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Olaronke Akinmowo, an interdisciplinary artist based in N.Y.C., started The Free Black Women’s Library in 2015 to foster community by encouraging readers to take from and add to her growing collection of books by Black women writers. TFBWL has grown since then into a social art project that includes over 3,000 titles, traveling interactive installations, and free monthly gatherings. Here, Akinmowo shares five reading recommendations for books that celebrate the broad spectrum of Black womanhood.

library 11915Olaronke Akinmowo [far left] with visitors to an outdoor TFBWL tent.

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Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

This engaging and pivotal text features Black artists, writers, scholars, teachers, cultural workers, and community activists speaking plainly on how they are shaping a world that is safer and more radical for themselves and others. It is a totem in honor of the dreams and visions of the Black creative mind—a balm and a blessing for present and future creatives.

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This debut short-story collection gives insight into the lives of women from four different generations as they confront how the church has stifled their lives. Though all are placed in a different time, space, and class, each is focused on and driven by her own pleasure. It is deeply refreshing to see Black women being painted in this way, and to experience the world through their eyes.

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Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name: A Biomythography by Audre Lorde

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In this classic memoir, iconic, self-defined Black feminist lesbian poet Audre Lorde created a new literary genre by combining history, biography, and myth to tell the story of her young life. She is a world traveler, rule breaker, and risk taker. Lorde portrays herself as the hero of the epic adventure that is her life and it’s quite magnificent and inspiring.

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The Stars And The Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

This YA novel is one the deepest, most tender love stories I have ever read. It’s about two Black teen girls who find home and safety in each other, and it captures the nuances of the Black diaspora while telling a queer story devoid of stereotypical extreme violence or pathology. I am so happy this book exists, since positive representation for queer BIPOC readers is sorely lacking.

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Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

This award-winning essay collection is smart, witty, insightful, and should be used as a refer- ence in research papers on politics, society, and culture. Author Tressie McMillan Cottom tackles the intersections of race and gender and pushes readers to develop a deeper understanding of the complications of Black womanhood. She does not pander or minimize, but instead delivers straight facts about Black women’s experiences. It’s pure genius.

By Nina Karina

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today! 

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