The Free Black Women’s Library Reading Challenge: 2017 round up!

Having made my selections for this year’s Free Black Women’s Library reading challenge I realise that towards the second half of last year I had not updated with any selections or reviews for the 2017 challenge. Here they all are with a star rating!


1. A novel set in your hometown (London): Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy. Five stars.

2. A book from your childhood (substituted for a book I read with my child): Niama’s Adventures by Renina Johnson. Five stars.

3. A womanist text: Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory by Michele Wallace. Five stars.

4. A book you had to read in school (substituted for a book I wish I’d read in school): Black Sexual Politics by Patricia Hill Collins. Three stars.

5. A book with one word title: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Five stars.

6. A YA novel: Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman. Five stars.

7. Poetry book: Citizen by Claudia Rankine. Five stars.

8. A romance novel: Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins. Four stars.

9. A spiritual text: Be Love by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel. Four stars.

10. A play: For Colored Girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange. Five stars.

11. A memoir: Assata by Assata Shakur. Five stars.

12. A novel by Octavia Butler: Kindred. Three stars.

13. A novel by Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon. Five stars.

14. A book by Alice Walker: In Search of My Mother’s Garden. Five stars.

15. A chick lit novel: I Wish I Had a Red Dress by Pearl Cleage. Four stars.

16. An urban fiction novel: Sister Souljah reader’s companion by Sister Souljah. Three stars

17. A text written 100 years ago: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley. Four stars.

18. A book by an African author: Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo. Three stars.

19. A book by a Caribbean author: Pepper Seed by Malika Booker. Four stars.

20. A book released last year: Spill: Scenes of Back Feminist Fugitivity by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Four stars.

21. A book by Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God. Five stars.

22. A book with a name in the title: Zami, a new spelling of my name, an biomythology by Audre Lorde. Five stars.

23. An Afro-Futurist text: Bloodchild by Octavia Butler. Three stars.

24. A self-help book: Every Body Yoga: Let go of fear, get on the mat, love your body by Jessamyn Stanley. Four stars.

25. A recipe book: 28 Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot by Jessica Jones and Wendy Lopez. Four stars.

26. A book by a lesbian or bisexual author/about lesbianism or bisexuality: Afrekete edited by L. Joyce DeLaney. Five stars.

27. A short story collection: What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. Two stars.


Such a rich and rewarding year of reading. All those with a four or five star rating I highly recommend!


The Free Black Women’s Library Reading Challenge 2018

Another year of reading books written by Black women. And so far some wonderful, life-affirming books. Here are the first eight of the categories I’ve read:

A book with a name in the title: The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

A romance: Indigo by Beverly Jenkins

A book by Toni Morrison: A Mercy

Afro-futurist text: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

A spiritual text: Radical Dharma by Rev. angel Kyodo williams

YA: Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

Lesbian non-fiction anthology: I Am Your Sister by Audre Lorde

Contemporary womanist text (post-2000): Some of Us Did Not Die by June Jordan


I’ve finally planned out the remaining categories with the exception of urban fiction, which I think is the only prompt that I’ll skip this year.

A book published in the past year: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

A book by an activist or revolutionary: If They Come in the Morning by Angela Davis

A story or poetry collection by a lesbian author: Bodies of Water by Michelle Cliff

A book by Alice Walker: Meridian

A classic: The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara

A novel centring female friendship: So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba

By a Caribbean author: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Health and healing: Sistah Vegan by A. Breeze Harper

Self-help text: This Is Woman’s Work by Dominique Christina

A banned book: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Set in your hometown: Never Far From Nowhere by Andrea Levy

Vintage womanist text (pre-2000): Black Macho and the Myth of the Super Woman by Michele Wallace

One word in the title: Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks

Recommended by someone you love or admire: Daughters of Africa by Margaret Busby (recommended by poet nayyirah waheed)

A play: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansbury

An African author: The Joy of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

Memoir: Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

A book by Octavia Butler: Parable of the Sower

A book by Zora Neale Hurston: Of Mules and Men

Written with patois or creole language: Long Song by Andrea Levy


More information about the Free Black Women’s Library can be found at:

Mothering and the Body

A pregnant body becomes a body subject to heightened public commentary.

When pregnant others told me what was signified by my size, small for four months for five and for six, then big, big enough at eight months to elicit comments—“should you be out?”—startling me, should i be in confinement… appropriate growth measured by midwives, old wives tales: girls steal your beauty, a high bump means…i forget. The body seemed obscene.

At nine months red scars across my abdomen, wide and deep. I gave birth, 41weeks+6days. Nine pounds two ounces baby. Boy.

Post-partum body cantankerous with ailments, i gave little thought to appearances. I barely thought of myself as visible.

My body, a sight. Seen from above.

The Bodies of Mothers by Jade Beall


I came upon Jade Beall’s photography through a body positivity blog. Each photograph reassuring of the miraculous naturalness, the particular ordinariness of the transformations a woman’s body generates. And learning of her kickstarter, contributed. In return i received a signed copy of her book, The Bodies of Mothers, on publication. A truly beautiful and uplifting collection of photographs of women postpartum  accompanied by heartfelt personal accounts of women’s experiences in their bodies as mothers.

When my child’s father insisted my body, already an object in his eyes, was a thing i needed to “get fixed”, i thought he was wrong; turning to the photographs so lovingly arrayed in this treasury of images, i could see nothing broken, nothing in need of fixing, nothing but beauty, compassion, and courage. Women whose bodies in their diversity share similarities with mine. In a bleak time i felt heartened by their faraway sisterhood. For this The Bodies of Mothers is a book i cherish and hold with great gratitude to Jade Beall and all the women who bravely, joyously collaborated with her in creating it.


You can find out more about Jade Beall’s photographic work documenting the stories of women’s experiences in becoming mothers at

Representation Matters: For Black Girls

Prompted by the Free Black Women’s Library reading challenge to select a book i read as a child written by a Black woman, i could think of not one. I was an avid reader throughout my childhood, but i grew up in a predominantly white neighbourhood, raised mostly by my white relatives. Still, it was a somewhat startling realisation. Over the years i’ve heard intermittently conversations around the self-esteem of Black boys, their need for positive role models in the formation of their sense of self. I’ve not heard comparable conversations relating to the need for Black girls to also be raised in an environment that fosters in them a sense of themselves as capable, beautiful, able to flourish and receive love. Might such seeing representations of Black girlhood have altered my own self-conception?

The abiding memory of my naissant sense of appearance, how it was perceived by others, how i was reflected in the world, was of not mattering, and of being less of a girl for being Black. My Blackness negated my girlness, any potential for pretty, and left me feeling both less and more visible. More visible in that i stood out, my hair grew in long, voluminous kinky-curls, my skin a deeper tone than the other children in the school i attended, my lips fuller, my nose distinctly African in its shape. I was conscious of this difference, and was made more conscious still of its connotations by the comments, the looks. It marked me out in a way that felt uncomfortable, and yet obscured me by its very definiteness. Whoever i was inside, that person was less perceptible behind the stereotypes.

I read. I must have engaged in reading more than in any other activity. I was searching for clues. For how to access this liveability the other girls seemed to wear with so much ease. In reading I felt more a person than in any other area of life. I could think through books without needing to be conscious of race, the word itself felt embarrassing to me, warmed me with a sense of having been implicated in something despicable about which I should be ashamed without knowing why.

It has only been in adulthood i’ve come to comprehend this was never my shame to bear; and it has been through reading the work of People of Colour that this understanding has blossomed into pride in the ancestry we share. All this brings the questions again to the forefront of my mind, how might my path have been altered had I learned to find joy and strength and beauty in Blackness, in Black womanhood, through hearing stories told of girls who looked like me? Seen books in which Black girls were neither absent not marginalised, but centred and celebrated?

I don’t yet have a daughter, but here are three books I’ve been reading with my son (I believe in the importance of ensuring that boys too read books with female protagonists, perhaps a subject I’ll return to at another time).

Image result for homemade love bell hooks

Homemade Love by bell hooks, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Melodic language and endearing, vibrant illustrations make this a heartwarming book for children. Bell hooks has created a beautiful portrait of a loving family and the sense of safety within. A favourite in our household and still much requested by my child.

Image result for frisette en fete bell hooks

Frisettes en fete by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Rauschka

Lively, bright, and joyous, this book is a delightful celebration of Black girls and the diversity of their hair. Bell hooks’ melodious language and Rauschka’s vibrant, whimsical illustrations make Frisette en fete a pleasure to read.

Image result for niama's adventures

Niama’s Adventures by Renina Johnson, illustrated by Tiffany Gholar

A delightful book, ideal for stimulating imagination and inquisitiveness in young readers. The illustrations are enchanting and the story uplifting. In her reveries Niama encounters inspiring black women through the ages each one affirming her sense of magic and possibility. Carefree and fearless, Niama’s sense of adventure makes for a captivating, highly endearing character, one I hope to see in more books to come!

Four further selections for the Free Black Women’s Library reading challenge

14. A book released last year. Spill: Fugitive Scenes by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is an African American poet, artist, and educator, who has previously edited a collection of essays focused on women of colour and other marginalised mothers, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines. Spill: Fugitive Scenes is an experimental and unusual piece. An interactive text, in dialogue with Hortense Spillers, another Black woman writer I’d not heard of and whose work I am now keen to read.

‘before black is bad and broken i am more. i am not coin or token. i am deepest spell spoken. and you are shook. i am the energy of birth that you took. i am every blackened letter pressing on the book. and before that.’

15. A Caribbean author. Pepper Seed by Malika Booker.

Malika Booker is a Guyanese-Grenadian poet. I came across this collection of poetry, Pepper Seed, when it was reviewed by Didi of Brown Girl Reading. These poems are infused with Caribbean history and culture, redolent with ancestral voices and the search for belonging.

I stand at this cliff’s edge waiting for the bones

to rise and reclaim their names.

16. A book by Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon.

Since reading Beloved I’ve been gradually reading each of Morrison’s novels. The next on my list was Song of Solomon, one I’ve been very much looking forward to reading and like each of her other novels I was enthralled by the deftness with which Morrison writes; her work is stunningly brilliant.

‘She needed what most colored girls needed: a chorus of mamas, grandmamas, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbours, Sunday school teachers, best girl friends, and what all to give her the strength life demanded of her.’

17. Self help type text. Every Body Yoga: let go of fear, get on the mat, love your body by Jessamyn Stanley.

Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga teacher whom I’ve been following on instagram for some time and was excited to learn that she would be publishing this book. Every Body Yoga is part memoir part motivational text part yoga workbook. As my own yoga practice has been fallow for a long while I consider this book to be ‘self-help’ in the sense that i need all the help i can get to bring myself back to the mat and reestablish a home practice. Jessamyn’s writing is frank direct and unpretentious. Her accessible and inclusive teaching style is reflected in the accompanying photographs and illustrations. The sequences that i’m practicing include i want to feel strong, i need to feel balanced, i need to release fear. Gentle, refreshing, uplifting.

Read Soul Lit Photo Challenge

For Black History Month this year Didi of Brown Girl Reading has brought back her #ReadSoulLit photo challenge, continuing her impressive work encouraging readers to share their recommendations of books by Black authors. Participating has been enjoyable and inspiring; I’ve been so heartened to see such a diversity of books being shared and celebrated. Here are my notes on the first seven days of the challenge (with more to follow).

  1. #ReadSoulLit TBR: Meridean by Alice Walker, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
  2. January Wrap Up: The Racial Imaginary by Claudia Rankine, Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy, Invisibility Blues by Michele Wallace. Wonderful, life-enhancing reads to begin the year!
  3. Book and a drink: I skipped this! Somehow the thought of posting a drink felt self-indulgent, but I wonder now if I’ll post one anyhow even though it’s late.
  4. Books that made you cry: Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie’s writing and characterisation are unsurpassable and reading her novels is an emotionally, as well as intellectually, evocative experience.
  5. 5 Star Reads: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Monstrous Intimacies by Christina Sharpe, The Racial Imaginary by Claudia Rankine. All three of these very different books were illuminating and thought-provoking.
  6. Favourite reads of 2017: This is Woman’s Work by Dominique Christina. An unusual and arresting read from an awe-inspiring poet. This is a book I intend to reread this year, to engage with the writing exercises more deeply.
  7. Under-rated authors: J. Nozipo Maraire, author of Zenzele: A Letter to My Daughter. I stumbled across this book on the instagram account of Jewels for Books, an initiative to raise funds to build a library in Elmina, Ghana. The novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read, written with such nuance and filled with a tenderness that is unforgettable.
  8. Most anticipated read of the year: Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley. Having followed Jessamyn on instagram for some time it’s heartening to see her growing success and I’m eager to read more about her yogini journey, particularly as I’m seeking to re-establish my own yoga practice this year.
  9. A favourite poem: Lemon Tree by Will Holt. A poignant and timely poem; the epigraph from Andrea Levy’s wonderfully touching novel Fruit of the Lemon.
  10.  Currently reading: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. This novel has been on my tbr list for a while, it’s been my intention to read all of Toni Morrison’s novels and this one, as expected, does not disappoint.
  11. Book spine poetry. This was the photo of the challenge that most excited me. It isn’t a concept that I’ve come across before and I enjoyed this playfulness. The other side of Paradise/ They are all me/ Beloved/ We need new names.
  12. A classic: Beloved by Toni Morrison. This was the second of Morrison’s novels that i read and the one that most impacted me. Incomparable.
  13. Black books tower. Having read so few books by People of Colour and by Black authors in particular throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I’ve been seeking out these for the past couple of years. Collection growing, never complete.
  14. ReadSoulLit haul. Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy by Trista Hendren, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy, Assata by Assata Shakur, Invisibility Blues by Michele Wallace, Spill by Alexis Gumbs, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I’m thankful for each of these memorable and world-expanding books.
  15. A favourite poet, Nayyirah Waheed, whose poems are so steeped in love.
  16. Oldest TBR, Black Athena: the Arfroasiatic roots of classical civilization by Martin Bernal. I bought this years ago when I saw it in a second hand bookshop. As it’s quite in depth I think I’d need to do some companion reading to put it in context and be able to see it with a critical eye.
  17. A cover buy: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I didn’t buy this for the cover but I do think it’s one of the most eye-catching covers that can be seen in bookstores now. I chose this novel as part of the @thefreeblackwomenslibrary reading challenge, a book with one word in the title. The word homegoing is so poignantly evocative of the many-layered experiences within the African diaspora and in this novel Yaa Gyasi brings the nearness of our ancestry into undeniable view.
  18. Required reading: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. Indispensable.
  19. A selfie and a book: Beyond the Masks by Amina Mama. Hiding out a little behind the cover. This is a book that deserves a wider readership. Here’s a snippet: ‘The frequency of references to other times and places in black women’s poetry and discussions demonstrates a willingness to reach across the seas and centuries in their creative effort to forge new subjectivities which invoke subaltern images of female heroism.’
  20. Non-fiction. My well-loved copies of bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions and Salvation: Black People and Love. ‘A love ethic is the only foundation for transformative renewal of ourselves.’
  21. A book that’s been recommended to you. In one of her videos @sensei_aishitemasu recommends this series by Beverly Jenkins. I was unfamiliar with her books, written in a genre I don’t usually read but as I’m taking part in @thefreeblackwomenslibrary reading challenge I chose Destiny’s Embrace for the romance category and I enjoyed reading something different.
  22. Books and a bag (a sweet gift from the past holiday season). Staceyann Chin’s memoir of her childhood in Jamaica, The Other Side of Paradise. The Spirit of Intimacy by Sobonfu Somé. Overcoming Speechlessness by Alice Walker, her poetic account of her travels in Palestine, Rwada, and Congo.

I skipped a few! This was a lovely concept to engage with and encouraged me to find new recommendations as well as encounter more diverse readers to share thoughts with. I look forward to next year.



The Free Black Women’s Library Reading Challenge

The Free Black Women’s Library, an interactive pop up library in Brooklyn, New York, began as a community book exchange in 2014 to share books written by Black women authors. The collection now features over 500 books donated by the public and available for exchange at the mobile pop ups, held throughout the city and open to all. This year the initiative has expanded to include the Free Black Women’s Library Reading Challenge: in 2017 read 26 books written by Black women (see categories below). I’ll be reading along and sharing my picks (and some thoughts) throughout the year!

Find out more at facebook/FreeBlackWomansLibrary and on instagram @freeblackwomanslibrary

A book from your childhood
A book you had to read in school
A book by a Caribbean author
A book by an African author
A romance or erotica novel
A memoir or autobiography
A Black feminist/womanist text
An urban fiction story
An Afro Futurist novel (Science Fiction/ Speculative/ Fantasy/Horror)
A collection of poetry or short stories
A book based in spirituality, religion or sacred ideology
A YA novel
A book classified as self help, personal development focusing on things like pleasure, self-care, finances, health, life strategy
A recipe book (attempt to cook 1 to 3 items)
Any book by Toni Morrison
Any book by Alice Walker
Any book by Zora Neale Hurston
Any book by Octavia Butler
A book that would be classified as “Chick Lit”
A book from 100 years ago
A book classified as LGBTQ via its author or content
A book that came out in the last year
A book set in your hometown
A book with a one word title
A book with a person’s name in the title
A book that is (or became) a play or film
Please tag The Free Black Women’s Library in your photos of the books you have chosen and use the hashtags –
#TheFreeBlackwomensLibrary #TFBWLReadingChallenge #TFBWL #26BlackWomen #TFBWL26 #BlackWomanBibliophile