“A writer’s heart is always breaking…It is through that broken window that we see the world” (Alice Walker)

One of my laments in life these days is that I don’t have time to read as much as I would like to do. I know a number of people who feel the same way. On the eve of the beginning of Black History month, I wanted to share 5 of my favorite authors, voices of Black women who have shaped me in various ways and at various times in my life. Their voices, and their courage in writing, have changed the way I see the world. Sneaking in an Alice Walker quote at the beginning means I am actually sharing six of the voices who have shaped me most.

bell hooks. How can I even begin to think of all the ways her words have shaped me? Pick any of her books, and keep going. I probably learned (and was challenged to think more about) intersectionality from her than any other author. I was in my late 20’s or early 30’s before learning about bell hooks, and I love to introduce students to her work. You can also learn more about her at the bell hooks center @ Berea College: https://www.berea.edu/bhc/about-bell/

Photo credit: Oprah Daily (Ten Essentia bell hooks books)

Roxane Gay. Bad Feminist is my favorite of hers, but everything I have read is good: https://roxanegay.com/ I got to know her work through seeing the title Bad Feminist at the library,and the rest is history.

Rachel Cargle. https://rachelcargle.com/ I first got to know her work through a TED Talk, have read several of her short pieces, and last year in 2021 followed her daily prompts to learn about Black history. I shared these prompts every day in class (for whatever group of students I had that day) and loved learning together with them.

Toni Cade Bambara, author of much, but what I love most is the very first short story I remember reading and re-reading and loving. I love Raymond’s Run even now, 40 something years after first reading it. I actually want to find it now and read it again, this story of a determined sister and her relationship with her brother. It was probably my first time reading a story that included a character with disabilities.

Natasha Trethewey. I have come to appreciate her poetry (she was a two term US Poet Laureate) but learned of her first via her memoir Memorial Drive in which she talks about the murder of her mother. She talks about this tragedy in the context of intimate partner violence, her mother’s coming of age in the Jim Crow south, and more. She decided to write the memoir after seeing her mother’s murder referenced in a story about her (NT), and she decided she didn’t want her mother’s life to be just the equivalent of a footnote in her own.

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