In my senior English class we just read ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston, the story of a young black woman’s search for self in the southern U.S. in the early 20th century. This post was inspired by that novel. Here’s a few of my favorite books by women authors about racism. (Heads up, anyone in English 12, any of these books would compare really well to TEWWG in an essay on race and gender hint hint.)
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Would it be cheesy to say this book shaped my entire worldview? Well, I don’t care, I’m gonna say it anyway. From the point-of-view of Scout Finch, a young girl growing up in a quiet Southern town, this novel tells the story of a town shocked by the ultimate scandal of the time: a black man accused of raping a white woman. Through Scout’s innocent eyes we experience her struggle between the narrow minds of the town and her father’s wisdom. Speaking of her father, Atticus Finch remains to this day one of my favorite characters of all time, not to mention Gregory Peck was a total babe in the movie. There’s a reason TKAM is one of the most famous books of all time. Its message transcends its setting and its themes of hypocrisy, love and morality resonate profoundly with readers to this day. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.
Noughts and Crosses series, Malorie Blackman
Set in a hugely racist dystopian world, ‘Noughts and Crosses’ is a love story between Sephy, a member of the dark-skinned upper class known as “Crosses” and Callum, a “nought” viewed as worthless because of his white skin. The reversal of real-world racism does exactly what Blackman intended: exposes the hypocrisy of colour-prejudice. Everything, down to the way “Crosses” is capitalized but “noughts” isn’t, is designed to highlight the injustice of this world. Although this series is written for young adults, it deals with issues far more complex than its counterparts. What starts off as a fairly typical “Romeo and Juliet” turns into a gripping tale with suicides, terrorism and accusations of rape. Nothing about this series is expected, nothing is softened or glossed over. It’s gritty and terrifying and honestly one of the best YA series out there.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
I don’t think a novel has ever torn me apart like this one did. It’s actually the first of a series of seven autobiographical novels, but after the emotional devastation of the first one, I couldn’t bring myself to read the others. ‘Caged Bird’ tells the story of Angelou’s childhood: from moving in with her grandmother in a small town in Arkansas aged 13, to when she becomes an independent young woman aged 16. Much of the novel revolves around her struggle to find herself, after her traumatic rape by her mother’s boyfriend when she was only eight. It’s a beautiful, tragic story of Angelou, while speaking much more widely about racism, gender and identity. A critical member of the civil rights movement worldwide as well as a beautiful author, poet and journalist, Angelou is one of my greatest role models. Read this book, and remember her name.