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Beyond Butler Banner: BIWOC Authors You Should Be Reading

This semester, Butler displayed the names of 8 Black, Indigenous and other women of color (BIWOC) writers to honor the 30th anniversary of the original protest of the all-male lineup that graces the facade. In this spirit, EIC Isabel Sepúlveda rounded up Bwog’s recommendations for diversifying your winter break reading.

Daisy Hernandez

BioA U.S.-born Colombian-Cuban writer, editor,  journalist, and activist, Hernandez has written for a number of publications about race, immigration, bisexuality, feminism, media representation and more. After growing up in New Jersey as the child of factory workers, she attended NYU before getting her start in publishing at Ms. magazine. Since then, she’s spoken at colleges across the country, written an award-winning memoir and made some conservatives mad by using the word “gringo” in a heartfelt piece about the 2011 Tuscon shooting.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: Her memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, is a heartfelt exploration of queerness and Latinidad that spoke to me on a deeply personal level.

Bibliography: Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (co-editor) (2002), A Cup of Water Under My Bed (2014)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW? You can find her writing in countless publications on the internet, but her op-ed about the 2011 Tuscon shooting for NPR (the one that outraged conservatives at the time of its publication) is a thought-provoking, well-written point-of-view piece that feels even more timely than when it was written.

Carmen Maria Machado

Bio Carmen Maria Machado was raised by a white mother and a Cuban-American father in Allentown, PA. She received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (for those not in the know, that’s a pretty big deal) and attended the Clarion Writers Workshop where she studied under some of speculative fiction’s greatest working writers. Her work as an essayist, short story writer, critic and (most recently) comic book writer and memoirist, has received a number of awards and she’s been hailed as one of the greatest upcoming voices writing today. She’s currently the artist-in-residence at the University of Pennsylvania, where she lives with her wife.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: A short story writer who exists within the ambivalent area between genre and literary fiction. Her prose is stunning and she deals with themes of violence, gender, queerness, and race deftly and unflinchingly. She wears many different hats, doing a number of really interesting things and she does them all beautifully

Bibliography: Her Body and Other Parties (2017); In the Dream House (2019)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW?  Try “Help Me Follow My Sister To The Land of the Dead,” a heartbreaking piece written in the former of a Kickstarter campaign or her novella”Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” which provides alternate episodes summaries for every episode of Law & Order SVU with Machado’s characteristic grace and eye toward form. Both stories are dark and deal with violence against women, death, and abuse. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can always check out Bwog’s coverage of her talk earlier this semester.

Octavia Butler

BioBorn in Pasadena, California, Octavia Butler began writing in the late 60s and 70s when she drew the attention of terrible person but famous writer Harlan Ellison who encouraged her to attend the Clarion Writers Workshop. From there, she published her Patterist series which allowed her to begin writing full-time. After her short story “Speech Sounds” won a Hugo Award in 1984, she gained global prominence and became one of few Black writers to be able to make their living writing genre fiction. She passed away in 2006, leaving her acclaimed Parables series unfinished and a long legacy as a groundbreaking voice for Black women and other women of color in science fiction.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: A Black science fiction writer who imagines radically speculative worlds with fully realized characters. Her short stories are incisive and absolutely necessary, and Kindred, her novel about time travel and slavery, changed my life. Her Earthseed books literally predicted Donald Trump and her vision is decidedly what we need in 2019.

BibliographyToo many to list in full; highlights include Patternmaster (1976), Kindred (1979), Parable of the Sower (1983), Dawn (1987), Fledgling (2006)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW? Speech Sounds, Amnestyand Bloodchild are all personal favorites. Some are gory or otherwise uncomfortable but all definitely worth it.

Michelle Alexander

Bio A civil rights lawyer and legal scholar as well as an author, Michelle Alexander got her BA at Vanderbilt and JD at Stanford before becoming involved in civil rights litigation for both private and non-profit sectors. She specialized in race and gender discrimination. She was the director of the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Project. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness spent 250 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and launched important conversations about the modern carceral state across the country. She’s currently Visiting Professor of Social Justice at the Union Theological Seminary (hello!) and an opinion columnist at the New York Times.

Bwog Staff Endorsement:  Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” is such an important and iconic book!!!!

Bibliography: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW? Check out her column over at the Times. Her recent piece, recounting her rape during law school in response to the passage of Ohio’s 6-week abortion ban, is both harrowing and timely.

bell hooks

Bio:  bell hooks is a Black author, feminist, professor, and social activist who has provided critical work that has shaped modern theories of intersectional feminism. Born in a segregated Kentucky town, she attended Stanford and the University of Wisconsin-Madison before receiving her Ph.D. in English from UC Santa Cruz in 1983. She adopted the pen name “bell hooks” in honor of her maternal great-grandmother in honor of matriarchal legacies, using the lowercase to draw attention to that origin story. She’s taught at a number of universities throughout her long career, established the bell hook Institute at Berea College in 2014, published more than 30 works and engaged in public dialogues with Gloria Steinem, Laverne Cox, and Cornel West, among other awards and achievements.

Bwog Staff Endorsement:  “Feminism is for EVERYBODY” by bell hooks is also a great staple :-)

Bibliography: So many publications, including books, short stories, collections of poetry, films and more. Selected works include  Ain’t I a Woman?: Black women and feminism (1981),  Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984),  Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom (1994),   Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics (2000), Writing beyond race: living theory and practice (2013)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW? If you’re anything like me, you probably read bell hooks in University Writing or some other class. That doesn’t do her work the justice it deserves; peruse JSTOR and other Columbia databases at your leisure and see if anything catches your eye. I recommend her essay “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” which lays out her theory of the oppositional gaze and criticizes white feminist film theory, one of the most important concepts she’s introduced to modern critical thought.

Zadie Smith

BioYou’ve likely been living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Zadie Smith, but allow me to introduce her anyway. Born to a Jamaican mother and English father in London, Smith attended Cambridge where she discovered her love of literature and published several short stories that received the attention of a publisher. Her first novel, the award-winning White Teeth, was sold before it was even finished and upon publication, showed her to be a voice to watch in the literary world. Since then, she’s published four novels, several collections of essays and most recently, a collection of short stories that have won numerous prizes and adapted for movies and television. In 2010, she left a teaching post here a Columbia to join NYU’s creative writing faculty.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: Zadie Smith! White Teeth is one of my favorite books of all time. She actually taught fiction writing here for a little while but is at NYU now.

Bibliography: White Teeth (2000),  The Autograph Man (2002)On Beauty (2005), Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (2009), NW (2012), Swing Time (2016), Feel Free: Essays (2018), Grand Union: Stories (2019), The Fraud (2019)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW? I was first introduced to Smith in one of my favorite classes I’ve taken at Columbia, in which we read her short story “The Embassy of Cambodia.” It’s a discussion of atrocity: how we talk about them, how we live with them, and how we experience them; the interrogation of how we decide which people to care about and which to ignore seems especially poignant given the state of 2019 America.

Celeste Ng

BioBorn in Pittsburgh to immigrants from Hong Kong before moving to Shaker Heights, Ohio, Celeste Ng (pronounced -ing as her Twitter handle will remind you) got her masters in creative writing at the University of Michigan after graduating from Harvard. She’s published several prizewinning short stories and two novels that have exploded onto the literary scene. Her second, Little Fires Everywhere, is being adapted into a 2020 Hulu mini-series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: Both of Celeste Ng’s books (Everything You Never Told Me, and Little Fires Everywhere) are amazing. She writes about the experience of being Asian in predominantly white neighborhoods/times/cultures.

Bibliography: Everything I Never Told You (2014), Little Fires Everywhere (2017)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW?  Her short story “How to Be Chinese” deals with many of the same themes as her novels: growing up Chinese/Asian in largely white America and the consequences thereof. It’s a great distillation of Ng at her best to tide you over while you’re waiting for your next trip to the library to pick up her novels.

Lucille Clifton

BioBorn in New York, raised in Buffalo, Lucille Clifton was discovered by two of the 20th century’s most prominent Black male writers (Ishmael Reed who showed her poems to his friend, Langston Hughes) and quickly became a force to be reckoned with in her own right within the literary community. Her work received widespread acclaim from critics who noted the sparsity of her verse and the power of the themes it explored. She was named Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1979-1985. Outside of poetry, she taught at UC Santa Cruz and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, was a visiting professor here at Columbia from 1995-1999, and authored several children’s books. She died in 2010.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: Lucille Clifton!!! She was an incredible Black poet from Buffalo, New York who was discovered by Langston Hughes. Two of her books were Pulitzer Prize finalists and her work focuses mostly on race and family. Her poems are intense and deliberate, sometimes devastating, sometimes snarky, always excellent!!

Bibliography: A few collections, because we simply can’t list them allGood Times (1969), An Ordinary Woman (1974), Two-Headed Woman (1980), Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir: 1969–1980 (1987), Next: New Poems (1987), Quilting: Poems 1987–1990 (1991), Voices (2008)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW?  The Poetry Foundation alone showcases over two dozen of her poems. A few, selected at random: “slaveships,” “poem in praise of menstruation,” “my dream about being white,” and “far memory.”

Louise Erdich

BioLouise Erdich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe people. She grew up in Minnesota with her parents and two sisters who would also go into literary fields before attending Dartmouth College (a member of the first class to enroll women) and getting her Master’s at Johns Hopkins. Erdich writes novels, short stories, children’s books and poetry, and has won prizes and awards for a number of different styles and authors. Today, she runs a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that sells and promotes Indigenous literature and promotes Indigenous community in the area.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: She’s an amazing Native American novelist whose books involve themes of justice, legality, gender, colonialism, etc.

Bibliography: She literally has a Wikipedia page to list all her publications so here’s a small selection: Love Medicine (1984), The Antelope Wife (1998), Original Fire: Selected and New Poems (2003), The Plague of Doves (2008), The Round House (2012)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW?  Quite a few of her poems can be found online: some “Captivity,” “Fooling God,” and “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways” are just a small selection that embody some of the most powerful elements of her work. Prose fans can check out “The Fat Man’s Race” in The New Yorker.

Larissa Pham

Bio: Larissa Pham is a Brooklyn-based artist and critic who graduated with her BA in studio art from Yale. The current focus of her studio art is the intimacy and connections we forge in a digital world and the vestiges those connections leave behind. Her criticism and short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including the Paris Review Daily, Guernica, The Nation, Rolling Stone, Village Voice, New York Magazine,  Gawker, among others. Her critically-acclaimed novella Fantasian is an erotic piece about a Yale student who has sex with her doppelganger, every Ivy League narcissist’s ultimate fantasy. She’s also been a guest lecturer at Yale and taught at Asian American Writers Workshop and Kundiman.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: The best, perfect, Asian-American writer who mostly does art criticism but also wrote an amazing novella called Fantasian about twins and sex and MURDER.

Bibliography: Fantasian (2016), How to Run Away (forthcoming essay collection)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW? If you’re in the mood for fiction, try “Ghost Boyfriend” which proclaims “HARVARD SUCKS” within the first few lines (perfect fodder for Ivy League rivalries). For a taste of her criticism, read “A Larger Life,” on the flaws in modern trauma narratives and non-fiction publishing; “Our Victim-Blaming Culture,” an interview with Vanessa Grigoriadis on campus sexual assault in the Trump era, or “The Future’s Not Ours to Keep,” an essay on Sally Wen Mao’s poetry collection Oculus and the silences born out of colonialism. An extended list of publications can be found on Pham’s website.

Min Jin Lee

BioMin Jin Lee grew up in Queens after her family moved to America from Seoul when she was seven. She attended Yale where she received her degree in history. After getting her JD from Georgetown and working as a lawyer for several years, she began writing full time and since then has received a number of fellowships, awards, and speaking opportunities. She’s published two of three books in “The Koreans” trilogy, which explores the life of Koreans living in the diaspora. For her most recent book, Pachinko, she lived in Tokyo for four years to research the lives of Koreans under Japanese Occupation. She’s currently based in New York City to research the final book in the trilogy, which will explore the role education plays in the lives of diasporic Koreans, and serve as the Writer-in-Residence at Amherst until 2022.

Bwog Staff Endorsement: Min Jin Lee who wrote Pachinko!! She really spent decades on this idea, went to live in Japan and interview real people and then wrote this gorgeous novel about four generations of Korean immigrants in Japan during the occupation period.

Bibliography: Free Food for Millionaires (2007), Pachinko (2017)

Where Can I Read Her RIGHT NOW?  I couldn’t find a ton of her fiction online but she’s done quite a bit of reviewing, op-ed writing, and other literary endeavors available for your perusal. I recommend “Stonehenge,” a personal memoir about her time at Yale; “Breaking My Own Silence,” an opinion piece discussing the power of her words and her voice; “Fictions of North Korea,” a review of recently translated works about life in the authoritarian state; and “In Praise of bell hooks” which I chose because of the continuity.

Honorable Mentions

  • N.K. Jemesin
  • Marjane Satrapi
  • Morgan Parker
  • Isabel Allende
  • Edwidge Danticat
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Yaa Gyasi
  • Zora Neale Hurston

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