By B.J. Wright • 

Originally published on Calypsoul

In December 2018, the Black Feminist Collective published a short essay by Kiarran T.L. Diaz titled, “Why The Handmaid’s Tale is Problematic.” Now, I’ve never read the book or watched the show, and while Diaz’s critique focused explicitly on the Hulu original series, I’ve come to find that there is usually nothing lost in the translation of white narratives from literature to film. For instance, in addition to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, we can also consider Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, which despite being produced and directed by a Black woman for its onscreen serialization, the fact that it was written by a white man could not be overlooked. Even with Black main characters, Lovecraft Country, was still seen as white-washed and lacking depth by many Black critiques.

White storytellers choose to either completely erase people of color or co-opt them as plot-devices (“the Magical Negro”, “the Black Best friend”, “the Thug”, “the Slave/Domestic”, and “the Angry Black Woman”). To forego that, here are 5 books written by Black women that you can and should read instead of The Handmaid’s Tale and a blanket trigger warning.

  1. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl—Harriet Jacobs

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girls is an autobiographical slave narrative written by Jacobs and published under the pseudonym Linda Brent in 1861. Once Jacobs was freed, she was encouraged to write her story in order to fuel the Abolition movement at the time. The focus of the text is the intersection of race and gender and works to tell the unique story of enslaved women in America.

  1. Quicksand—Nella Larsen

There are so many other texts that I could have chosen to add to this list, but upon recalling Helga—the main character—I decided to include it. Published in 1928, Quicksand is Larsen’s lesser known first novel and is revered as a “fictional autobiography”. While the focus of the story is Helga Crane’s racial identity as a mixed-race woman in America, I recommend this text because while Helga attempts to find herself she is introduced to several intimate and romantic relationships—during which she is exoticized and over-sexualized. So, while Helga is finding herself racially, she is forced to also explore her sexuality and bodily autonomy.

  1. Beloved—Toni Morrison

I may be a bit biased because Toni Morrison is my favorite author, but Beloved is a text I will always hold close to my heart. Morrison was encouraged to write Beloved after working as the editor for The Black Book—which is when she came across a news clipping recounting the real-life inspiration for Sethe, Margaret Garner. After fleeing to free states, Garner in fear of being returned to slavery—because of the Fugitive Slave laws—committed infanticide. To capture the complexity Margaret Sanger, Morrison as a storyteller, wrote Beloved as a nonlinear ghost story with The Event buried in the middle.

  1. Sister Outsider—Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider is a collection of speeches and essays written Audre Lorde. The essays focus on highlighting and exploring Lorde’s identities as a Black, woman, lesbian, poet, cancer-survivor, activist, mother and feminist.

  1. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty—Dorothy Roberts, J.D.

Originally published in 1997, Killing the Black Body, has become a required text in the fight for expanding reproductive rights. The text recounts America’s systemic abuse of Black women’s bodies since the nation’s inception in order to redefine “reproductive liberty” to include Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Please note, because of the time in which this text was written and published there is use of gendered language in regard to the individuals with a uterus.

Brianna Jordynn “B.J.” Wright is a writer, educator and scholar based in Birmingham, AL. In 2019, she graduated cum laude from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, obtaining her Bachelors of Arts degrees in Anthropology (minor in Women’s Studies) and African American Studies (concentration in Historical Investigation and Cultural Awareness). She is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Africana Studies from Georgia State University (concentration in Community Empowerment). She takes inspiration from classic scholars such as Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Harold Cruse, Audrey Lorde, Dr. Huey P. Newton, bell hooks, and Toni Morrison. Her current research interests include the impact of language policing on Black American adolescents, the socio-historical impact of Black erasure in popular film and literature, and the psychological impact of trauma porn consumption. You can see her unpublished work on her personal blog, Calypsoul. You can also support her by visiting her Bonfire shop, The T-Shirt Project, and on Cash App: $JoJoDaClown