Free Black Women’s Library Reading Challenge Update

Continuing with this brilliant reading challenge from the creator of the Free Black Women’s Library, I’ve read several titles, many of which have been noteworthy. I’ve set myself a little additional challenge of writing reviews for each book, as I’ve gotten into the habit on Goodreads of giving a star rating without a written review, which doesn’t do justice to how incredible many of these books are nor to the nuances of the reading experience.

Here are the first four books I read for the challenge this year:

  1. A book you read as a child. As I couldn’t recall reading any books written by Black women writers, for this selection I chose a book that I’ve read with my child, Niama’s Adventures by Renina Johnson is a joy, one we both delight in re-reading. This beautifully illustrated story is an exploration in self-love and Black girl magic, as it follows Niama through her dreamscapes encountering Black women from Nefertiti to Ella Fitzgerald. Renina Johnson is the author of a collection of essays Black Girls are from the Future and runs an online shop offering merchandise featuring the phrase. That I wasn’t able to fulfil this aspect of the challenge speaks to the need for more focus on Black women writers and representation in books for Black girls.
  2. A book set in your home town. Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon, set between London (where I’m from) and Jamaica (where my grandparents are from). I love reading Andrea Levy’s work, it gives me a feeling of what life was like for my grandparents, immigrating to post-war and inhospitable England. This is the third book of hers that I’ve read (after Small Island and Six Stories and an Essay) and I intend to continue reading all that she’s published.
  3. A womanist text. Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory by Michele Wallace. This collection of essays written after her first, controversial book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, spans personal reflections on her childhood and adolescence in Harlem, responses to critiques of her earlier work and  reviews of critical cultural moments in the development of the womanist movement throughout the 1980s. Wallace writes with a considerable, refreshing forthrightness on some contentious topics, mental illness, the Black family and community as well as the strife that occurs in any political movement. In each instance she centres the experiences and epistemologies of Black womanhood, as she asserts, ‘a certain portion of the population — women of colour, mostly — cannot be heard, understood, or adequately recognised by dominant mainstream culture. The considerable wisdom and knowledge of this population remains unincorporated, even as it is indispensable to the survival of the smaller and often marginal communities where women of colour participate and provide leadership.’ (1990)

    ‘Perhaps a multicultural women’s movement is somewhere in the future.’ (1975)
  4. A book you read in school. I’ve substituted a book I wish I could have read in school (as I wasn’t required to read any books written by Black women during my schooling — another reiteration of how crucial it is for greater attentiveness to the work of Black women writers), Black Sexual Politics by Patricia Hill Collins. This book is written in a clear and accessible style and gives historical background to contemporary themes, making it an engaging text suitable for encouraging discussion and critical thinking (other aspects of my education that were lacking at that age). Patricia Hill Collins is the author of several other books, including Black Feminist Theory, another useful introductory text.

The readings so far have provided enriching and rewarding experience; I’m anticipating more wonderful, thought-provoking reads throughout the rest of the year.

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