Black history, books, Reading, Women Writers

MLK, Jr. Day and the Voices of Black Women

“We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

On this day every year I, like so very many, do my best to reflect and to atone. I see the shortcomings not just in our society, but in myself. This time, however, I see the shortcomings in my repertoire, as well. Here I am, a progressive, conscientious reader who  makes it a point to expand my horizons, to continue my education, and to read new voices. I have embarked on this year-long project of reading women after looking more closely at my reading list and feeling disappointed that despite the representation of numerous countries and countless protagonists, it was heavily biased towards male writers. That disproportion was come by honestly – I make a conscious effort to read award-winning works, and the awards…well, they tend to go to men. (More on this soon!)

A mere two weeks into this project and I’ve become aware of another irrefutable lack – the voices of black women. How easy it is to only hear what is comfortable, what is familiar. We surround ourselves with like-minded voices everywhere we can. It takes (sometimes uncomfortable) effort to expand our world – who we “friend”, what we listen to, what we read. I have to believe that once again, this lack is come by honestly. I have to believe that it isn’t out of latent prejudice, but out of blind ignorance.

I can cite a woefully short list of black women writers whose works are familiar to me and whose talent inspires my awe and deepest respect. I would read a grocery list written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Toni Morrison and Alice Walker make my chest hurt with joy and shame; Zadie Smith’s wit is biting and indelible; and my forays into the works of Edwidge Danticat and Andrea Levy bring me tears of hope. But that list is unacceptably short. Help me begin to make amends. Help me nurture this list, that it may flourish and grow beyond my abilities to keep up! Share voices with me…and with everyone.

In the meantime, I will read Bell Hooks and Carolivia Herron with my daughter. I will listen to Brittany Luse on “For Colored Nerds”. I will begin Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones” today. And I will hope for your help.







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