May 6, 2024
15 books that will change the way you think about African and Black women
15 books that will change the way you think about African and Black women

In a world where the narratives of African and black women globally are often sidelined or misrepresented, literature emerges as a potent tool to challenge stereotypes and reshape perceptions. Diving into the writings of women from across the diaspora allows us to uncover stories that defy conventional norms, celebrate resilience, and offer profound insights into gender, identity, and society.

Here are fifteen transformative, paradigm-shifting books that promise to stretch your expectations and change the way you think about African and Afro-diasporic women.

1. Female Monarchs and Merchant Queens in Africa - Dr Nwando Achebe

Dr Achebe’s study of pre-colonial African societies documents rarely-examined structures of African women’s political, economic and spiritual power. Using distinctly African research methods and source material and prioritising indigenous knowledge systems, Achebe documents the influence and authority of African women and the power they held as religious leaders, political strategists and brilliant entrepreneurs.

2. A Regarded Self: Caribbean Womanhood and the Ethics of Disorderly Being - Kaiama L. Glover

Reading the work of Marie Chauvet, Maryse Condé, René Depestre, Marlon James, and Jamaica Kincaid through a fiercely feminist lens, Glover combines literary criticism with oral history to highlight a collection of female characters who upend expectations. She reframes Caribbean literary studies by questioning established standards of morality as well as mainstream standards of literary criticism in order to breathe new life into these stories and characters.

3. The Invention of Women - Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyewumi

This seminal work fundamentally rethinks prevailing conceptions of gender, abandoning the Western binary bio-logic for a more complex, nuanced understanding of how the world is organised. By exploring the construction and application of gender in Old Yoruba society, Oyewumi critiques the concept of biological determinism inherent to Western feminist discourses, highlighting not the fluidity of gender in Old Yoruba society, but the potential for all of us to imagine beyond the gender binary.

4. The Sex Lives of African Women - Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah

This book is a celebration of African women’s pleasure, self-discovery, healing and sexual liberation. A collection of stories narrating the intimate experiences of women across the continent and diaspora, this book is a joy and a necessity.

5. The First Woman - Jennifer Makumbi

This epic coming of age novel by the renowned Ugandan author, Jennifer Makumbi, is a gorgeous retelling of Ugandan folklore, weaving threads of legend and African indigenous feminism and with the relevant, immediate themes of adolescence, womanhood, this book is an intricate literary tapestry and a modern African classic.

6. Black and Female - Tsitsi Dagaremba

This insightful essay collection seamlessly blends the personal and political in an exploration of race, gender and the legacies of empire. Dagaremba uses her own personal  as a touchpoint to explore the nominal inclusion initiatives of African governments, human trafficking and the lasting effects of slave trade and provides a vision of futures which are even now being built by Black feminists across the diaspora.

7. Sister Outsider - Audre Lorde

This Black feminist classic needs no introduction. In this collection of essays, feminist writer, professor, philosopher, activist and poet, Audre Lorde, explores her identities as a cancer survivor, Black woman, lesbian, poet and feminist. This is at once an incredibly influential and impactful piece of the feminist canon and a deeply intimate and vulnerable exploration of the interiorities of a Black, queer woman in relation to multiple overlapping systems of oppression.

8. Standpoints - Edited by Andrea N. Baldwin, Ashley V. Reichelmann, and Anthony Kwame Harrison

This book contains essays which explore Black feminist thought through a diverse set of lenses, divided among sections on U.S. framing and stereotypes, global perspectives, and the future. This book encourages us to imagine new futures which engage with activist culture and reject sexism and racism.

9. Daughters of Africa Anthology

This collection of oral and written stories is an assemblage of the words and wisdom of over 200 women from across the continent and African diaspora. With more than a thousand pages of essays, memoirs, poetry, drama and children’s writing translated from multiple languages and including work from as far back as the 1800s, this is a beautifully diverse representation of the richness and depth of the work of Afro-diasporic women across generations.

10. Male Daughters Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society - Ifi Amadiume

Amadiume’s acclaimed book boldly reframes our understanding of gender, highlighting the radically different gendered structures that existed before the imposition of the Western gender system on the pre-colonial Igbo society. This paradigm-shifting text is a must-read for anyone curious about indigenous social structures and alternative realities for African women and queer people.

11. Vagabonds! - Eloghosa Osunde

This novel-in-stories follows the lives and loves of a rich cast of humans, spirits and divinities living in Lagos, Nigeria. The characters in Vagabonds! are furious, tragic, joyful, and fluid, bending circumstance and stretching the limits of what it means to be queer, to be a woman, to be human in a place where you are outlawed.

12. African Wo/Man Palava - Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi

This book insightfully examines the work of eight Nigerian writers. In the work of Flora Nwapa, Adaora Lily Ulasi, Buchi Emecheta, Funmilayo Fakunle, Ifeoma Okoye, Zaynab Alkali, Eno Obong, and Simi Bedford, Ogunyemi traces the threads of African womanist resistance that bind the work of these authors throughout their various explorations of grief, sexism, totalitarianism and communalism.

13. Re-Creating Ourselves - Molara Ogundipe Leslie

This collection of writing from acclaimed feminist thinker and literary critic, Molara Ogundipe Leslie, is a treasure trove of wisdom. Containing poetry and essays on literature, womanhood, society and the author’s own activism, this book offers ground-breaking perspectives on activism, gender and literature.

14. The Many Faces of Eve - Nawal El Sadaawi  

Inspired by the author’s experiences working as a doctor in villages around Egypt, this is a powerful account of the realities of North African and Arab women. This book documents the historical role of women in religion and literature, examining notions of feminine beauty, womanhood in the time of pharoahs, the archetype of the heroine and many more complex and nuanced narratives of womanhood surrounding women in Egypt and beyond.

15. Reflecting Rogue: Inside the Mind of a Feminist - Pumla Dineo Gqola

In this collection of autobiographical essays on power, pleasure and South African culture, Gqola meditates on both feminist rage and feminist friendship, asking incisive questions about gender-based violence in South Africa pushing for a shift in gender discourse.

These works not only record and interpret the experiences of power, pleasure, resilience, and resistance but also serve as lenses through which to explore the nuanced experiences of women and gender-nonconforming people across the diaspora. By engaging with these narratives, we honor their creators' diverse stories and acknowledge the universal truths and lasting relevance within their pages, carrying forward their legacies of empowerment and understanding.

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