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Women’s History Month: Celebrating women’s lives through literature

Women’s History Month: Celebrating women’s lives through literature

March is Women’s History Month, and Librarian Heather Meyer-Boothby has curated a list of recommended reads. Narrowing down a short list wasn’t easy when considering the literary impact of half of humanity.

“I picked voices that I felt have had a profound cultural impact on women’s lives. I didn’t reach back into classics so much but listed modern feminist texts,” she said. “LeGuin, Plath and O’Conner are classic texts, but just barely  – the publishing date for each respectively is 1968, 1963, and 1971 … There are several approaches, I think, to women’s history, but I chose the intersectional feminist path.”

We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the buying and selling of a political movement
by Andi Zeisler

What does it mean when social change becomes a brand identity? Feminism’s splashy arrival at the center of today’s media and pop-culture marketplace, after all, hasn’t offered solutions to the movement’s unfinished business. 

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. 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
by Roxane Gay

New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health.

As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she casts an insightful and critical eye on her childhood, teens, and twenties–including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life–and brings readers into the present and the realities, pains, and joys of her daily life.

The Complete Stories
by Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor, a University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, reigns supreme in Southern gothic writing, Meyer-Boothby says.

O’Connor published her first story, “The Geranium,” in 1946. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, “Judgement Day” – sent to her publisher shortly before her death – is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of “The Geranium.” Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century. 

Beloved
by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding New York Times bestseller transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.

A Wizard of Earthsea
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Award-winning fantasy and science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin, “Basically wrote Harry Potter before it was a thing,” Meyer-Boothby says.

A New York Times obituary after her death in 2018 said that, “Ms. Le Guin always considered herself a feminist, even when genre conventions led her to center her books on male heroes.”

Originally published in 1968, A Wizard of Earthsea marks the first of the six now beloved Earthsea titles. 

Men Explain Things to Me
by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit, who coined the term “mansplaining,” takes on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She writes about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.

She ends on a serious note– because the ultimate problem is the silencing of women who have something to say, including those saying things like, “He’s trying to kill me!”

Milk and Honey
by Rupi Kaur

Indian-born Canadian poet Rupi Kaur, “Brought poetry back from a popular slumber,” Meyer-Boothby says.

Kaur started writing Milk and Honey when she was 18 and found fame posting her poetry and drawings on Instagram. She is a poet for a new generation of young women expressing themselves online without asking permission from traditional publishing gatekeepers.

All About Love: New Visions
by bell hooks

The acclaimed first volume in feminist icon bell hooks’ “Love Song to the Nation,”  All About Love is a revelation about what causes a polarized society and how to heal the divisions that cause suffering. Here is the truth about love, and inspiration to help us instill caring, compassion, and strength in our homes, schools, and workplaces.

Here, at her most provocative and intensely personal, renowned scholar, cultural critic and feminist bell hooks offers a proactive new ethic for a society bereft with lovelessness–not the lack of romance, but the lack of care, compassion, and unity. People are divided, she declares, by society’s failure to provide a model for learning to love. 

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