black hair diaspora and the place where it all started: West Africa. The title says it all and yet can’t begin to capture the gorgeous array of women, hairstyles, and lived experiences captured by Cunningham and Alexander.

From the list:

The best books celebrating Black hair

Book cover of Hot Comb

Hot Comb

By Ebony Flowers,

Why this book?

Every panel of Hot Comb is full of music and movement. The dialogue is so perfectly observed it's like sitting on a park bench with a good old friend and overhearing conversations as they pass by. Some of the stories are directly autobiographical I think, and some are not, but they all feel very real and the dynamics of the relationships very familiar. A beautiful and sharp book about small personal everyday things and how huge and political they really are.

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The best comic books that let you sneak into someone else’s brain for the day

Book cover of A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging

A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging

By Dionne Brand,

Why this book?

This travelogue is so exquisitely written it is possible to admire it simply for its lyricism. But it’s much more than a travelogue. Embedded in the book are familial narratives, personal accounts, musings about other writers – Coetzee, Naipaul, Walcott, Galeano, for instance – all with the intent to chart the black diasporic experience. It’s a deeply personal book, yet studded with brilliant observations on belonging. “Black experience in any modern city or town in the Americas is a haunting. One enters a room and history follows; one enters a room and history precedes. History is already seated in the…

From the list:

The best books for believing you've found a home

Book cover of Island Queen

Island Queen

By Vanessa Riley,

Why this book?

Dorothy Kirwan was a real woman, who did real feats of magic and strength. In Riley’s book, we get to peer into this woman who became a Caribbean real estate mogul, despite her disadvantage of being born into enslavement. This Dorothy doesn’t always make the best decisions because she follows her heart—a dalliance with a handsome prince on a boat? Why not? But the times I really want to be Dorothy’s friend is when she goes down to the parties with the not-rich folk. Where she dances and laughs, spins around flirting with whoever happens by. Not to say she…

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Book cover of Girl, Woman, Other

Girl, Woman, Other

By Bernardine Evaristo,

Why this book?

There’s so much to adore about Girl, Women, Other. I’m absolutely obsessed with the razor-sharp prose. I love the polylith-take of modern-day Britain. And I became heavily invested in the interconnected lives of the narrators: twelve very different and predominantly women of colour. Evaristo proves that it’s possible to write about complex, sensitive issues with both zing and wit, and love and care. Peckham and Elephant and Castle also get a mention too! Girl, Women, Other is such a special book. It’s one that I return to time and time again. A timeless, contemporary classic.

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The best books that pay homage to south London

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