The Fourth of July, or what I like to call, the holiday where I take a day off to eat BBQ, drink margaritas, and wear primary colors, is one of my favorite days of the year. It goes without saying that this is not because I feel inclined to celebrate a bunch of white guys in wigs and the beginning of colonial America. As a matter of fact, neither do I enjoy U.S. patriotism nor do I believe that this phrase provides any security to the majority of Americans:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
When I read that, I feel confused as to why people still reference it in their speeches and inspirational lectures when we KNOW that this declaration was meant for a specific group of people (*cough cough* white dudes). Therefore, because this text is outdated, and not to mention, completely unapproachable in terms of diction, I have decided to dedicate this July 4th to some of my favorite American writers, that happen to all be women. In order to honor all of the new forms of independence this country has gained, and all that we have yet to acquire, this small list not only spans decades, genres, races, creeds and classes, but it is also comprised of ground-breaking content and style. Also, although all of the works by these writers are worth reading, I have chosen "America" themed texts so we can remember that alongside all the Great American Novels, there were other important histories being made and stories being told.
So, after your crazy Fourth of July antics during which you will also probably think, "dude, this holiday is fun and all, but who the hell were those guys tryna white-wash and colonize this beautiful country?", I recommend decompressing and recovering with one or all of the incredible minds listed below.
1. Toni Morrison
Toni, what can I say besides, thank you. I swear to god that with every key pressed, flowers blossom at your fingertips and onto the pages of your vivid literature. You are a literary pioneer who explored and exposed themes that were neglected for centuries. In 1970, you published your first novel, The Bluest Eye, which you wrote while teaching at Howard University and raising two children as a single mother simultaneously. Like many others, I consider The Bluest Eye to be one of the most important American fiction novels. Though the story is fictional, the narrative deals with racism, incest, and white colonial beauty standards, all issues that still exist today. If they had not been addressed in Toni's many novels, who knows where we would be today. So I thank you again, Toni, for being such an inspiring, independent individual.
2. Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein, a poet, novelist, playwright, and avid art-collector who defied the idea of textual linearity. Stein, you took the structure of 19th century literature and culture, and turned it on its head. Some of your works are cryptic, coded, or in disguise, but the excitement and importance of your experimental style will never fade. The book pictured above is a collection of her works compiled to reveal Stein's standpoint on the state of human nature in American culture. You are a true modernist, one of the first, and we thank you for that.
3. Annie Proulx
Annie Proulx you are a critically acclaimed novelist most famous for your sexxxxxay short story, Brokeback Mountain, which was later adapted into a film by Ang Lee. In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, the film Brokeback Mountain, won a Golden Globe. Annie got her start writing for several different magazines, information that gives any editorial intern out there hope. Annie's stories focus on class relations and issues of gender and sexuality. Placing these juicy stories in the gritty North West makes them even more irresistible. Annie, you are a beautiful American writer telling American stories we want to read.
4. Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine, Lorraine, you are such a wonderful playwright, and it breaks my heart to have learned how young you were when you passed away. You were the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. Your work is so important because it documented and challenged real issues like segregation, racism, and housing discrimination. In fact, your famous play, A Raisin in the Sun, provoked a supreme court case entitled, Hansberry v. Lee, that contested a racially restrictive covenant barring African Americans from purchasing or leasing land in a Chicago neighborhood. In addition to being a writer and playwright, you were an intellectual and an activist for the African struggle and liberation movements. You were also a feminist, and a lot of your writing dealt with sexual freedom. According to Wikipedia, your work inspired Nina Simone’s song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black." You are so fucking cool, thank you for your gifts to American cultural history.
5. Joan Didion
Joan Didion, you are a rockstar, and not just because you got to hangout with a lot of them (i.e. Jim Morrison). You are a genius writer who speaks so eloquently about loss, love, and grief all at the same time. Your books are a blast to read and I love how the catharsis writing brings you is so apparent. You are not just a rockstar, but also a rock, for your family, your community, and your readers. The Year of Magical Thinking is my favorite of your books because it speaks to how we understand and deal with loss, grief, and depression in a culture that awards and perpetuates a happiness industry. Your words demonstrate the adventure and the sorrow of life in a way no other writer has for me, and I deeply appreciate that. Keep on rocking Joan.
6. Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander, you are definitely the youngest and most current on the list, but your new book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is one of the most important books that exists today and has received critical national acclaim. Your book concentrates on the mass incarceration of African-American men and the trenchant racism of the issue due to a systemic racial discrimination that has continued to exist in the United States since the Civil Rights Movement. This book stands as an indispensable historical and sociological text as it speaks to the ways in which racism, sexism, and ableism, are all presently embedded in our system and why it continues to be ignored. Thank you for your contributions to the literary community and to the world of social justice and activism.
Oh, this list could go on and on, so I guess I'll start my list for next year. Stay tuned and happy Independence Day.