415 Sister Outsider

bsisteroutsidery Audre Lorde, 1984

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read an LGBTQ+ history book.

I’m not certain that this book truly qualifies as a history of LGBTQ people or the movement, but as Audre Lorde was certainly one of the most outspoken voices on sexuality, race, and gender and, therefore, highly important to the movement, I feel this book fulfills the spirit of the task, if not the specifics of it. I was first introduced to Audre Lorde when I was in grad school, but I sadly remember nothing of what I read, and she has remained a blind spot in my knowledge of feminist writers. When I saw this book as a suggestion for the task on the Goodreads thread, I jumped at the chance to get to know more about this pivotal writer and what her teachings could offer us today. The book is a collection of essays and speeches, spanning from 1976 through 1984, and covering a wide range of topics that deal with blackness, womanhood, lesbianism, motherhood, classism, and the need for allyship among all who are oppressed. Much of what she says is surprisingly still relevant, as we continue to deal with the same problems of inequality that have plagued us for centuries.

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413 I Am Not Your Negro

iamnotyournegrobookby James Baldwin, edited by Raoul Peck, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro is Raoul Peck’s Academy Award-nominated documentary based on the writings of James Baldwin. In 1979, Baldwin began working on a book about America as told through the deaths of three of his friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. The book was to be called Remember This House, but Baldwin never got past thirty pages of notes before his death in 1987. Twenty years later, Peck wrote to the Baldwin estate to ask for the rights to produce a film on the writer’s life and work. He wasn’t yet sure what form that film would take until Baldwin’s sister Gloria Karefa-Smart gave him the notes to her brother’s unfinished project, saying, “You’ll know what to do with these.” From this, Peck developed the idea to finish this book through the medium of film, with the three men and Baldwin serving as a means by which to tell the story of America.

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412 The Cross of Redemption

crossofredemptionby James Baldwin, edited by Randall Kenan, 2010

As I’m nearing the end of the Baldwin catalog, I’ve reached the posthumously published works. The Cross of Redemption is a collection of Baldwin’s published writings that were previously uncollected in any one book. These include various essays, speeches, letters, forewords and afterwords to other books, book reviews, and even a piece of short fiction. While there are some real gems to be found here, the problem with a collection like this is that it treats Baldwin’s work as a cohesive whole. His previous collections of essays were curated, and they were meant to tell a story together. That’s not the case here. There’s no thread that ties all of these together, other than the fact that Baldwin wrote them and the editor has decided that each piece of his writing is of equal importance and must be read. It’s not for the casual Baldwin reader or someone looking for an introduction to his works. I’d only recommend it for those who are trying to read everything he’s written or who are embarking on some sort of research project. That said, I did enjoy encountering some of Baldwin’s typical knock-out writing in this volume.

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408 Shrill

shrillby Lindy West, 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read a fat-positive romance book.

Shrill has been on my Want-to-Read list for quite some time, so when I decided that I wasn’t going to force myself to read romance books anymore (I’ll read them if they sound interesting to me, but not just because they fulfill a task), I decided that this book would be a good way to complete this one particular part of the challenge. While West does talk about romantic love, the main focus is on her experiences as a woman, as a fat person, and the intersection of the two. The result is a collection of essays that is unapologetic, feminist, and, at turns, blisteringly hilarious and devastatingly exacting in its criticism of the way society demands all who do not fit into some made-up ideal simply shrink themselves into nothingness.

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406 Disability Visibility

disabilityvisibilityedited by Alice Wong, 2020

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read an own voices book about disability.

Alice Wong has a long history of activism for the disabled. In addition to being the founder of the Disability Visibility Project and host and co-producer of the Disability Visibility podcast, she was also appointed to the National Council on Disability by President Barack Obama. This collection of essays is a natural extension of her work, and it serves to shed light on living with a variety of disabilities in a world that largely disregards the fact that disabled people exist. I first became familiar with Wong when I saw her on a episode of United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell, and the thing that has stuck with me from that hour of TV is Bell’s assertion that disability is the one demographic to which all of us have the potential to belong, yet it is the one demographic that we routinely ignore. Disability Visibility builds on that premise, promoting the idea, which is distressing in that it can be considered revolutionary, that people with disabilities are people too.

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396 Nothing Personal

nothingpersonalby James Baldwin, 1964

In 1964, Baldwin collaborated with the photographer Richard Avedon to produce a collection of photographs underscored by Baldwin’s prose. That essay has since been republished as a stand-alone work, allowing the focus to be entirely on Baldwin’s critique of the problems plaguing America. As is often the case, his words seem to reach out from beyond the years to describe us as we are today. Although only about 50 pages, the essay is a grand introduction to Baldwin’s most frequently visited topic: the problem of race in the supposed “land of the free.”

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385 The Devil Finds Work

devilfindsworkby James Baldwin, 1976

In this short volume, Baldwin presents three essays centered around film and the black experience. They are as scathing as any of his non-fiction work, showing how the systemic oppression of the country is inescapable in both daily life and in the fantastical world of movies. Nothing escapes Baldwin’s powerful perception as he deconstructs the societal institutions that are reproduced on the screen. I haven’t seen all of the films that Baldwin critiques here, but his forceful and eloquent remarks had me writing down titles to add to my to-watch list in effort to better understand the culture that perpetuates these harmful systems.

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382 No Name in the Street

nonameinthestreetby James Baldwin, 1972

Like The Fire Next Time, No Name in the Street is a short collection of two essays, both of them aimed at the ever-present race problem in America. As is always the case, this is a mix of personal experiences and political criticism, a recounting of times spent with some of the biggest names in the civil rights movement and what their assassinations meant for the country. It is a vilification of America and its nickname as the “Land of the Free” and a recognition that this problem is not limited to the New World. It is, in some ways, the same old song, but it one that needs to continue being played.

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368 Nobody Knows My Name

nobodyknowsmynameby James Baldwin, 1961

Now this is the kind of fierce cultural punch I was expecting to get from James Baldwin. As is the case with most of his books, Nobody Knows My Name is an unflinching look at and dissection of race in America. The collection of essays covers a number of topics, from literature to poverty to Baldwin’s own troubled relationship with fellow writer Richard Wright. Coursing through all of them is the issue that continues to plague us today: the fight for equality in a world that thrives on hierarchies, domination, and oppression.

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364 Notes of a Native Son

notesofanativesonby James Baldwin, 1955

This first collection of Baldwin’s nonfiction comprises ten essays that were previously published in various magazines. While I was looking forward to some of the fierce sermonizing that Baldwin delivered in The First Next Time, I was a bit disappointed to find that these essays seem to be a bit unconnected, as if Baldwin were just beginning to find his steps as a writer and determine what it was he wanted to say, which, essentially, is exactly what this is. Even so, Baldwin still offers undeniable criticism of the country and the “conundrum of color,” which, despite what many continue to believe, he asserts is the inheritance of every American, regardless of whether they are black or white. “This horror has so welded past and present that it is virtually impossible and certainly meaningless to speak of it as occurring, as it were, in time,” he writes in the preface to the 1984 edition. More than 30 years later, these words continue to be true, and his early essays give readers the chance to witness a writer just starting to develop a voice that would resonate through time to reach us today.

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