Whether or not you’re signed-up to discuss Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine on June 25th (there’s still room!), you can get your #summerreading on with this Citizen inspired book list. Citizen itself is a collection of poetry that looks explicitly at how the black body survives microaggressions, racism, and violence in the 21st century. What I love about Citizen is that it not only uses text as power, but also includes the work of a number of visual artists. The book is a conversation tool, a collective cry, and its very structure produces action as one has to look up, connect, and engage with a multitude of voices along the way. Citizen got me thinking about the other works of literature I’ve read or hope to read that are contributing to this larger discussion of the black body— especially the black female body—and how it survives.
So, if you’re wondering what to read next, here are six highly recommended titles, written by badass women of color, that I believe are in direct conversation with Rankine’s work:
1. Push Out: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris
This book, out just this March, is one I’ve had my eye on for some time. Much discussion has been had over the school-to-prison pipeline fate of young black boys in America, but Morris shines a light specifically on the experiences of young black girls in the U.S. school system. I am super excited to read this nonfiction work, and who knows, maybe you’ll see it on the docket for a #blackunicornbookclub discussion one of these days soon…
2. Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis
I had the pleasure of hearing Robin Coste Lewis read from her 2015 National Book Award winning poetry collection at Michigan State University a couple of months ago and I was blown away. The book’s middle section is one long found poem made up of the titles of various art pieces depicting black bodies throughout art history. In the same way that Rankine creates a collective of voices in Citizen, Lewis too creates a community and cry of voices in this work. Deeply moving, deeply historical, and wonderfully crafted, her poems are pieces of art in themselves.
3. The Sisters Are All Right: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris
I first heard about this book when author Tamara Winfrey Harris was interviewed on the super necessary and fresh podcast Black Girls Talking. After hearing her speak, I ordered the book and devoured it in less than a week. Covering everything from motherhood, marriage, sex, anger, and strength— this book is woven with powerful statistics, celebrations, and tips for survival and visibility. A great reminder that in the face of so much pain and injustice there is and always has been #blackwomanmagic.
4. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
I have been a fan of Issa Rae since her YouTube series “Awkward Black Girl” dropped 2011. I was living in Oakland, CA at the time and my roommate and I would wait patiently each week and then laugh, rewind, and laugh again through each new episode. The book, similar to the series, chronicles Issa Rae’s experiences dealing with workplace racism, friendships, love, and what it means to be an introvert, love her natural hair, and more. The book is witty, awkward at times, but totally lovable and again full of #blackwomanmagic and joy.
5. Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney
Do yourself a favor and just buy this book. You’ll want it for your personal collection, and you’ll want to go back to it again and again. It won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011, where Finney delivered one of the most gracious and powerful acceptance speeches, ever. Her poetry is personal, historical, and razor focused on black female figures, love, and survival. “The Condoleezza Suite” is one of my favorite poems in this book as it provides an empathetic and human glimpse into the life of a woman who is often demonized in the public light.
6. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
One of my most beloved short story collections, ever. The title story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” (featured in the New Yorker) and “Brownies” are two of my favorites, but let’s be honest, this whole book is pure gold. ZZ Packer writes unflinchingly about race, relationships between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, lovers, friends, etc., as well as what it means to live as a person of color in a mostly white space. I go back to this book again and again, it’s just that good.
Of course there are many more books in conversation with Citizen, but here’s hoping this list will get you started! Happy reading, Unicorns.