Video Courtesy of Duke Franklin Humanities Institute

Every single day, black women are recreating the narrative of what it means to be a black woman as they fight against the preconceived notions, unwarranted judgment, and degrading labels society has given them.

Despite the odds stacked against them, we continue to read the stories about black women soaring in entertainment, media, education, and literature.

“So … well-read black girl. What does that even mean?” I wondered as I fixed my eyes on the cover of Glory Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves, an anthology of powerful, uplifting, and inspiring essays by black women writers. 

Reading the title, I wondered: “Am I a well-read black girl too?” 

Turning one page after another, the answer was simple. For Edim, it started as an inside joke about being someone who “read a lot always and had a book with me in bed.” 

“That’s me too,” I thought to myself.

Edim wore a T-shirt with the words plastered on it, sparking conversations here and there from others about her favorite books and authors. This T-shirt birthed a nationwide book club, a literary festival in Brooklyn and a sisterhood among women of color across the world. 

Edim created a space where, she writes, “Black women’s voice could be centered” and “a call to action for Black women to freely define their own narratives on their own terms.”

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves provides black women and girls with a variety of selections and pays homage to great writers who paved the way such as Toni Morrison, who passed away recently, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou.

The crux of the book dives into an important discussion of representation in the literary world. 

It featured these 21 esteemed Black women authors and writers: 

Jesmyn Ward. Veronica Chambers. Tayari Jones. Barbara Smith. Rebecca Walker. Marita Golden. Renee Watson. Gabourey Sidibe. Dhonnielle Clayton. Stephanie Powell Watts. Nicole Dennis-Benn. N.K. Jemison. Morgan Jerkins. Zini Clemmons. Lynn Nottage. Bsrat Mezghebe. Mahogany L. Browne. Jamia Wilson. Carla Bruce-Eddings. Jacqueline Woodson. Kaitlyn Greenridge.

Each of them recalled their first time seeing themselves reflected in literature. Sounds simple, right? 

It wasn’t. It was complex, intricate, and intimate. These stories weren’t just about finding a character to identify with. 

It was more. 

It was about the journey of finding themselves and escaping into a different reality than their own. It was learning how literature shaped, questioned, and challenged their lives, their identities, their beliefs, their family structure, their struggles, triumphs, and ultimately, finding their voices.

“Reading highlights the intersection of narrative and self-image to create compelling explorations of identity. Reading allows us to witness ourselves,” Edim writes. “Being a reader is an incredible gift, providing me with the lens to interpret the world.”

And with that, Edim forced me to ask myself: “When did I first see a reflection of me in books?”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


Aallyah Wright

Aallyah Wright is a native of Clarksdale, and a Mississippi Delta reporter covering education and local government. She is also a weekly news co-host on WROX Radio (97.5 FM) and collaborator with StoryWorks/Reveal Labs from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Aallyah has a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in communications and theater from Delta State University. She is a 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report, and co-founder of the Mississippi Delta Public Newsroom.

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