When I was 19 years old I read Bell Hooks, and so many parts of a puzzle fell into place for me. As a Ghanaian girl who had recently moved to the U.K. to study, Hooks was instrumental in shaping my understanding of gender and racial dynamics, and although her context was the U.S. she provided me with a conceptual understanding of the world in which I now found myself. Without a doubt, ‘Black Looks: Race and Representation’, and ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ were books that definitely changed my life.
A couple of years later, Ruth Frankenberg’s ‘White Women: Race Matters’ helped me understand ‘white supremacy’ in the clearest terms. In more recent times, Edwidge Danticat’s ‘Create Dangerously’ has reminded me of my own love for non-fiction, and inspired me to start working on a collection of essays. Time and time again, I have found books to be a source of inspiration, and learning. I believe that a good book can even change the course of one’s life. With this in mind, I reached out to a number of Black feminists across the globe and asked them, “which feminist book had the most impact on you and why?” This is what they had to say:
Jessica Horn is a feminist activist, writer and technical advisor on women’s rights – passionate about the struggle for African women to live empowered, healthy lives in their bodies | @stillsherises
“I first encountered June Jordan’s ‘Moving towards home: Political essays’ as an undergraduate student. It is undoubtedly the poet in her that gave her an incredible ability to make you feel her political point – not just understand it intellectually, but feel the meaning behind it. She is broad and brave in the issues she tackles, from black literature to sexuality to apartheid, and the accountability of revolutionary leadership. She offers all of this with a clear feminist voice and an honesty that makes you want to ask yourself whether you are being true to your own transformative politics.”
Kinna Likimani is the programs director of Mbaasem, an NGO that supports and promotes women’s writing in Ghana and across Africa. She is also a blogger and blogs about books via www.kinnareads.com| @kinnareads
“I’m an avid reader who grew up surrounded by all kinds of feminist literature so I can’t name just one book. Instead, I’ll pick out a few that early on formed and expanded my view of feminist writing.
1. Stories for Growing Young Minds published in the centerfold of Ms. Magazine of the ‘70s and ‘80s – I trace my love of the short story genre to these stories. Wildly entertaining and exciting to my young mind, these stories expanded my view of what was possible for children, particularly for girls. Plus a story or two with genderless characters were just too good to pass up!
2. Two plays: The Marriage of Anansewa by Efua Sutherland and Anowa by Ama Ata Aidoo – Sutherland for her innovative use of Anansesem (folktales) and Aidoo for Anowa’s independence and agency in her choices.
3. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings. – A seminal book on how Black women have shaped American history and culture. A profound book and my first comprehensive introduction to Ida B. Wells.
4. Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writing by Women of African Descent (1992) edited by Margaret Busby. The most extraordinary and most essential compilation ever. I still hold the first edition and thumb through to writings from women who are routinely omitted from literary history.”
Fungai Machirori is a Blogger and Founder of Her Zimbabwe, a feminist platform harnessing the potential of digital media to share and tell Zimbabwe women’s stories. |www.herzimbabwe.co.zw|@fungaijustbeing |@herzimbabwe
“The Uncertainty of Hope’ by Zimbabwean author, Valerie Tagwira. I feel it aptly captures and represents the struggle of so many women amid the socio-political demise of Zimbabwe in the early 2000s. The novel’s protagonist, Onai, is a market vendor who has to provide for her family under extraordinary circumstances of general economic and political uncertainty, as well as the torment of an abusive and unfaithful husband.
It’s widely acknowledged that through the economic difficulties that Zimbabwe has gone through over the last 15 or so years, women in the informal sector have played a key role in sustaining lives and households. Onai’s story reads, at least to me, as a tribute to the many Zimbabwean women whose often undocumented traumas, triumphs and endurance anchor our present narrative.”
Jen Thorpe is the Editor of FeministsSA.com, and the editor of My First Time. As of the 1st of September 2014, Jen started a yearlong project to read only African women writers. Learn more about that project via ReadWomenWrite.wordpress.com
“Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. At the time I was reading this I had noticed the way that many women were participating in public sexual practices that seemed to my mind to reinforce patriarchal conceptions of women’s sexuality as only for men, or men’s consumption, but that they seemed to enjoy and that certainly garnered them a great deal of cultural capital in the process.
This book helped me to negotiate my feelings around the subject of raunch culture, and made me ask important questions about women’s sexual expression.”
Fatma Emam is an Egyptian feminist. She blogs via www.atbrownies.blogspot.com|@fatmaemam
“One of my favorite books is ‘Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective’ written by Amina Wadud.
It is an attempt to interpret the Quran from a feminist point of view and remove the patriarchal emphasis on quranic hermeneutics, Wadud emphasises her approach, a tawhidic approach which is interested in the whole meaning of quran, not the meanings of separate Verses.”
Kampire Bahana is a writer from Kampala, Uganda. She blogs at vuga.wordpress.com |@vugafrica
“This was more difficult than I expected! Even now, sitting down to write this I am going back and forth between a number of titles because books have always informed the way that I see the world, which I now view from a feminist lens. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t borrowed every Judy Blume novel in my school library.
I suppose for the sake of picking one book, I would say ‘God’s Bits of Wood’ by Ousmane Sembene had a real impact on me. I read it and recognised those women. To me this is what feminism is, African, indigenous, anti-imperialist and organic, not the ugly identity politics constantly playing out across computer screens.”