For My Sistah(s): A Black Feminist Queer Consciousness-Raising Book List

April 3, 2012
By

By Kiyan Williams

I am the over-protective older brother of a fourteen-year old young black woman. And I am worried for her.

I was worried for her on my bus ride home last week when I witnessed a man verbally assault a young woman who I imagined as my little sister in a few years. In his drunken slur, her attacker made vulgar sexual advances towards her, and when she rebuffed, he spat a filthy barrage of denigrating, crude attacks about her body size and dark skin. The overprotective brother in me emerged incensed and ready to defend this sister, but before I intervened she responded with a fierce affirmation of her beauty and self-worth that left her assaulter in a stupefied silence.

As my sister matures into a young woman I am forced to realize that I cannot be everywhere to protect her from the hostility of a world that is at war with young women, especially young women of color. I cannot protect her from a virtual world in which racist, misogynistic, and or homo/transphobic discourses spread rampantly on public platforms like Twitter—a world that would have her believe that domestic violence and victim blaming, as witnessed in the backlash against Rihanna after Chris Brown viciously beat her, are acceptable. And so I hope that she will grow to embody the confidence and self-love that I witnessed in the sistah on my bus ride home so that she will be able to hold her own.

For those of us black and brown, female, queer, trans, and/or marginalized in the white supremacist patriarchal capitalist project, we are not taught to fully embrace ourselves, our humanity. On the contrary, we are often taught to despise ourselves and our perceived differences. We must embark on a life long struggle to liberate ourselves from that which would render us unworthy of life and happiness. Self-love is not a narcissistic indulgence; it is an act of self-preservation and radical resistance. Self-love is what I want for my sister, for all of my sistahs (and brothas and bristahs): a form of love that affirms our individual and collective humanity; a form of love that will save us from that which would rob us of our beauty and sublimity.

What follows is a list of books suggested by friends as well as my personal choices that helped instigate our journeys toward love of self and others; interrogation of normalized sexist, racist, and or homo/transphobic values; and insistence on living self-determined, love-filled lives as black, brown, female, and or queer people. The list includes readings by Afro Diasporic women writers who capture the struggles and triumphs of women of color in their labors for fulfillment and wholeness.

Annie John – Jamaica Kincaid

Annie Allen – Gwendolyn Brooks

Assata : An Autobiography – Assata Shakur

Betsey Brown – Ntozake Shange

Black Girl in Paris - Shay Youngblood

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

Bone Black - bell hooks

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

The Coldest Winter Ever – Sister Soldier

Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology – Barbara Smith

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem - Maryse Conde

Kendra – Coe Booth

Kindred – Octavia Butler

Liliane - Ntozake Shange

A Piece of Mine – J. California Cooper

Possessing the Secret of Joy - Alice Walker

Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde

Soldier - June Jordan

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

The Women of Brewster Place – Gloria Naylor

Unburnable – Marie-Elena John

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name - Audre Lorde

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this list for your wisdom and insights! What were some books that sparked your black/brown/feminist/queer consciousness?

____________________________________

Kiyan Williams hails from Newark, NJ. He is an undergraduate at Stanford University.

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36 Responses to For My Sistah(s): A Black Feminist Queer Consciousness-Raising Book List

  1. Diana Pei Wu on April 3, 2012 at 6:54 am

    * Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands / La Frontera, and This Bridge Called My Back (when i read her writing i was like, she uses spanish and english the way me and my friends use mandarin and english, and it was a revelation)
    * Ntozake Shange! (For Colored Girls; Liliane; Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo)
    * Audre Lorde! (everything!)
    * Larissa Lai, When Fox Turns A Thousand (the lead character's name is Artemis and mine is Diana so I had a special kinship with her; she is bookish; and it is a fantastic weaving of stories, myth, otherworlds, this one, and many lovers)
    * Maxine Hong Kingston, Warrior Woman (as old, outdated and problematic as it was, I had not read any stories about Chinese Americans, nevermind Chinese American women, until that point)

    • rochelle robinson on April 7, 2012 at 12:47 am

      yes, yes, diana! i also love bell hooks-sisters of the yam: black women and self-recovery; toni cade bambara-the black woman: an anthology; sisterfire: black womanist fiction and poetry, edited by charlotte watson sherman; reading black, reading feminist, edited by henry louis gates jr.

  2. Diana Pei Wu on April 3, 2012 at 6:54 am

    * Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands / La Frontera, and This Bridge Called My Back (when i read her writing i was like, she uses spanish and english the way me and my friends use mandarin and english, and it was a revelation)
    * Ntozake Shange! (For Colored Girls; Liliane; Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo)
    * Audre Lorde! (everything!)
    * Larissa Lai, When Fox Turns A Thousand (the lead character's name is Artemis and mine is Diana so I had a special kinship with her; she is bookish; and it is a fantastic weaving of stories, myth, otherworlds, this one, and many lovers)
    * Maxine Hong Kingston, Warrior Woman (as old, outdated and problematic as it was, I had not read any stories about Chinese Americans, nevermind Chinese American women, until that point)

    • rochelle robinson on April 7, 2012 at 12:47 am

      yes, yes, diana! i also love bell hooks-sisters of the yam: black women and self-recovery; toni cade bambara-the black woman: an anthology; sisterfire: black womanist fiction and poetry, edited by charlotte watson sherman; reading black, reading feminist, edited by henry louis gates jr.

  3. Diana Pei Wu on April 3, 2012 at 6:54 am

    * Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands / La Frontera, and This Bridge Called My Back (when i read her writing i was like, she uses spanish and english the way me and my friends use mandarin and english, and it was a revelation)
    * Ntozake Shange! (For Colored Girls; Liliane; Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo)
    * Audre Lorde! (everything!)
    * Larissa Lai, When Fox Turns A Thousand (the lead character's name is Artemis and mine is Diana so I had a special kinship with her; she is bookish; and it is a fantastic weaving of stories, myth, otherworlds, this one, and many lovers)
    * Maxine Hong Kingston, Warrior Woman (as old, outdated and problematic as it was, I had not read any stories about Chinese Americans, nevermind Chinese American women, until that point)

    • rochelle robinson on April 7, 2012 at 12:47 am

      yes, yes, diana! i also love bell hooks-sisters of the yam: black women and self-recovery; toni cade bambara-the black woman: an anthology; sisterfire: black womanist fiction and poetry, edited by charlotte watson sherman; reading black, reading feminist, edited by henry louis gates jr.

  4. Diana Pei Wu on April 3, 2012 at 6:54 am

    * Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands / La Frontera, and This Bridge Called My Back (when i read her writing i was like, she uses spanish and english the way me and my friends use mandarin and english, and it was a revelation)
    * Ntozake Shange! (For Colored Girls; Liliane; Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo)
    * Audre Lorde! (everything!)
    * Larissa Lai, When Fox Turns A Thousand (the lead character's name is Artemis and mine is Diana so I had a special kinship with her; she is bookish; and it is a fantastic weaving of stories, myth, otherworlds, this one, and many lovers)
    * Maxine Hong Kingston, Warrior Woman (as old, outdated and problematic as it was, I had not read any stories about Chinese Americans, nevermind Chinese American women, until that point)

    • rochelle robinson on April 7, 2012 at 12:47 am

      yes, yes, diana! i also love bell hooks-sisters of the yam: black women and self-recovery; toni cade bambara-the black woman: an anthology; sisterfire: black womanist fiction and poetry, edited by charlotte watson sherman; reading black, reading feminist, edited by henry louis gates jr.

  5. Monique Gee on April 3, 2012 at 8:11 am

    I am very proud to see a young brother from the same city that I'm from make it and strive for a better and educated life …….peace & love

  6. Monique Gee on April 3, 2012 at 8:11 am

    I am very proud to see a young brother from the same city that I'm from make it and strive for a better and educated life …….peace & love

  7. Monique Gee on April 3, 2012 at 8:11 am

    I am very proud to see a young brother from the same city that I'm from make it and strive for a better and educated life …….peace & love

  8. Monique Gee on April 3, 2012 at 8:11 am

    I am very proud to see a young brother from the same city that I'm from make it and strive for a better and educated life …….peace & love

  9. Koritha Mitchell on April 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for this article! Literature can definitely give us the strength we need. I will check out the books on this list that I haven’t read, so thank you. I must admit, though, that I’m totally baffled by the inclusion of *Unburnable* on this list. That is a truly disturbing book that I think makes a peculiar spectacle of its gorgeous, dark-skinned protagonist. The rigorous online book club LITERARY FICTION BY PEOPLE OF COLOR on goodreads.com discussed this book beginning in July 2011. I won’t duplicate what I said there here, but that conversation might be worth checking out if people are considering giving *Unburnable* to a friend. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/376.Literary_

  10. Koritha Mitchell on April 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for this article! Literature can definitely give us the strength we need. I will check out the books on this list that I haven’t read, so thank you. I must admit, though, that I’m totally baffled by the inclusion of *Unburnable* on this list. That is a truly disturbing book that I think makes a peculiar spectacle of its gorgeous, dark-skinned protagonist. The rigorous online book club LITERARY FICTION BY PEOPLE OF COLOR on goodreads.com discussed this book beginning in July 2011. I won’t duplicate what I said there here, but that conversation might be worth checking out if people are considering giving *Unburnable* to a friend. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/376.Literary_

  11. Koritha Mitchell on April 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for this article! Literature can definitely give us the strength we need. I will check out the books on this list that I haven’t read, so thank you. I must admit, though, that I’m totally baffled by the inclusion of *Unburnable* on this list. That is a truly disturbing book that I think makes a peculiar spectacle of its gorgeous, dark-skinned protagonist. The rigorous online book club LITERARY FICTION BY PEOPLE OF COLOR on goodreads.com discussed this book beginning in July 2011. I won’t duplicate what I said there here, but that conversation might be worth checking out if people are considering giving *Unburnable* to a friend. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/376.Literary_

  12. Koritha Mitchell on April 3, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for this article! Literature can definitely give us the strength we need. I will check out the books on this list that I haven’t read, so thank you. I must admit, though, that I’m totally baffled by the inclusion of *Unburnable* on this list. That is a truly disturbing book that I think makes a peculiar spectacle of its gorgeous, dark-skinned protagonist. The rigorous online book club LITERARY FICTION BY PEOPLE OF COLOR on goodreads.com discussed this book beginning in July 2011. I won’t duplicate what I said there here, but that conversation might be worth checking out if people are considering giving *Unburnable* to a friend. http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/376.Literary_

  13. Blair Smith on April 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    June Jordan – Some of Us Did Not Die

  14. Blair Smith on April 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    June Jordan – Some of Us Did Not Die

  15. Blair Smith on April 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    June Jordan – Some of Us Did Not Die

  16. Blair Smith on April 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    June Jordan – Some of Us Did Not Die

  17. Aleia on April 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I am captivated by your words, and so much of it resonates with me. Save this and have your sister write her reaction in 10 or 15 years.

    Always in liberation

  18. Aleia on April 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I am captivated by your words, and so much of it resonates with me. Save this and have your sister write her reaction in 10 or 15 years.

    Always in liberation

  19. Aleia on April 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I am captivated by your words, and so much of it resonates with me. Save this and have your sister write her reaction in 10 or 15 years.

    Always in liberation

  20. Aleia on April 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I am captivated by your words, and so much of it resonates with me. Save this and have your sister write her reaction in 10 or 15 years.

    Always in liberation

  21. Naomi on April 6, 2012 at 4:52 am

    Kiyan, I love this piece! Thank you! In addition, I have found "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to be very valuable.

  22. Naomi on April 6, 2012 at 4:52 am

    Kiyan, I love this piece! Thank you! In addition, I have found "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to be very valuable.

  23. Naomi on April 6, 2012 at 4:52 am

    Kiyan, I love this piece! Thank you! In addition, I have found "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to be very valuable.

  24. Naomi on April 6, 2012 at 4:52 am

    Kiyan, I love this piece! Thank you! In addition, I have found "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to be very valuable.

  25. NinaG on April 9, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Awesome brother. Great list. I'm planning to read Annie John this summer.
    Black Girl in Paris is one of my favorite fiction books.
    When I was younger and just growing into being a woman, Longing to Tell from Tricia Rose was my favorite book. I owe it a re-reading.

  26. NinaG on April 9, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Awesome brother. Great list. I'm planning to read Annie John this summer.
    Black Girl in Paris is one of my favorite fiction books.
    When I was younger and just growing into being a woman, Longing to Tell from Tricia Rose was my favorite book. I owe it a re-reading.

  27. NinaG on April 9, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Awesome brother. Great list. I'm planning to read Annie John this summer.
    Black Girl in Paris is one of my favorite fiction books.
    When I was younger and just growing into being a woman, Longing to Tell from Tricia Rose was my favorite book. I owe it a re-reading.

  28. NinaG on April 9, 2012 at 8:43 am

    Awesome brother. Great list. I'm planning to read Annie John this summer.
    Black Girl in Paris is one of my favorite fiction books.
    When I was younger and just growing into being a woman, Longing to Tell from Tricia Rose was my favorite book. I owe it a re-reading.

  29. Faith on April 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    The Coldest Winter Ever is by Sister Souljah, not Sister Soldier. Took me a while to track it down! Thanks for this list.

  30. Faith on April 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    The Coldest Winter Ever is by Sister Souljah, not Sister Soldier. Took me a while to track it down! Thanks for this list.

  31. Faith on April 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    The Coldest Winter Ever is by Sister Souljah, not Sister Soldier. Took me a while to track it down! Thanks for this list.

  32. Faith on April 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    The Coldest Winter Ever is by Sister Souljah, not Sister Soldier. Took me a while to track it down! Thanks for this list.

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