Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves
In Well-Read Black Girl, Glory Edim has collected a number of essays from black women writers about what books and reading have meant to them. Some of the essays focus around a particular book or series, some around an author, or some about reading in general. Most of the essays had a similar message. The standard books the women read as children and teenagers had white (often male) protagonists and so limited their ability to see themselves in the pages. When they found books and authors who talked about black girls and women, the results were cataclysmic. Some developed renewed self-esteem, some believed in the dream that they could in fact be writers, others simply felt seen an understood. In sum: representation matters.
In the book, Edim includes several list of recommendations: on classic books, books on childhood and friendship, black feminism, poetry, plays, and science fiction and fantasy. I’m putting several of these book on my to-be-read list. I also liked the design of the book quite a bit. Each chapter began with an illustration of the writer in the style of the cover image. At first I was surprised by this choice, but a later essay talked about how one of the authors received a sheet of poetry with the poet’s picture on it, and it reflected her and meant so much to her she started including photographs herself when she was a teacher.
I am not black, but I would encourage women and men of privilege to read this book. First of all, the essays are fun to read, charting how the writers discovered their favorite authors. Everyone who takes joy in reading will understand these moments. Even more important though is empathizing with what it is like to be invisible in literature, in movies, in television. People of privilege should read and celebrate these stories and help tell more of them.
Like any anthology, some of the essays are better than others, though on the whole these are high quality with contributors like Jesmyn Ward and N.K. Jemisin. Gabourey Sidibe offers an irreverent and humorous perspective on a tragic childhood. Kaitlyn Greenidge closes the book with recommendations based on moods that are very funny, like “A Book to Read When Someone Tries to Shame You for Enjoying Cardi B.”
The essays also touch on intersectionality. The women’s sexuality, education, social classes, and countries of origin matter, too. There is always room to go, and always more stories to tell.