Autumn is here: Bring on the pumpkin spice, cozy blankets, earl grey, and weekends spent diving into horror movies, romantic comedies, and new seasons of our favorite TV shows. As the temperature drops and the sun begins setting earlier than before, we’ll be spending more time in our homes—giving us even more time to catch up on all the reading we’ve fallen behind on this summer. For those updating their reading lists, we have books for everyone: essay collections about chronic illness, historical fiction about Black girls with magical abilities, and a posthumous work from one of our most beloved poets. Happy reading!
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José Esteban Muñoz, a noted Cuban American scholar in numerous fields including performance studies, cultural studies, and critical theory, died in 2013. His death was a massive blow to academia, but we thankfully have access to his final work. The Sense of Brown is a classic academic work, so it has a density that requires effort to parse through, but it’s well worth the read. In this book, Muñoz examines how brownness, particularly for queer Latinx people, becomes a “lifeworld” that reveals itself through performance of all kinds, including plays, films, and albums. If you loved his prior work, then The Sense of Brown serves as a perfect ending—both putting a bow on his scholarship and creating pathways for those who want to further it.
Lara Parker, BuzzFeed’s deputy editorial director, has been incredibly open on the internet about her myriad “vagina problems,” including endometriosis, pelvic floor dysfunction, vaginismus, and vulvar vestibulitis. She’s also been open about her excruciating journey to being diagnosed: mind-numbing pain, misguided treatment recommendations, and disbelieving doctors who simply told her to stop having sex. Vagina Problems chronicles Parker’s experiences with these conditions, and her research broadens her scope as she details how 50 percent of people with vaginas face similar issues without getting any sense of relief. This essay collection is as raw, real, and honest as it needs to be to drive home the point that many people are suffering with no recourse.
There are multiple feminisms. Though that’s an unpopular sentiment, it’s a factual one proven out through feminists of different training having different priorities. In White Tears/Brown Scars, PhD candidate Ruby Hamad explores white feminism’s tenets and more specifically how those who subscribe to white feminism have prioritized racial solidarity above all else in their quest to be perceived as equal to white men. White Tears/Brown Scars is an essay collection that traverses everything from the potent, dangerous power of white women’s tears to the boxing of women of color into stereotypes like “the lascivious black Jezebel” and “the submissive China Doll.” These essays connect themselves through the ways that women of color have been excluded from mainstream feminism and created their own theories and worldviews to survive.
Madam C.J. Walker has been a prolific historical figure for generations, credited as America’s first self-made Black woman millionaire. She’s been fictionalized in a Netflix miniseries (that raised some controversy because of historical inaccuracies) and studied by scholars in multiple disciplines, but her philanthropy has rarely been explored. Tyrone Freeman, a philanthropic studies professor at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, brings a fresh perspective to Walker’s legacy, chronicling how she used her position in society to support racial uplift, education, and faith-based initiatives that warded off some of Jim Crow’s evils.
Rebecca Roanhorse, a bestselling and award-winning speculative fiction author, welcomes us into a new world with the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy. Black Sun introduces the Sky Made clan who help run the city of Tova at the behest of their leader Naranpa, the Sun Priest. The Tova clans are preparing a winter solstice celebration, but there’s a high possibility that a war is coming—and all those in the Sun Priest’s orbit are in danger. Roanhorse has written a complicated, entertaining, and high stakes novel that will leave readers longing for the other books to come.
Talia Lavin has long been a target for far-right extremists, resulting in rampant online and offline harassment, Fox News segments, and full-on campaigns to get her fired from contract jobs. Rather than going into hiding, Lavin has remained herself—advocating online for progressive policies, writing stories that delve into her politics, and researching far-right extremism in the United States. Culture Warlords recounts much of what Lavin has learned about white nationalists by adopting different fake identities and going deep into their internet circles. She illuminates how they recruit and train extremists, encourage violence, and perpetuate racism and antisemitism. If you want to learn more about how these people operate, especially as we near the presidential election, then Culture Warlords should be at the top of your reading list.
Beloved poet Ntozake Shange died in 2018, leaving an unfillable void for many Black women writers and readers who admired her work and hoped to continue it. But Shange’s first posthumous work is a beautiful reminder of her writing gift as well as her ability to connect across generations, this time through musings about the artform of dance. Before she became a poet and playwright, Shange was a dancer who thrived on stage, tapping into the rhythms she felt in her bones. Dance We Do is an ode to her first love. She not only traces her own dance history, but she also teaches the reader about the history of Black dance through the soles of those who taught her, including Mickey Davidson, Halifu Osumare, and Dianne McIntyre. If you’ve been missing Shange’s voice, then Dance We Do will definitely hit a sweet spot.
When Evalene Deschamps, better known as Evvie, reaches puberty, she knows that everything will soon change for her. She’s the latest inheritor of Jubilation, a set of magical abilities passed down from woman to woman in her family. Though Evvie knows she’s living in the magic-filled Jim Crow South of the ’60s, she simply wants to be a teenager, developing crushes, figuring herself out, and navigating teenage school politics. But Jubilation won’t allow that for her, especially after a dangerous white man arrives in her town to wreak havoc. It’s on her to turn the tide and keep her family safe. Daughters of Jubilation is an enchanting read that reimagines history in a way that honors Black girlhood.
Destiny O. Birdsong is a phenomenal poet: After receiving fellowships from prestigious workshops, including Cave Canem, Callaloo, Tin House, and The MacDowell Colony, the Louisiana-born poet has published her debut collection about what it means to be a Black woman in a world that puts a target on our backs from birth. Birdsong explores this idea through compelling poems about autoimmune disorders, Cardi B, and what it means to create a politics of self-love. Negotiations signals the arrival of a voice we should all be paying attention to, one that thoughtfully and purposefully broadens our thinking about the interiority of Black women’s lives.
A new work from Nikki Giovanni is always worth celebrating, especially when she’s traversing the terrain she’s most revered for excavating: racial tension, social injustice, and a world that could be better—but stubbornly refuses to be. Make Me Rain is Giovanni at her best, writing sharply about Donald Trump’s presidency, her abusive childhood, the ongoing stain of racism, and how we can fortify ourselves against a world that constantly leaves us in an emotional upheaval. We’ve been blessed with this collection and we should cherish it as the true gift it is.
Journalist and activist Paola Ramos has long been a powerful voice in our political discourse, especially around issues related to immigration, but Finding Latinx takes her on a different journey. Ramos traveled the country to speak with various Latinx communities in different cities about the term “Latinx”—who uses it, how it has been adopted, how it’s contested, and what it means to create solidarity around a singular identity. Finding Latinx brings Ramos through New York, Texas, Wisconsin, and other states, attempting to understand how Latinx communities organize themselves in a country that pathologized them. Through thorough, layered reporting, Ramos doesn’t come to any easy answers; instead, she simply lets the reader make sense of her findings.