What to Read When You Want to Celebrate Women’s History
March is Women’s History Month, and while we celebrate women’s history year-round at The Rumpus, we wanted to share a list of books written exclusively by women and genderqueer authors this month. We asked our editors to select new and forthcoming titles that shine a light on women’s lived experiences and/or that have changed how we think about women’s rights and gender equality.
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Without further ado, here are our editors’ picks for writing that speaks to women’s history—past, present, and future.
Girlhood by Melissa Febos
When her body began to change at eleven years old, Melissa Febos understood immediately that her meaning to other people had changed with it. By her teens, she defined herself based on these perceptions and by the romantic relationships she threw herself into headlong. Over time, Febos increasingly questioned the stories she’d been told about herself and the habits and defenses she’d developed over years of trying to meet others’ expectations. The values she and so many other women had learned in girlhood did not prioritize their personal safety, happiness, or freedom, and she set out to reframe those values and beliefs. Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
In present-day Miami, Jeanette is battling addiction. Daughter of Carmen, a Cuban immigrant, she is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticent mother and makes the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE. Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, must process her difficult relationship with her own mother while trying to raise a wayward Jeanette. Steadfast in her quest for understanding, Jeanette travels to Cuba to see her grandmother and reckon with secrets from the past destined to erupt. From 19th-century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico, Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt is a kaleidoscopic portrait of betrayals―personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others―that have shaped the lives of these extraordinary women. A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers, the legacy of the memories they carry, and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their stories despite those who wish to silence them, this is more than a diaspora story; it is a story of America’s most tangled, honest, human roots.
Milk Fed: A Novel by Melissa Broder
Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting. Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey. Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche—both sacred and profane.
Ghost Forest by Pik Shuen-Fung
How do you grieve, if your family doesn’t talk about feelings? This is the question the unnamed protagonist of Ghost Forest considers after her father dies. One of the many Hong Kong “astronaut” fathers, he stays there to work, while the rest of the family immigrated to Canada before the 1997 Handover, when the British returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to China. As the protagonist revisits memories of her father through the years, she struggles with unresolved questions and misunderstandings. Turning to her mother and grandmother for answers, she discovers her own life refracted brightly in theirs.
The Freezer Door by Mattilda B. Sycamore
The Freezer Door records the ebb and flow of desire in daily life. Crossing through loneliness in search of communal pleasure in Seattle, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore exposes the failure and persistence of queer dreams, the hypocritical allure of gay male sexual culture, and the stranglehold of the suburban imagination over city life. Ferocious and tender, The Freezer Door offers a complex meditation on the trauma and possibility of searching for connection in a world that relentlessly enforces bland norms of gender, sexual, and social conformity while claiming to celebrate diversity. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White
A lyrical, genre-bending, coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.
White Magic by Elissa Washuta
Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, “starter witch kits” of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning. In this collection of intertwined essays, she writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.
Variations on the Body by María Ospina, translated by Heather Cleary
In six subtly connected vignettes, Variations on the Body explores the obsessions, desires, and idiosyncrasies of women and girls from every level of Colombian society. A former FARC guerilla fighter adjusts to urban life and faces the new violence of an editor co-opting her experiences. A woman documents a flea infestation with a catalog of the marks on her body. A child copes with anxiety about the adult world by concocting—and drinking—“dirt juice” every day in the garden. Combining humor, heartbreak, and unsettling violence, Ospina weaves a multifaceted picture of contemporary Bogotá in vibrant, gleaming prose.
Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason by Gina Frangello
Gina Frangello spent her early adulthood trying to outrun a youth marked by poverty and violence. Now a long-married wife and devoted mother, the better life she carefully built is emotionally upended by the death of her closest friend. Soon, awakened to fault lines in her troubled marriage, Frangello is caught up in a recklessly passionate affair, leading a double life while continuing to project the image of the perfect family. When her secrets are finally uncovered, both her home and her identity will implode, testing the limits of desire, responsibility, love, and forgiveness. Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress “being good” in order to reclaim your own life.
Worn by Adrienne Christian
Tenderness meets pain meets joy here, offering up the voices of Black folks fostering connection with their children, their lovers, and themselves. Christian’s third collection of poetry takes the reader through love and longing, and manifests how we all cope and get dressed again after the harsh reality of our world lays us bare. From ghazals about erotic kinks to the disappointment of a father, these poems explore the clothes we reach for first when loss strips us naked. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke
There is a silent epidemic in America: loneliness. Shameful to talk about and often misunderstood, loneliness is everywhere, from the most major of metropolises to the smallest of towns. In Seek You, Kristen Radtke’s wide-ranging exploration of our inner lives and public selves, Radtke digs into the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains. Through the lenses of gender and violence, technology and art, Radtke ushers us through a history of loneliness and longing, and shares what feels impossible to share. Ranging from the invention of the laugh-track to the rise of Instagram, the bootstrap-pulling cowboy to the brutal experiments of Harry Harlow, Radtke investigates why we engage with each other, and what we risk when we turn away.
The Other Black Girl: A Novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW. It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career. A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti
The story begins in August 1947. Unrest plagues the streets of New Delhi leading up to the birth of the Muslim majority nation of Pakistan, and the Hindu majority nation of India. Sixteen-year-old Deepa navigates the changing politics of her home, finding solace in messages of intricate origami from her secret boyfriend Amir. Soon Amir flees with his family to Pakistan and a tragedy forces Deepa to leave the subcontinent forever. The story also begins sixty years later and half a world away, in Atlanta. While grieving both a pregnancy loss and the implosion of her marriage, Deepa’s granddaughter Shan begins the search for her estranged grandmother, a prickly woman who had little interest in knowing her. As she pieces together her family history shattered by the Partition, Shan discovers how little she actually knows about the women in her family and what they endured.
The Wild Fox of Yemen by Threa Almontaser
By turns aggressively reckless and fiercely protective, always guided by faith and ancestry, Threa Almontaser’s incendiary debut asks how mistranslation can be a form of self-knowledge and survival. A love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before, Almontaser’s polyvocal collection sneaks artifacts to and from worlds, repurposing language and adapting to the space between cultures. Half-crunk and hungry, speakers move with the force of what cannot be contained by the limits of the American imagination, and instead invest in troublemaking and trickery, navigate imperial violence across multiple accents and anthems, and apply gang signs in henna, utilizing any means necessary to form a semblance of home. In doing so, The Wild Fox of Yemen fearlessly rides the tension between carnality and tenderness in the unruly human spirit. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler’s demands, only to discover a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck. In the mirror, her canines suddenly look sharper than she remembers. Her husband, who travels for work five days a week, casually dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms. As the mother’s symptoms intensify, and her temptation to give in to her new dog impulses peak, she struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity secret. Seeking a cure at the library, she discovers the mysterious academic tome which becomes her bible, A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography, and meets a group of mommies involved in a multilevel-marketing scheme who may also be more than what they seem.
The Witch of Eye: Essays by Kathryn Nuernberger
This amazingly wise and nimble collection investigates the horrors inflicted on so-called “witches” of the past. The Witch of Eye unearths salves, potions, and spells meant to heal, yet interpreted by inquisitors as evidence of evil. The author describes torture and forced confessions alongside accounts of gentleness of legendary midwives. In one essay about a trial, we learn through folklore that Jesus’s mother was a midwife who cured her own son’s rheumatism. In other essays there are subtle parallels to contemporary discourse around abortion and environmental destruction. Nuernberger weaves in her own experiences, too. There’s an ironic look at her own wedding, an uncomfortable visit to the Prague Museum of Torture, and an afternoon spent tearing out a garden in a mercurial fit. Her researched material is eye-opening, lively, and often funny. An absolutely thrilling collection.
Pleasantview by Celeste Mohammed
Coconut trees. Carnival. Rum and coke. To many outsiders, these idyllic images represent the supposed easy life in Caribbean nations such as Trinidad and Tobago. However, the reality is far different for those who live there—a society where poverty and patriarchy savagely rule, and where love and revenge often go hand in hand. Written in a combination of English and Trinidad Creole, Pleasantview reveals the dark side of the Caribbean dream. In this novel-in-stories about a fictional town in Trinidad, we meet a political candidate who sets out to slaughter endangered turtles for fun, while his rival candidate beats his “outside-woman,” so badly she ends up losing their baby. On the night of a political rally, the abused woman exacts a very public revenge, the trajectory of which echoes through Pleasantview, ending with one boy introducing another boy to a gun and to an ideology which will help him aim the weapon.
The Collection Plate by Kendra Allen
Looping exultantly through the overlapping experiences of girlhood, Blackness, sex, and personhood in America, award-winning essayist and poet Kendra Allen braids together personal narrative and cultural commentary, wrestling with the beauty and brutality to be found between mothers and daughters, young women and the world, Black bodies and white space, virginity and intrusion, prison and freedom, birth and death. Most of all, The Collection Plate explores both how we collect and erase the voices, lives, and innocence of underrepresented bodies—and behold their pleasure, pain, and possibility.
Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger
Despite her parents’ struggles with addiction, Lilly Dancyger always thought of her childhood as a happy one. But what happens when a journalist interrogates her own rosy memories to reveal the instability around the edges? Dancyger’s father, Joe Schactman, was part of the iconic 1980s East Village art scene. He created provocative sculptures out of found materials like animal bones, human hair, and broken glass, and brought his young daughter into his gritty, iconoclastic world. She idolized him—despite the escalating heroin addiction that sometimes overshadowed his creative passion. When Schactman died suddenly, just as Dancyger was entering adolescence, she went into her own self-destructive spiral, raging against a world that had taken her father away. As an adult, Dancyger began to question the mythology she’d created about her father—the brilliant artist, struck down in his prime. Using his sculptures, paintings, and prints as a guide, Dancyger sought out the characters from his world who could help her decode the language of her father’s work to find the truth of who he really was. Featuring Schactman’s artwork throughout, Negative Space explores Dancyger’s grief, anger, and artistic inheritance as she sets out to illuminate the darkness her father hid from her, as well as her own. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men. Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese—and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby—and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it—Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family—and raise the baby together?
Pretty Tripwire by Alessandra Lynch
In Lynch’s fourth collection, we carefully navigate the fine line between terror and beauty as we face palpable trauma, heartbreak, and wild astonishment through the raw and personal poems. The genuine, delicate voice works to examine who we are, after everything.
What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster
A community in the Piedmont of North Carolina rises in outrage as a county initiative draws students from the largely Black east side of town into predominantly white high schools on the west. For two students, Gee and Noelle, the integration sets off a chain of events that will tie their two families together in unexpected ways over the span of the next twenty years. On one side of the integration debate is Jade, Gee’s steely, ambitious mother. In the aftermath of a harrowing loss, she is determined to give her son the tools he’ll need to survive in America as a sensitive, anxious, young Black man. On the other side is Noelle’s headstrong mother, Lacey May, a white woman who refuses to see her half-Latina daughters as anything but white. She strives to protect them as she couldn’t protect herself from the influence of their charming but unreliable father, Robbie. When Gee and Noelle join the school play meant to bridge the divide between new and old students, their paths collide, and their two seemingly disconnected families begin to form deeply knotted, messy ties that will shape the trajectory of their adult lives. And their mothers—each determined to see her child inherit a better life—will make choices that will haunt them for decades to come.
Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James
When we find what gives our life meaning, will we be ready for it? Get ready to meet Mona Mireles, the infamous “Sad Millennial,” as she finds herself unemployed, living with her parents, and adrift in life and love. Mona is a perfectionist who fails upwards in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis. Mona walks a knife’s edge as she faces unemployment, underemployment, the complexities of adult relationships, and the downward spiral of her parents’ shattering marriage. The more Mona craves perfection and order, the more she is forced to see that it is never attainable. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Letter to a Young Female Physician: Notes from a Medical Life by Suzanne Koven
In 2017, Dr. Suzanne Koven published an essay describing the challenges faced by female physicians, including her own personal struggle with “imposter syndrome”—a long-held secret belief that she was not smart enough or good enough to be a “real” doctor. Accessed by thousands of readers around the world, Koven’s “Letter to a Young Female Physician” has evolved into a deeply felt reflection on her career in medicine. Koven tells candid and illuminating stories about her pregnancy during a grueling residency in the AIDS era; the illnesses of her child and aging parents during which her roles as a doctor, mother, and daughter converged, and sometimes collided; the sexism, pay inequity, and harassment that women in medicine encounter; and the twilight of her career during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she traces the arc of her life, Koven finds inspiration in literature and faces the near-universal challenges of burnout, body image, and balancing work with marriage and parenthood.
Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo
Nima doesn’t feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn’t. As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn’t give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry. And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else’s… she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.
Cleave by Tiana Nobile
In her debut collection, Tiana Nobile grapples with the history of transnational adoption, both her own from South Korea and the broader, collective experience. In conversation with psychologist Harry Harlow’s monkey experiments and utilizing fragments of a highly personal cache of documents from her own adoption, these poems explore dislocation, familial relationships, and the science of love and attachment. Cleave attempts to unknot the complexities of adoptee childhood, revealing a nature of opposites—”the child cleaved to her mother / the child cleaved from her mother”—while reckoning with the histories that make us.
Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford
It’s 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and fifteen-year-old Justine grows up in a family of tough, complicated, and loyal women presided over by her mother, Lula, and Granny. After Justine’s father abandoned the family, Lula became a devout member of the Holiness Church—a community that Justine at times finds stifling and terrifying. But Justine does her best as a devoted daughter until an act of violence sends her on a different path forever. Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine―a mixed-blood Cherokee woman―and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world―of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados―intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.
Eat the Mouth that Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza
In visceral, embodied prose, Fragoza’s imperfect characters are drawn with a sympathetic tenderness as they struggle against circumstances and conditions designed to defeat them. A young woman returns home from college, only to pick up exactly where she left off: a smart girl in a rundown town with no future. A mother reflects on the pain and pleasures of being inexorably consumed by her small daughter, whose penchant for ingesting grandma’s letters has extended to taking bites of her actual flesh. A brother and sister watch anxiously as their distraught mother takes an ax to their old furniture, and then to the backyard fence, until finally she attacks the family’s beloved lime tree. Victories are excavated from the rubble of personal hardship, and women’s wisdom is brutally forged from the violence of history that continues to unfold on both sides of the US-Mexico border.
Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
Both radically tender and desperate for change, Water I Won’t Touch is a life raft and a self-portrait, concerned with the vitality of trans people living in a dangerous and inhospitable landscape. Through the brambles of the Pennsylvania forest to a stretch of the Jersey Shore, in quiet moments and violent memories, Kayleb Rae Candrilli touches the broken earth and examines the whole in its parts. Written during the body’s healing from a double mastectomy―in the wake of addiction and family dysfunction―these ambitious poems put new form to what’s been lost and gained. Candrilli ultimately imagines a joyful, queer future: a garden to harvest, lasting love, the insistent flamboyance of citrus. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Justine by Forsyth Harmon
A debut illustrated novel, Justine is a sharp, intimate portrayal of girlhood on the edge of adulthood, and the thin line between friendship and obsession. When Long Island teenager Ali visits the local Stop & Shop, she finds herself powerfully drawn to a cashier, the seductive and troubled Justine, who’s so tall and thin she looks almost two-dimensional. Intrigued, Ali applies for a job on the spot. During the ensuing sizzling weeks of summer 1999, Justine takes Ali under her wing, and Ali’s fixation on Justine grows. But even as Ali reshapes herself in Justine’s image—unsure of whether she wants to be with her or be her—their inability to truly connect leads to a series of events that spiral from superficial to seismic.
Dog Flowers: A Memoir by Danielle Geller
When Danielle Geller’s mother dies of alcohol withdrawal during an attempt to get sober, Geller returns to Florida and finds her mother’s life packed into eight suitcases. Most were filled with clothes, except for the last one, which contained diaries, photos, and letters, a few undeveloped disposable cameras, dried sage, jewelry, and the bandana her mother wore on days she skipped a hair wash. Geller, an archivist and a writer, uses these pieces of her mother’s life to try and understand her mother’s relationship to home, and their shared need to leave it. Geller embarks on a journey where she confronts her family’s history and the decisions that she herself had been forced to make while growing up, a journey that will end at her mother’s home: the Navajo reservation.
Caul Baby: A Novel by Morgan Jerkins
Laila desperately wants to become a mother, but each of her previous pregnancies has ended in heartbreak. This time has to be different, so she turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power. When a deal for Laila to acquire a piece of caul falls through, she is heartbroken, but when the child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that a baby will soon be delivered in her family—by her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student—and delivered to the Melancons to raise as one of their own. Hallow is special: she’s born with a caul, and their matriarch, Maman, predicts the girl will restore the family’s prosperity. Growing up, Hallow feels that something in her life is not right. Did Josephine, the woman she calls mother, really bring her into the world? Why does her cousin Helena get to go to school and roam the streets of New York freely while she’s confined to the family’s decrepit brownstone? As the Melancons’ thirst to maintain their status grows, Amara, now a successful lawyer running for district attorney, looks for a way to avenge her longstanding grudge against the family. When mother and daughter cross paths, Hallow will be forced to decide where she truly belongs.
Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays by Lauren Hough
As an adult, Lauren Hough has had many identities: an airman in the US Air Force, a cable guy, a bouncer at a gay club. As a child, however, she had none. Growing up as a member of the infamous cult The Children of God, Hough had her own self robbed from her. The cult took her all over the globe—to Germany, Japan, Texas, Chile—but it wasn’t until she finally left for good that Lauren understood she could have a life beyond “The Family.” Along the way, she’s loaded up her car and started over, trading one life for the next. She’s taken pilgrimages to the sights of her youth, been kept in solitary confinement, dated a lot of women, dabbled in drugs, and eventually found herself as what she always wanted to be: a writer. Here, as she sweeps through the underbelly of America—relying on friends, family, and strangers alike—she begins to excavate a new identity even as her past continues to trail her and color her world, relationships, and perceptions of self.
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
A few weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday, Suleika Jaouad received a diagnosis: leukemia, with a 35% chance of survival. Just like that, the life she had imagined for herself went up in flames. She would spend much of the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and chronicling the saga in a column for The New York Times. When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward—after three and a half years of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant—she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins. How would she reenter the world and live again? How could she reclaim what had been lost? Jaouad embarked on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country. What she learned on this trip is that the divide between sick and well is porous, that the vast majority of us will travel back and forth between these realms throughout our lives.
Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter
Celeste Morton has eagerly awaited her passage to adulthood. Like every girl, she was born with a set of childhood markings—the freckles, moles, and birthmarks on her body that foretell her future and that of those around her—and with puberty will come a new set of predictions that will solidify her fate. The possibilities are tantalizing enough to outweigh the worry that the future she dreams of won’t be the one she’s fated to have and the fear of her “changeling period”: the time when women are nearly irresistible to men and the risk of abduction is rife. Celeste’s beloved brother, Miles, is equally anticipating her transition to adulthood. As a skilled interpreter of the future, a field that typically excludes men, Miles considers Celeste his practice ground—and the only clue to what his own future will bring. But when Celeste changes, she learns a devastating secret about Miles’s fate: a secret that could destroy her family, a secret she will do anything to keep. Yet Celeste isn’t the only one keeping secrets, and when the lies of brother and sister collide, it leads to a tragedy that will irrevocably change Celeste’s fate, set her on a path to fight against the inherent misogyny of fortune-telling, and urge her to create a future that is truly her own.
No One Is Talking about This: A Novel by Patricia Lockwood
As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats—from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness—begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?” Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Love Is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar
As an American raised for a time in Egypt, and finding herself captivated by the story of a celebrated Egyptian belly dancer’s journey across the United States in the 1940s, Randa Jarrar sets off from her home in California to her parents’ in Connecticut. Coloring this road trip are journeys abroad and recollections of a life lived with daring. Reclaiming her autonomy after a life of survival—domestic assault as a child, and later, as a wife; threats and doxxing after her viral tweet about Barbara Bush—Jarrar offers a bold look at domestic violence, single motherhood, and sexuality through the lens of the punished-yet-triumphant body. On the way, she schools a rest-stop racist, destroys Confederate flags in the desert, and visits the Chicago neighborhood where her immigrant parents first lived. Jarrar delivers a euphoric and critical, funny and profound memoir that will speak to anyone who has felt erased, asserting: I am here. I am joyful. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson was all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, had a vision for their future together: Libertie would go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy
It is the day of her brother’s wedding and our narrator is still struggling with her toast. Despite a recent fracture between them, her brother, Danny, has asked her to give a speech and she doesn’t know where to begin, how to put words to their kind of love. She was nine years old when she traveled with her parents to Thailand to meet her brother, six years her junior. They grew up together like any other siblings, sharing a bucolic childhood in Northern California. Yet when she holds their story up to the light, it refracts in ways she doesn’t expect. What follows is Immediate Family, a heartfelt letter addressed to Danny and an attempt at a full accounting of their years growing up, invoking everything from the Victorian adoption plot to childless women in literature to documents from Danny’s case file. It’s also a confession, of sorts, to the parts of her life that she has kept from him, including her own struggle with infertility. And as the hours until the wedding wane, she uncovers the words that can’t and won’t be said aloud.
Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow
Kat Chow has always been unusually fixated on death. She worried constantly about her parents dying—especially her mother. A vivacious and mischievous woman, Kat’s mother made a morbid joke that would haunt her for years to come: when she died, she’d like to be stuffed and displayed in Kat’s future apartment in order to always watch over her. After her mother dies unexpectedly from cancer, Kat, her sisters, and their father are plunged into a debilitating, lonely grief. With a distinct voice that is wry and heartfelt, Kat weaves together a story of the fallout of grief that follows her extended family as they emigrate from China and Hong Kong to Cuba and America. Seeing Ghosts asks what it means to reclaim and tell your family’s story: Is writing an exorcism or is it its own form of preservation?
Low Country: A Memoir by J. Nicole Jones
J. Nicole Jones is the only daughter of a prominent South Carolina family, a family that grew rich building the hotels and seafood restaurants that draw tourists to Myrtle Beach. But at home, she is surrounded by violence and capriciousness: a grandfather who beats his wife, a barman father who dreams of being a country music star. At one time, Jones’s parents can barely afford groceries; at another, her volatile grandfather presents her with a fur coat. After a girlhood of extreme wealth and deep debt, of ghosts and folklore, of cruel men and unwanted spectacle, Jones finds herself face to face with an explosive possibility concerning her long-abused grandmother that she can neither speak nor shake. And through the lens of her own family’s catastrophes and triumphs, Jones pays homage to the landscapes and legends of her childhood home, a region haunted by its history: Eliza Pinckney cultivates indigo, Blackbeard ransacks the coast, and the Gray Man paces the beach, warning of Hurricane Hazel.
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans
From spoken word poet Jasmine Mans comes an unforgettable poetry collection about race, feminism, and queer identity. With echoes of Gwendolyn Brooks and Sonia Sanchez, Mans writes to call herself—and us—home. Each poem explores what it means to be a daughter of Newark, and America—and the painful, joyous path to adulthood as a young, queer Black woman. Black Girl, Call Home is a love letter to the wandering Black girl and a vital companion to any woman on a journey to find truth, belonging, and healing.
On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson
Drawing on a vast range of material, from critical theory to pop culture to the intimacies and plain exchanges of daily life, Maggie Nelson explores how we might think, experience, or talk about freedom in ways responsive to the conditions of our day. Her abiding interest lies in ongoing “practices of freedom” by which we negotiate our interrelation with―indeed, our inseparability from—others, with all the care and constraint that entails, while accepting difference and conflict as integral to our communion. For Nelson, thinking publicly through the knots in our culture―from recent art-world debates to the turbulent legacies of sexual liberation, from the painful paradoxes of addiction to the lure of despair in the face of the climate crisis―is itself a practice of freedom, a means of forging fortitude, courage, and company. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Goldenrod by Maggie Smith
Award-winning poet Maggie Smith returns with a powerful collection of poems that look at parenthood, solitude, love, and memory. Pulling objects from everyday life—a hallway mirror, a rock found in her son’s pocket, a field of goldenrods at the side of the road—she reveals the magic of the present moment. Only Maggie Smith could turn an autocorrect mistake into a line of poetry, musing that her phone “doesn’t observe / the high holidays, autocorrecting / shana tova to shaman tobacco, / Rosh Hashanah to rose has hands.” The poems in Goldenrod celebrate the contours of daily life, explore and delight in the space between thought and experience, and remind us that we decide what is beautiful.
Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejidé
Nephthys Kinwell is a taxi driver of sorts in Washington, DC, ferrying passengers in a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere with a ghost in the trunk. Endless rides and alcohol help her manage her grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris, who was murdered and dumped in the Anacostia River. Unknown to Nephthys when the novel opens in 1977, her estranged great-nephew, ten-year-old Dash, is finding himself drawn to the banks of that very same river. It is there that Dash—reeling from having witnessed an act of molestation at his school, but still questioning what and who he saw—has charmed conversations with a mysterious figure he calls the “River Man.” When Dash arrives unexpectedly at Nephthys’s door bearing a cryptic note about his unusual conversations with the River Man, Nephthys must face what frightens her most. Morowa Yejidé shows us an unseen Washington filled with otherworldly landscapes, flawed super-humans, and reluctant ghosts, and brings together a community intent on saving one young boy in order to reclaim itself. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
The Renunciations by Donika Kelly
The Renunciations is a book of resilience, survival, and the journey to radically shift one’s sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Donika Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. These poems construct life rafts and sanctuaries even in their most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear, with how families harm themselves. With the companionship of “the oracle”—an observer of memory who knows how each close call with oblivion ends—the act of remembrance becomes curative, and personal mythologies give way to a future defined less by wounds than by possibility. In this gorgeous and heartrending second collection, we find the home one builds inside oneself after reckoning with a legacy of trauma—a home whose construction starts “with a razing.”
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
Comics and cultural superstar Alison Bechdel delivers a deeply layered story of her fascination, from childhood to adulthood, with every fitness craze to come down the pike: from Jack LaLanne in the ’60s (“Outlandish jumpsuit! Cantaloupe-sized guns!”) to the existential oddness of present-day spin class. Readers will see their athletic or semi-active pasts flash before their eyes through an ever-evolving panoply of running shoes, bicycles, skis, and sundry other gear. But the more Bechdel tries to improve herself, the more her self appears to be the thing in her way. She turns for enlightenment to Eastern philosophers and literary figures, including Beat writer Jack Kerouac, whose search for self-transcendence in the great outdoors appears in moving conversation with the author’s own. This gifted artist and not-getting-any-younger exerciser comes to a soulful conclusion. The secret to superhuman strength lies not in six-pack abs, but in something much less clearly defined: facing her own non-transcendent but all-important interdependence with others.
Come-Hither Honeycomb by Erin Belieu
In Come-Hither Honeycomb, Erin Belieu turns her signature wit and intellectual rigor inward for an unguarded exploration of human vulnerability. The poems meditate on the impact of large and small traumas: the lasting thumbprint of abuse, the collective specter of disease, the achingly sweet humility of parenting. The bodies in these poems are trapped, held hostage, bleeding. And yet there is agency—structural dynamism, texture, the color green—while a woman climbs a metal ladder to the diving board, a girl climbs high into the branches. The speaker grapples with a lifelong pattern of brutality, then painfully breaks free. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir by Ashley C. Ford
For as long as she could remember, Ashley has put her father on a pedestal. Despite having only vague memories of seeing him face-to-face, she believes he’s the only person in the entire world who understands her. She thinks she understands him, too. He’s sensitive like her, an artist, and maybe even just as afraid of the dark. She’s certain that one day they’ll be reunited again, and she’ll finally feel complete. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there. Through poverty, puberty, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley returns to her image of her father for hope and encouragement. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates; when the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley finally finds out why her father is in prison. And that’s where the story really begins.
The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore
When Wayétu Moore turns five years old, her father and grandmother throw her a big birthday party at their home in Monrovia, Liberia, but all she can think about is how much she misses her mother, who is working and studying in faraway New York. Before she gets the reunion her father promised her, war breaks out in Liberia. The family is forced to flee their home on foot, walking and hiding for three weeks until they arrive in the village of Lai. Finally, a rebel soldier smuggles them across the border to Sierra Leone, reuniting the family and setting them off on yet another journey, this time to the United States. Spanning this harrowing journey in Moore’s early childhood, her years adjusting to life in Texas as a Black woman and an immigrant, and her eventual return to Liberia, The Dragons, the Giant, the Women is a deeply moving story of the search for home in the midst of upheaval. In capturing both the hazy magic and the stark realities of what is becoming an increasingly pervasive experience, Moore shines a light on the great political and personal forces that continue to affect many migrants around the world, and calls us all to acknowledge the tenacious power of love and family.
Jillian in the Borderlands by Beth Alvarado
Jillian Guzmán, who is nine years old at the beginning of the book, communicates through drawings rather than speech as she travels with her mother, Angie O’Malley, throughout the borderlands of Arizona and northwestern Mexico. Later she creates survival maps for border crossers and paints murals at the Casa de los Olvidados, a refuge in Sonora run by the traditional healer Juana of God. These darkly funny tales, focusing on Mexican-American, Euro-American, and Mexican characters, feature visionary experiences, ghosts, faith healers, a deer’s head that speaks, a dog who channels spirits of the dead—and a young woman whose drawings begin to create realities instead of just reflecting them. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Aftershocks: A Memoir by Nadia Owusu
Young Nadia Owusu followed her father, a United Nations official, from Europe to Africa and back again. Just as she and her family settled into a new home, her father would tell them it was time to say their goodbyes. The instability wrought by Nadia’s nomadic childhood was deepened by family secrets and fractures, both lived and inherited. Her Armenian American mother, who abandoned Nadia when she was two, would periodically reappear, only to vanish again. Her father, a Ghanaian, the great hero of her life, died when she was thirteen. After his passing, Nadia’s stepmother weighed her down with a revelation that was either a bombshell secret or a lie, rife with shaming innuendo. With these and other ruptures, Nadia arrived in New York as a young woman feeling stateless, motherless, and uncertain about her future, yet eager to find her own identity. What followed, however, were periods of depression in which she struggled to hold herself and her siblings together. Aftershocks is the way she hauled herself from the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, the means by which she has finally come to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one written into existence by her own hand.
The Way She Feels by Courtney Cook
What does it feel like to fall in love too hard and too fast, to hate yourself in equal and opposite measure? To live in such fear of rejection that you drive friends and lovers away? Welcome to my world. I’m Courtney, and I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), along with four million other people in the United States. Though I’ve shown every classic symptom of the disorder since childhood, I wasn’t properly diagnosed until nearly a decade later, because the prevailing theory is that most people simply “grow out of it.” Not me.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions. There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who has a crush on the preacher’s wife. At forty-two, Lyra realizes that her discomfort with her own body stands between her and a new love. As Y2K looms, Caroletta’s “same time next year” arrangement with her childhood best friend is tenuous. A serial mistress lays down the ground rules for her married lovers. In the dark shadows of a hospice parking lot, grieving strangers find comfort in each other. With their secret longings, new love, and forbidden affairs, these church ladies are as seductive as they want to be, as vulnerable as they need to be, as unfaithful and unrepentant as they care to be, and as free as they deserve to be.
Wound from the Mouth of a Wound by torrin a. greathouse
“Some girls are not made,” torrin a. greathouse writes, “but spring from the dirt.” Guided by a devastatingly precise hand, Wound from the Mouth of a Wound―selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as the winner of the 2020 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry―challenges a canon that decides what shades of beauty deserve to live in a poem. greathouse celebrates “buckteeth & ulcer.” She odes the pulp of a bedsore. She argues that the vestigial is not devoid of meaning, and in kinetic and vigorous language, she honors bodies the world too often wants dead. These poems ache, but they do not surrender. They bleed, but they spit the blood in our eyes. Their imagery pulses on the page, fractal and fluid, blooming in a medley of forms: broken essays, haibun born of erasure, a sonnet meant to be read in the mirror. greathouse’s poetry demands more of language and those who wield it. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Milk Blood Heat: Stories by Dantiel W. Moniz
Milk Blood Heat depicts the sultry lives of Floridians in intergenerational tales that contemplate human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance, and the elemental darkness in us all. Set among the cities and suburbs of Florida, each story delves into the ordinary worlds of young girls, women, and men who find themselves confronted by extraordinary moments of violent personal reckoning. These intimate portraits of people and relationships scour and soothe and blast a light on the nature of family, faith, forgiveness, consumption, and what we may, or may not, owe one another. A thirteen-year-old meditates on her sadness and the difference between herself and her white best friend when an unexpected tragedy occurs; a woman recovering from a miscarriage finds herself unable to let go of her daughter—whose body parts she sees throughout her daily life; a teenager resists her family’s church and is accused of courting the devil; servers at a supper club cater to the insatiable cravings of their wealthy clientele; and two estranged siblings take a road-trip with their father’s ashes and are forced to face the troubling reality of how he continues to shape them. Wise and subversive, spiritual and seductive, Milk Blood Heat forms an ouroboros of stories that bewitch with their truth.
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith
On a rainy October night in Kentucky, recently divorced therapist Tallie Clark is on her way home when she spots a man precariously standing on the edge of a bridge. Without a second thought, Tallie pulls over and jumps out of the car into the pouring rain. She convinces the man to join her for a cup of coffee, and he eventually agrees to come back to her house, where he finally, reluctantly, shares his first name: Emmett. Over the course of the emotionally charged weekend that follows, Tallie makes it her mission to provide a safe and comfortable space for Emmett, although she doesn’t confess that she works as a therapist. However, Emmett is not the only one who needs help—and he has secrets of his own. Alternating between Tallie and Emmett’s perspectives as they inch closer to the truth of what brought Emmett to the bridge, This Close to Okay is an uplifting, powerful story of two strangers brought together by wild chance at the moment they need it the most.
The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice Nimura
Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an MD. She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician. Exploring the sisters’ allies, enemies, and enduring partnership, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph. Together, the Blackwells founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, the first hospital staffed entirely by women. Both sisters were tenacious and visionary, but their convictions did not always align with the emergence of women’s rights—or with each other. From Bristol, Paris, and Edinburgh to the rising cities of antebellum America, this richly researched new biography celebrates two complicated pioneers who exploded the limits of possibility for women in medicine. As Elizabeth herself predicted, “a hundred years hence, women will not be what they are now.” A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Names for Light: A Family History by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint
Names for Light traverses time and memory to weigh three generations of a family’s history against a painful inheritance of postcolonial violence and racism. In spare, lyric paragraphs framed by white space, Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint explores home, belonging, and identity by revisiting the cities in which her parents and grandparents lived. As she makes inquiries into their stories, she intertwines oral narratives with the official and mythic histories of Myanmar. But while her family’s stories move into the present, her own story―that of a writer seeking to understand who she is―moves into the past, until both converge at the end of the book. Born in Myanmar and raised in Bangkok and San Jose, Myint finds that she does not have typical memories of arriving in the United States; instead, she is haunted by what she cannot remember. By the silences lingering around what is spoken. By a chain of deaths in her family line, especially that of her older brother as a child. For Myint, absence is felt as strongly as presence. And, as she comes to understand, naming those absences, finding words for the unsaid, means discovering how those who have come before have shaped her life.
A House Is a Body: Stories by Shruti Swamy
Dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity in the twelve arresting stories of A House Is a Body. In “Earthly Pleasures,” a young painter living alone in San Francisco begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities, and desire and ego are laid bare. In “A Simple Composition,” a husband’s professional crisis leads to his wife’s discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy. And in the title story, an exhausted mother watches, hypnotized by fear, as a California wildfire approaches her home. Immersive and assured, provocative and probing, these are stories written with the edge and precision of a knife blade. Set in the United States and India, they reveal small but intense moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
In the tourist town of Ciudad de Tres Hermanas, in the aftermath of their mother’s passing, two siblings spend a final weekend together in their childhood home. Seeing her brother, Rafa, careening toward a place of no return, Rufina devises a bet: if they can make enough money performing for privileged tourists in the plaza over the course of the weekend to afford a plane ticket out, Rafa must commit to living. If not, Rufina will make her peace with Rafa’s own plan for the future, however terrifying it may be. As the siblings reckon with generational and ancestral trauma, set against the indignities of present-day prejudice, other strange hauntings begin to stalk these pages: their mother’s ghost kicks her heels against the walls; Rufina’s vanished child creeps into her arms at night; and above all this, watching over the siblings, a genderless, flea-bitten angel remains hell-bent on saving what can be saved.
Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women by Lyz Lenz
In Belabored, journalist Lyz Lenz lays bare the misogynistic logic of US cultural narratives about pregnancy, tracing them back to our murky, potent cultural soup of myths, from the religious to the historical. In the present, she details how sexist assumptions inform our expectations for pregnant people, whether we’re policing them, asking them to make sacrifices with dubious or disproven benefits, or putting them up on a pedestal in an “Earth mother” role. Throughout, she reflects on her own experiences of being seen as alternately a vessel or a goddess—but hardly ever as herself—while carrying each of her two children.
Hinge by Molly Spencer
Readers enter “a stunted world,” where landmarks—a river, a house, a woman’s own body—have become unrecognizable in a place as distorted and dangerous as any of the old tales poet Molly Spencer remasters in this elegant, mournful collection. In myth and memory, through familiar stories reimagined, she constructs poetry for anyone who has ever stumbled, unwillingly, into a wilderness. Spencer alternates between the clinical and the domestic, disorientation and reorientation, awe and awareness. With the onset of a painful chronic illness, the body and mental geography turn hostile and alien. In loss and grief, in physical and psychological landscapes, Spencer searches the relationship between a woman’s body and her house—places where she is both master and captive—and hunts for the meaning of suffering. Finally, with begrudging acceptance, we have a hypothesis for all seasons: there is suffering, there is mercy; they are not separate but are for and of one another. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
The Part that Burns by Jeannine Ouellette
In her fiercely beautiful memoir, Ouellette recollects fragments of her life and arranges them elliptically in order to see each piece as torn and whole, as something more than itself. Caught between the dramatic landscapes of Lake Superior and Casper Mountain, between her stepfather’s groping and her mother’s erratic behavior, Ouellette lives for the day she can become a mother herself, and create her own sheltering family. What she does not know is how the visceral reality of birth and motherhood will pull her back into the body she long ago abandoned, revealing new layers of pain and desire, and forcing her to choose between her idealistic vision of perfect marriage and motherhood and the birthright of her own flesh, unruly and alive. This is a story about the tenacity of family roots, the formidable undertow of trauma, and the rebellious and persistent yearning of human beings for love from each other.
Luster by Raven Leilani
Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties―sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage―with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home―though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows. Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life―her hunger, her anger―in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.
Face: One Square Foot of Skin by Justine Bateman
Face is a book of fictional vignettes that examines the fear and vestigial evolutionary habits that have caused women and men to cultivate the imagined reality that older women’s faces are unattractive, undesirable, and something to be “fixed.” Based on “older face” experiences of the author, Justine Bateman, and those of dozens of women and men she interviewed, the book presents the reader with the many root causes for society’s often negative attitudes toward women’s older faces. In doing so, Bateman rejects those ingrained assumptions about the necessity of fixing older women’s faces, suggesting that we move on from judging someone’s worth based on the condition of her face. With impassioned prose and a laser-sharp eye, Bateman argues that a woman’s confidence should grow as she ages, not be destroyed by society’s misled attitude about that one square foot of skin.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck
Koa Beck, writer and former editor-in-chief of Jezebel, boldly examines the history of feminism, from the true mission of the suffragettes to the rise of corporate feminism with clear-eyed scrutiny and meticulous detail. She also examines overlooked communities—including Native American, Muslim, transgender, and more—and their difficult and ongoing struggles for social change. In these pages, she meticulously documents how elitism and racial prejudice has driven the narrative of feminist discourse. She blends pop culture, primary historical research, and first-hand storytelling to show us how we have shut women out of the movement, and what we can do to course correct for a new generation.
Girls Against God by Jenny Hval
Welcome to 1990s Norway. White picket fences run in neat rows and Christian conservatism runs deep. But as the Artist considers her work, things start stirring themselves up. In a corner of Oslo a coven of witches begin cooking up some curses. A time-traveling Edvard Munch arrives in town to join a death metal band, closely pursued by the teenaged subject of his painting Puberty, who has murder on her mind. Meanwhile, out deep in the forest, a group of school girls get very lost and things get very strange. And awful things happen in aspic. Jenny Hval’s latest novel is a radical fusion of queer feminist theory and experimental horror, and a unique treatise on magic, writing and art. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!