Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis

'"Woman" was the test, but not every woman seemed to qualify. Black women, of course, were virtually invisible within the protracted campaign for woman suffrage. As for white working-class women, the suffrage leaders were probably impressed at first by the organizing efforts and militancy of their working-class sisters. But as it turned out, the working women themselves did not enthusiastically embrace the cause of woman suffrage'

Angela Davis needs no introduction. Davis is an activist. An academic. An author. A historian and a visionary. Davis is a pioneer a powerful voice for social change and Black liberation.

Women, Race and Class is an incredibly important body of work. Davis’ words provide an overview of the women’s movement as she journeys from slavery to the end of the 70s. Discussing themes such as abortion, housework, equal pay all while simultaneously providing a ground breaking and thorough exploration of the intersections of racism, sexism and classism.

Despite first being published in 1983, Davis’s work manages to provide context to today’s current landscape - providing historical relevancy by introducing us to figures such as Angelina and Sarah Grimke - two early and prominent activists for abolition and women's rights. As well as prominent voices such as Frederick Douglas.

Why you should read it: This is required reading. Davis pulls no punches helping me to re-think what I thought I knew. A real exploration of intersectionality nearly 10 years before Crenshaw coined the term.

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

'You want to leave Giovanni because he makes you stink. You want to despise Giovanni because he is not afraid of the stink of love. You want to kill him in the name of all your lying moralities. And you--you are immoral. You are, by far, the most immoral man I have met in all my life. Look, look what you have done to me. Do you think you could have done this if I did not love you? Is this what you should do to love?’

Written by James Baldwin – Giovanni’s room is a complex story that explores death, desire and sexual identity. James Baldwin’s publisher said of the manuscript, 'burn the book, fearing the theme of homosexuality would alienate him from his readership among black people.

This is a heartbreaking tale that tells a story of two men struggling with sexuality, identity and the idea of masculinity. However, this isn’t a coming-out story. It’s raw emotion. It’s a universal story that depicts a haunting and doomed love affair. 

Baldwin is triumphant – this was my introduction to his work and I was blown away at the power of his storytelling.

Why you should read it: It’s tremendous. A literary victory.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

'I thought of Fonny’s touch, of Fonny, in my arms, his breath, his touch, his odor, his weight, that terrible and beautiful presence riding into me and his breath being snarled, as if by a golden thread, deeper and deeper in his throat as he rode--as he rode deeper and deeper not so much into me as into a kingdom which lay just behind his eyes. He worked on wood that way. He worked on stone that way. If I had never seen him work, I might never have known he loved me. 

It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you'

Baldwin features again. The breadth of his legendary writing means that effectively it would be a disservice to not list him twice.

Another moving American love story told through the eyes of Tish, a young woman in love with her childhood friend Fonny. The lovers are split apart when Fonny is falsely accused of a horrific crime.

This book explores the cruel machinations of the American prison system juxtaposed against an all-encompassing love story. It’s passionate yet tormented. Beautiful yet bitter. Exploring injustice and racism whilst depicting black love and its community.

I read the book and fell in love. I watched Barry Jenkins' adaptation and fell in love twice over. Baldwin is king.

Why you should read it: If you have seen the film you must read the book. Baldwin is a literary God, an activist and an outright genius.

Passing by Nella Larsen

'Its funny about passing. We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it.'

Written by the inimitable Nella Larsen, Passing is a semi-autobiographical tale of the story a group of women who choose to ‘pass’ the colour line. It details the tension and tragedy that succumbs two members of the group.

Larsen was a major player in the Harlem Renaissance alongside such greats such as West, Hughes and Hurston and her work is just as rich and full of intrigue as her counterparts.

Set in the 1920s Passing is an adept exploration of the middle-class African American experience – referencing the antiquated ‘one-drop’ rule –  Larsen skillfully picks apart ideas on race, sexuality, class and love in the 1920s which are just as strongly felt today.

I adored this book. Larsen is sharp, witty and completely blows apart female friendships as well as adeptly exploring race and identity.

Why you should read it: This is secrets and lies. This is The Real House Wife’s of the Harlem Renaissance – Larsen is giving you drama, intrigue and scandal.

The Master's Tools will never Dismantle the Master's House

'For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support.'

Self-described as a 'black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet', Audre Lorde’s classic selection of essays are a raw and honest outlook from a celebrated thinker.

Born to Caribbean parents in New York, Lorde was not just a writer but a womanist, activist, librarian and poet and she spent her life challenging sexism, racism and homophobia. These essays are a brief look into the mind and thoughts of a woman wanting to define herself.

The Master’s Tools were essays collected between 1978-1982. It’s an accessible introduction to feminism and explores issues that impact minority groups of women of colour – interlocking ideas on Black history, lesbianism and intersectionality.

These powerful essays had me challenging and re-thinking what I knew and made me reject what I had been taught. Lorde is phenomenal.

Why you should read it: To challenge yourself to view the word through Lorde’s critical lens. 

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

'I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.'

Written by Ralph Ellison in 1952, Invisible Man was instantly hailed as a masterpiece and one of the most important novels of the 21st century. It established Ellison as one of America’s greatest writers and the nation’s most prominent Black author. Unfortunately, despite Ellison producing lauded essays and articles we did not receive his second book until after his death.

Set in the 50s, Ellison’s nameless protagonist travels the journey of those before him who left the racist American Deep South for so-called freedom in the North –  detailing the process that sees him begin the tale as an innocent yet confident teenager evolving to an outcast or invisible man in his later years.

For me this is probably one of the most self-defining books that I have had the pleasure of reading. I felt awakened.

Why you should read it: Ellison discusses the politics of identity and race in a way that still rings true today.

Related articles