20 Essential Novels for African-American Women

20 Essential Novels for African-American Women

Source: Accredited online colleges

What makes literature such a beautiful and compelling field of study is its fruitful bounty of diversity. Unfortunately, however, syllabi across the United States still tend towards books by dead white men, with everyone else competing for what few available slots remain. Progress has been made, of course, and dead white men still have plenty to say and offer. But the canon could easily do much, much better for itself. Whether historical, romantic, fantastic, mysterious or some combination thereof (or something else entirely), the following reads represent some of the best voices representing African-American women of today and generations past. By no means neither definitive nor emblematic of all experiences and perspectives, it still provides a great sample of some amazing books deserving of more consideration. Or, in some cases, fully deserving of the hefty recognition they already earned.

  1. Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning classic gives an empowering voice to women marginalized along racial, sexual and economic lines, setting her story during the Great Depression. Protagonist Celie ultimately finds empowerment despite such severe social, political, filial and financial hardships thanks to the loving sexual guidance of her bombastic friend and lover Shug Avery.

  2. Another sterling Pulitzer winner and rightfully lauded mainstay in the literary canon, Beloved compares and contrasts the times before, during and after the American Civil War. Haunting and intense, it features some horrifying depictions of slavery’s reality and what lengths some might have gone to in order to escape it, including murdering loved ones.

  3. Featuring one of the strongest female leads in all of literature, Zora Neale Hurston’s undeniable magnum opus follows a Florida woman through many different loves. Some horrid, some amazing, and all of them eventually shaping her into the self-assured, somewhat traumatized and frequently gossiped-about individual she eventually becomes.

  4. This fiercely feminist slave narrative comes so laden with autobiography it may as well be shelved as a memoir. Harriet Jacobs, here cast as Linda, recounts how masters tortured their female slaves more egregiously than their male counterparts, not infrequently involving sexual assault and rape. While graphic and heartwrenching, the novel does carry historical significance making it an essential read.

  5. Four middle-aged women show each other love and support through times of triumph and times of tragedy both inter- and intrapersonal. Although their individual stories do base a lot of characterization off their masculine relationships, it still turns a realistic eye towards dating and marriage problems.

  6. Set at the turn of the 20th century, The Serpent’s Gift chronicles a tale of two families whose lives begin overlapping in some interesting – some good, some bad – ways as time marches onward. For almost 100 years, they love, share and suffer through their middle-class Midwestern existence, impacted by some of America’s most influential historical moments.

  7. Short vignettes bound together by common themes and characters greatly humanize the female inhabitants of a decaying urban neighborhood. They cycle through victories and tragedies, their emotions running the gamut from joy to despair to homicidal rage.

  8. Science fiction and fantasy author Octavia E. Butler tackles time travel in her narrative of a young woman flung to a pre-Civil War plantation. There, she must serve as a slave in order to protect her identity – and ensure she even exists in the future.

  9. Published in 1946, The Street takes a long look at the experiences of a young, single mother in Harlem harboring a love of books and Ben Franklin. The latter serves as her inspiration to keep pressing forward, working hard and ensuring the safest possible life for her beloved son.

  10. The eponymous protagonist comes of age as the daughter of a doctor during school desegregation, witnessing firsthand the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. Ntozake Shange juxtaposes Betsey’s experiences with those of her parents Jane and Greer to showcase the different attitudes the generations held about social change.

  11. Though illiterate, impoverished, twice-pregnant because of her father’s repeated rapes and suffering under an abusive mother, the 16-year-old girl around which Push rotates pines for a healthier, happier life. Sapphire leaves her ending ambiguous, but by the end an alternative school has already bolstered her reading skills.

  12. Bildungsroman buffs might want to pick up this novel about a young woman crippled beneath poverty and racism in Chicago’s South Side during the 1960s. Appropriate for teens and adults, it offers up some sobering lessons about some universal and historical themes alike.

  13. An Atlanta-based hairdresser relocates to her Michigan origins following a devastating and unexpected HIV diagnosis. She reunites with her sister, adopts a baby, rediscovers love and finds excitement in the city she once deemed unworthy.

  14. Iola Leroy stands as one of the first novels ever published by an African-American woman and concerns itself with the mixed-race daughter of a former slave owner and the wife he once owned. But once the planter dies, she winds up thrust into servitude of her own before being freed and piecing together the broken fragments of her family.

  15. Barbara Neely’s debut novel introduced mystery aficionados to cook and housekeeper Blanche White, who eventually winds up playing detective while running from fraud charges. Her position as a majorly marginalized individual (along both class and race lines) allows her to go about her investigations smoother – handy, considering her first case involves a murdered gardener.

  16. Speculation about The Bondwoman’s Narrative abounds, with many scholars believing it might be the very first novel ever written by an African-American woman; it wasn’t published until 2002, however. This slave story makes for another first-person example about the horrors faced by people dehumanized by others who wrongfully forced them into bondage.

  17. Odessa Rose’s sensuous story twists and turns throughout an attraction triangle shared by a popular sculptress, a man she loves and the woman she ends up loving even more. It’s a joyous journey through eroticism and art alike, and many readers consider it a major triumph of African-American lesbian literature.

  18. Even skeptics towards the romance genre can still appreciate The Color of Love for its frank, grounded depiction of the unique challenges interracial couples frequently face. Few authors ever put forth the effort to explore the realities behind such relationships, and fewer still with as much gravitas and intelligent commentary as Sandra Kitt.

  19. At age 64, protagonist Avey Johnson heads out on a cruise to Carraiacou to find herself and better connect with her heritage after widowhood. Interspersed throughout her experiences on the Carribbean island are scenes taken from her childhood, marriage and motherhood to help her come to terms with where she’s been and where she may very well go.

  20. Through the powerful voice of haunted blues chanteuse Ursa Corregidora, her brutal family history of slavery collides with the realities and experiences of African-Americans in the 1930s. Her newly-acquired inability to bear children challenges her to think of the bitter past that scarred her mother and grandmother.

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“Brazil is Half Brown, But Has No Brown-Skinned Women Among 27 Miss Brazil 2011 Candidates.”

Guest post from Francis Holland:

Look at this year’s candidates for Ms. Brasil. Of approximately 27 from each state and the Federal District in the country, not a single one has brown skin, even though the population of Brazil includes 50% of Brazilians with brown or tan Afro-descendent skin (see statistics below).

Fonte: IBGE * 2005 , ** Censo 2010

Etnias (Ethnicities) no Brasil

Pardos: 42,6%  (means brown skin, like e.g. Francis L. Holland)
Brancos: 49,7%
Negros: 6,9%   (means brown or black skin)
Indígenas: 0,3%
Amarelos: 0,5%

The population of the state of Bahia, where I live, has a ratio of ten brown-skinned people for every three white-skinned people, and yet the state’s representative at the Miss Brazil contest will be white-skinned, whatever her heritage may be.  And for at least the last two years, Ms. Bahia has been white.

In all fairness and reality, if you carefully study the faces of each of the women in the above video, specialist in who has recent African ancestry may be able to identify three or four women whose noses and lips are of a shape often associated with brown skin, even though their skin is not brown.  And some of these women may proudly state that they are Black.  However, the skin color test is quite evident here, as it is in many other parts of Brazilian society.

Miss. Amapá, Miss Ceará, Miss Espiritu Santo, Miss Maranhão, Miss Mato Grosso, Miss Paraíba, Miss Paraná, Miss Sergipe and Miss Tocantins skin colors represent the outer limits of brownness for those seeking employment as dancers, guests and actors on many television soap operas and variety shows.  Any darker and they become invisible.

Just look at the all-white cast of a recent miniseries, called “Tí, Tí, Tí, to confirm that only three out of seventy-six characters have unambiguously brown skin, and one of the two Black women plays a maid.  In a country that is half brown, a television series has whites out-numbering Blacks by a ratio of 25 to 1.  Color-determined roles are worse on Brazilian television than politics South Africa’s historical apartheid regimes.

The Ms. Brazil website foresees the controversy over an all-white competition and so it points out, in a special section entitled “Black Beauty,” that one of the candidates for Ms. Brasil in 2010, Ms. Ceará, had copper-toned skin.  So, if you wait until next year, you may discover that a 50% brown and black-skinned country has at least one brown or black skinned contestant for Miss Brazil.  This year, the contest might as well be for Miss Switzerland.

I do not refer to “race” above, because it is entirely possible in Brazil that one or more of the women in the video has a brown-skinned parent or grandparent. So, it would be arbitrary and speculative to say that all of these women with white skin are from the “white race.”

Instead, it is entirely possible that one or more of the women shown here considers herself to be Black. But NONE of them, out of approximately 27, has brown skin.  (There are 26 states and the Federal District in Brazil, each with a contestant for Miss Brazil.)

I would mention something like this to my beige-skin step-daughters, but they wouldn’t understand how it was relevant that they had virtually zero percent chance of becoming Ms. Brazil, simply because their skin is too dark.

My obsession with realities such as these is one of the reasons I could not get along with my wife’s daughters (e.g. I felt disgusted at the smell and the reality of their hot irons burning their hair straight, and their inability to understand why all-white institutions bothered me so), and so we split up.  You might well say that my family was a victim of color-aroused ideation, emotion and behavior, at the individual, familial and societal levels.

Their mother would understand.  She has Rasta Locks, unlike the entire herd of Ms. Brazil candidates, all with straight and/or straightened hair.

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StrongLifeTest – Discover the role you were born to play

Hat tip: Deena Pierott

The Strong Life Test presents you with a number of scenarios and then challenges you to identify which decision you would make. Be sure to go with your top-of-mind response; your immediate, unfiltered reaction is always the most revealing.

Of course, your test results will not define you completely–there’s a good deal more fine-tuning you’ll want to do on your own to add detail and specificity. But what the test will do is show you where to start your search for a strong life.

I think the test is a good starting point. If you want to buy the book please follow for this link to Amazon.com for Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, or Abe Books or Barnes & Noble, and your purchase will help support the Women of the African Diaspora website.

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From our partner, International Black Women’s Collaborative_ What Ails Black Women Series – Parts I, II and III

Ladies, here is a series from the Huffington Post called “What Ails Black Women”. I personally don’t feel that others need to put us in some kind of box, however, this is an interesting read.

Work and Wages: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-n-cohen/what-ails-black-women-par_b_357846.html
Health and Life: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-n-cohen/what-ails-black-women-par_b_360620.html
Discrimination and Repercussions: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-n-cohen/what-ails-black-women-par_b_373574.html

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EU is not a REAL Partner

by Joyce van Genderen-Naar

Published in Global Watch, April 2009 Joyce van Genderen-Naar is a lawyer and journalist from Suriname based in Brussels. She writes regularly about ACP-EU issues.

The ACP Working Group on Bananas chaired by the Ambassador of Suriname Mr. Gerhard Hiwat organized an ACP press conference on Monday 6 April 2009 in Brussels to inform the media about the serious implications that recent EU decisions will have for ACP banana producing countries, such as Belize, Cameroon, Cote d?Ivoire, Cape Verde, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Ghana, Grenada, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Eastern Caribbean States, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadine, Suriname and Tanzania. The press was also addressed by the Ambassador of the Dominican Republic, Dr. Frederico Alberto Cuello Camilo and the representatives of Cameroon, Mr. Anatole Ebanda Alima, and of Côte d’Ivoire, Mr Philippe Mavel.

The Chairman started by saying that the EU is not a real partner and that the EU does not really know what partnership is, because a real partner would help to find solutions for problems resulting from measures they implement. The cooperation between the ACP and the EU/EC is based on a „Partnership Agreement?. The longstanding ACP-EU development partnership is in question, now the ACP is to lose both much of its vital existing tariff preference on bananas and much of the funds

2.originally promised by the EC to make possible the adjustments necessary for the ACP banana producing countries to cope with the consequences. This is the bad news the European Commission delivered to the ACP Ambassadors in these final days of the longstanding banana dispute at the WTO, ongoing since 1995.1 The EU will soon conclude with the Latin American Banana producing countries an agreement that will harm the production and export of bananas of ACP-countries.

The European Commission proposed on March 12, 2009, that the current tariff of 176 Euros/ton to MFN countries would be reduced by 2011 to 136 Euros/Ton, with a possibility of continuing its reduction to 114 Euros/Ton by 2019. This will facilitate further the access of bananas from the Latin American countries (MFN of Most Favored Nations), who today already own 80% of the European and nearly 100% of the North American markets of bananas. ACP banana producing and exporting countries have only a small share of 18% of the EU market and as good as no access to the USA market.

To compensate ACP banana producing countries for the negative effects of these concessions, the European Commission proposed an assistance package of barely 100 million euros for the period 2010-2013. Paradoxically, it is now encouraging ACP States to reprioritize the funds already committed under the respective National Indicative Programmes, Regional Indicative Programmes and other ongoing programmes for the implementation of necessary projects. So the promised funds for the banana reforms are gone.

1 ACP Press Release 06/04/09 www.acp.int

Trade goals prevail on development
For the ACP it is obvious that the EC is choosing trade over development, that for the EC trade goals prevail over development objectives and that profits are more important than poverty eradication and the preservation of decent jobs in rural areas.

3 The ACP says that the EC is yielding to pressure for trade liberalisation regardless of the consequences for the development objectives set out in the Cotonou Agreements with ACP countries and the social and economic impact that such sudden and rapid changes will have on jobs and living standards in rural areas. Bananas for ACP countries are not only about trade, but also about the development of their countries.

In a Press Release dated April 6, 2009, ACP stresses that now the world is suffering from a global financial crisis, ACP countries can not afford to sacrifice their few sources of hard currency to the altar of free trade. According to ACP it might cause a food security crisis, since the ACP countries are all net-importing developing countries. Furthermore, ACP countries have repeatedly pointed out to the EU Commission that such substantial tariff cuts would have dire consequences for ACP export trade, for which the established preference is of vital importance.

ACP stresses that such rapid reductions are neither necessary nor justified. The sharp reductions proposed between 2009 and 2011 cannot be reconciled with any of the EU commitments towards ACP Countries, specifically the recently signed Cariforum-EC Economic Partnership Agreement which provides that tariff reductions should not only be “unavoidable” but “should be phased in over as long a period as possible”. Moreover, there is no justification, in advance or in the absence of a Doha settlement, for imposing the whole programme of reductions to 114 euros, originally proposed in the context of the Doha negotiations.

The DOHA Round Talks collapsed in July 2008. Any agreement between the EU and the Latin American countries should be part of new Doha Talks in the WTO. For the moment the EC should not do more than is needed and that is just binding the tariff. ACP understands that the longstanding preferences will have to be moved, but that has to be done gradually so that ACP production and industries can become more competitive. For ACP it is difficult to see how any adjustment aid could deal in sufficient time with the problems arising from the deep initial cut proposed.

The EU argues that it is urgent to conclude an agreement with the Latin American countries because the EC lost all the complaints that the Latin American countries and the USA since 1995 have filed in the WTO against the EC and its preferential

4 tariff for the ACP countries. The EC wants to put an end to this ongoing battle as soon as possible. What the ACP wants is more time to become more competitive and financial compensation for the loses they will be suffering. The EC told the ACP that they should use the funds of their National and Regional Indicative Programmes to address the negative impact of the EC measures. These funds however are already allocated for other projects and programmes in the ACP countries. So this is not an adequate solution.

Strong versus weak lobby
Besides the ending of the ongoing legal battle in the WTO another argument is given why the EC is not listening to the ACP. It is about lobbying: some EU representatives say that the Latin American countries have a good and strong lobby and that the ACP countries do not lobby enough, which is not helping them. The ACP does not agree with this argument and says that the EC is sufficiently aware of the problems the ACP is facing; the EC has enough information and knows exactly what the ACP is proposing.

There is no need and no money to pay expensive lobbyists like the Latin American countries and their multinationals do. Which raises the question if it is just and normal that the interests of poor countries become less important when their lobby is not strong enough. What a strange argument. Even stranger when a Member of the European Parliament argues that it is about democracy and that the stronger the lobby is the more they will be heard. It seems like the survival of the fittest. What about poverty eradication and sustainable development of poor countries, what about support for their sensitive industries and export markets based on existing agreements such as the ACP-EC Partnership agreement and the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)?

35 out of the 77 ACP countries concluded and signed an EPA with the EC in 2007/2008 to safeguard their interests and their duty free access to the EU-market. They wanted to prevent that they had to pay taxes for their products to enter the EU market as from January 1, 2008. That was their main reason to close the EPA with the EC, a full EPA for the 15 CARIFORUM-countries in the Caribbean and interim agreements for 18 African countries and 2 Pacific countries. The ACP-EC banana

5 issue is a first and disappointing test case and puts the whole meaning of the EPA into question. EPAs should not be rushed 42 ACP countries (29 in Africa and 13 in the Pacific) did not sign an agreement with the EC and are still negotiating with the EC. In March 2009 Claude Maerten, Head of unit DG Trade – D2 -„EPA I? and Elisabeth Tison, Head of unit DG Development – D3 – „Central Africa region and Great lakes?, wrote an article about the State of Play of the EPA negotiations with Central Africa and stated2 :

2 EPA negotiations with Central Africa:
The state of play Claude Maerten, Head of unit DG Trade – D2 -‘EPA I’ and Elisabeth Tison, Head of unit DG Development – D3 – ‘Central Africa region and Great lakes’

ec.europa.eu/trade/issues/bilateral/regions/acp/index_en.htm; ec.europa.eu/development/geographical/regionscountries_en.cfm.

“Although progress on the EPAs is necessary, it should not be rushed. There are strategic issues at stake for the ACP and it is important to match the content of the partnerships under negotiation to the specific needs of each region. This takes time, particularly because the regional negotiation format requires substantial co-ordination efforts on the ACP side.

But there are still common objectives, whatever the pace of negotiations, which are to: (i) help meet Cotonou Agreement goals, particularly sustainable development and support for regional integration; (ii) strengthen supply capacity and diversification within economies and hence promote greater integration into the global economy; and (iii) ensure WTO compatibility, particularly in relation to the degree of liberalisation necessary to comply with the definition of “substantially all trade” in GATT article XXIV.

The EU has no wish to exercise pressure at the risk of obtaining agreements that might not meet the specific needs of each region”.

6 Different approach
This seems to be a total different approach from the EC compared to the concluding of the EPA and interim EPAs in December 2007 with the 15 Cariforum Countries, the 18 African and the 2 Pacific countries. The position of the EC is now that the EPAs should not be rushed. So the 42 Countries in Africa and the Pacific can take their time to negotiate a good agreement and to prevent the mistakes of the ACP countries that already signed.

They did not conclude nor signed a EPA in December 2007 because they were not sure about the impact of the EPA for their economies and for coming generations and their future. They wanted to have more time for discussions with all the stakeholders in their countries, more research and data. So the negotiations between the four regions of Africa, the Pacific region and the EC have continued since January 2008. Progress has been made with some regions like Central Africa, draft texts are available, but no EPA has yet been signed. No ACP-EU Heads of States Meetings

The ACP Heads of States have sent a request for a meeting to the European Council to discuss the EPAs and other ACP-EC-partnership issues at the highest level. This is not the first time they are officially requesting such a meeting, but like before their request has been refused with the argument that the dialogue should take place in the institutions the ACP-EC-Partnership Cotonou Agreement provides for, such as the ACP-EC-Council of Ministers. It is not understandable why ACP and EU-Heads of States should not meet each other on regularly basis and discuss what is important for their cooperation and their countries. This is not promoting real ACP-EC-partnership and cooperation nor bridging the gap between North and South, EU and ACP. Brussels

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