What to Read When You Want to Celebrate Feminism

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This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and as our wise Managing Editor Lyz Lenz tweeted recently, “the perfect Mother’s Day gift is the end of the patriarchy.”

While we can’t promise to shut down the patriarchy in the next forty-eight hours, we here at The Rumpus matriarchy are celebrating all of our feminist “mothers” this Mother’s Day. Here are a list of must-read books by feminists, from historical figures to present-day badass women. These writers, and their works, inspire us to keep pushing towards a truly intersectional, inclusive feminism that can truly topple the patriarchy once and for all.

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Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
In this collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture. Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

 

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis
A powerful study of the women’s liberation movement in the US, from abolitionist days to the present, that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.

 

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. These landmark writings are, in Lorde’s own words, a call to “never close our eyes to the terror, to the chaos which is Black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is…”

 

Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 by Lucille Clifton
A landmark collection by one of America’s major black poets, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980 includes all of Lucille Clifton’s first four published collections of extraordinary vibrant poetry—Good Times, Good News About the Earth, An Ordinary Woman, and Two-Headed Woman—as well as her haunting prose memoir, Generations.

 

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History and Our Future! by Kate Schatz
Like all A-Z books, this one illustrates the alphabet—but instead of “A is for Apple,” A is for Angela—as in Angela Davis, the iconic political activist. B is for Billie Jean King, who shattered the glass ceiling of sports; C is for Carol Burnett, who defied assumptions about women in comedy; D is for Dolores Huerta, who organized farmworkers; and E is for Ella Baker, who helped shape the Civil Rights Movement. And the list of great women continues, spanning several centuries, multiple professions, and twenty-six diverse individuals. The book includes an introduction that discusses what it means to be “rad” and “radical,” an afterword with twenty-six suggestions for how you can be “rad,” and a Resource Guide with ideas for further learning and reading.

 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is poetic and powerful.

 

Adelaide Crapsey: On the Life and Work of an American Master edited by Jenny Molberg and Christian Bancroft
Hadara Bar-Nadav, author of The New Nudity, writes of this recently released Pleiades Press collection:

Adelaide Crapsey was a visionary poet whose innovative approaches to form laid the groundwork for modernist poetics. Her 5-line cinquains bristle, breathlessly compressed, wriggling and alive. Though her spare, evocative, poems paved the way for the imagists, her work is also undeniably fresh and strange and contemporary, as when she addresses her failing lung, calling it a “freak I cannot pardon.” In this Unsung Masters anthology, Crapsey—a vital, game-changing poet—finally takes her place in literary history.

 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Initially published under the pseudonym Currer Bell in 1847, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre erupted onto the English literary scene, immediately winning the devotion of many of the world’s most renowned writers, including William Makepeace Thackeray, who declared it a work “of great genius.” Widely regarded as a revolutionary novel, Brontë’s masterpiece introduced the world to a radical new type of heroine, one whose defiant virtue and moral courage departed sharply from the more acquiescent and malleable female characters of the day. Passionate, dramatic, and surprisingly modern, Jane Eyre endures as one of the world’s most beloved novels.

 

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Work by Sor Juana
Sor Juana (1651–1695) was a fiery feminist and a woman ahead of her time. Like Simone de Beauvoir, she was very much a public intellectual. An illegitimate child, self-taught intellectual, and court favorite, she rose to the height of fame as a writer in Mexico City during the Spanish Golden Age. This volume includes Sor Juana’s best-known works: “First Dream,” her longest poem and the one that showcases her prodigious intellect and range, and “Response of the Poet to the Very Eminent Sor Filotea de la Cruz,” her epistolary feminist defense of a woman’s right to study and to write. Thirty other works―playful ballads, extraordinary sonnets, intimate poems of love, and a selection from an allegorical play with a distinctive New World flavor―are also included.

 

The Eros of Everyday Life: Essays on Ecology, Gender, and Society by Susan Griffin
In The Eros of Everyday Life, Griffin takes readers on a startling journey, showing the profound connections between religion and philosophy, science and nature, Western thought and the role of women, and the supremacy of abstract thought over the forces of life. Featuring the brilliant original title essay that is nothing less than an intellectual and emotional exploration of the nature of Western society itself, as well as Susan Griffin’s best previously published essays of the past decade, The Eros of Everyday Life combines the beautiful lyricism and sensibility of a poet with the intellectual rigor of one of the finest and most original minds writing today.

 

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the straitened confines of her domestic situation. Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry, and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening.

 

To look at the sea is to become what one is by Etel Adnan
This landmark two-volume edition follows Adnan’s work from the infernal elegies of the 1960s to the ethereal meditations of her later poems, to form a portrait of an extraordinarily impassioned and prescient life. Ranging between essay, fiction, poetry, memoir, feminist manifesto, and philosophical treatise, while often challenging the conventions of genre, Adnan’s works give voice to the violence and revelation of the last six decades as it has centered, in part, within the geopolitics of the Arab world, and in particular the author’s native Beirut.

 

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa
Originally released in 1981, This Bridge Called My Back is a testimony to women of color feminism as it emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Through personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, the collection explores, as coeditor Cherríe Moraga writes, “the complex confluence of identities—race, class, gender, and sexuality—systemic to women of color oppression and liberation.” Reissued nearly thirty-five years after its inception, the fourth edition contains an extensive new introduction by Moraga, along with a previously unpublished statement by Gloria Anzaldúa.

 

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. In The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston creates an entirely new form—an exhilarating blend of autobiography and mythology, of world and self, of hot rage and cool analysis. First published in 1976, it has become a classic in its innovative portrayal of multiple and intersecting identities—immigrant, female, Chinese, American.

 

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange
From its inception in California in 1974 to its highly acclaimed critical success at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and on Broadway, the Obie Award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has excited, inspired, and transformed audiences all over the country. Passionate and fearless, Shange’s words reveal what it is to be of color and female in the twentieth century. First published in 1975 when it was praised by the New Yorker for “encompassing… every feeling and experience a woman has ever had,” for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf will be read and performed for generations to come. Here is the complete text, with stage directions, of a groundbreaking dramatic prose poem written in vivid and powerful language that resonates with unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world.

 

Against Forgetting edited by Carolyn Forché
Bearing witness to extremity―whether of war, torture, exile, or repression―the volume encompasses more than one hundred forty poets from five continents, over the span of this century from the Armenian genocide to Tiananmen Square.

 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

 

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word. Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.

 

Map: Collected and Last Poems by Wisława Szymborska
One of Europe’s greatest poets is also its wisest, wittiest, and most accessible. Nobel Prize winner Wisława Szymborska draws us in with her unexpected, unassuming humor. “If you want the world in a nutshell,” a Polish critic remarked, “try Szymborska.” But the world held in these lapidary poems is larger than the one we thought we knew. Edited by her longtime, award-winning translator, Clare Cavanagh, Map traces Szymborska’s work until her death in 2012. Of the approximately two hundred fifty poems included here, nearly forty are newly translated; thirteen represent the entirety of the poet’s last Polish collection, Enough, never before published in English.

 

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
One of the most talked-about scholarly works of the past fifty years, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble is as celebrated as it is controversial. Arguing that traditional feminism is wrong to look to a natural, “essential” notion of the female, or indeed of sex or gender, Butler starts by questioning the category “woman” and continues in this vein with examinations of “the masculine” and “the feminine.” Best known however, but also most often misinterpreted, is Butler’s concept of gender as a reiterated social performance rather than the expression of a prior reality. Thrilling and provocative, few other academic works have roused passions to the same extent.

 

Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
The classic volume by the distinguished modern poet, winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize, and recipient of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, showcases an esteemed artist’s technical mastery, her warm humanity, and her compassionate and illuminating response to a complex world.

 

We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Cover Girl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler
What does it mean when social change becomes a brand identity? Andi Zeisler, a founding editor of Bitch Media, draws on more than twenty years’ experience interpreting popular culture in this biting history of how feminism has been co-opted, watered down, and turned into a gyratory media trend. Surveying movies, television, advertising, fashion, and more, Zeisler reveals a media landscape brimming with the language of empowerment, but offering little in the way of transformational change. Witty, fearless, and unflinching, We Were Feminists Once is the story of how we let this happen, and how we can amplify feminism’s real purpose and power.

 

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Hailed as a classic of speculative fiction, Marge Piercy’s landmark novel is a transformative vision of two futures—and what it takes to will one or the other into reality. Connie Ramos is a Mexican American woman living on the streets of New York. Once ambitious and proud, she has lost her child, her husband, her dignity—and now they want to take her sanity. After being unjustly committed to a mental institution, Connie is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137, who shows her a time of sexual and racial equality, environmental purity, and unprecedented self-actualization. But Connie also bears witness to another potential outcome: a society of grotesque exploitation in which the barrier between person and commodity has finally been eroded. One will become our world—and Connie herself may strike the decisive blow.

 

The Language of Inquiry by Lyn Hejinian
Lyn Hejinian is among the most prominent of contemporary American poets. The Language of Inquiry is a comprehensive and wonderfully readable collection of her essays, and its publication promises to be an important event for American literary culture. Here, Hejinian brings together twenty essays written over a span of almost twenty-five years. Like many of the Language Poets with whom she has been associated since the mid-1970s, Hejinian turns to language as a social space, a site of both philosophical inquiry and political address.

 

Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet by Terese Svoboda
This is a rich and detailed account of the life and world of Lola Ridge, poet, artist, editor, and activist for the cause of women’s rights, workers’ rights, racial equality, and social reform. Svoboda takes the reader on a fascinating journey from Ridge’s childhood as a newly arrived Irish immigrant in the grim mining towns of New Zealand to her years as a budding poet and artist in Sydney, Australia, to her migration to America and the cities of San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. At one time considered one of the most popular poets of her day, she later fell out of critical favor due to her realistic and impassioned verse that looked head on at social woes. Moreover, her work and appearances alongside the likes of Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, Will Durant, and other socialists and radicals put her in the line of fire not only of the police and government, but also literary pundits. This lively portrait gives a veritable who’s who of all the key players in the arts, literature, and radical politics of the time, in which Lola Ridge stood front and center.

 

Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein
This centennial edition of Gertrude Stein’s groundbreaking modernist classic is the first and only version to incorporate Stein’s own handwritten corrections—found in a first-edition copy at the University of Colorado—as well as corrections discovered among her papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Editor Seth Perlow has assembled a text with over one hundred emendations, resulting in the first version of Tender Buttons that truly reflects its author’s intentions. The book includes facsimile images of some of Stein’s handwritten edits and lists of corrections, as well as an afterword by poet and scholar Juliana Spahr.

 

Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
Jessica Valenti has been leading the national conversation on gender and politics for over a decade. Now, in a memoir that Publishers Weekly calls “bold and unflinching,” Valenti explores the toll that sexism takes on women’s lives, from the everyday to the existential. From subway gropings and imposter syndrome to sexual awakenings and motherhood, Sex Object reveals the painful, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City.

 

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay
In this valuable and revealing anthology, Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics—including our own Managing Editor Lyz Lenz, Senior Features Editor Lisa Mecham, and Funny Women editor Elissa Bassist. Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

 

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho, translated by Anne Carson