PEN Out Loud: Freedom, Power, and Rage

A booklist for using freedom, power, and rage to create change

How can we channel our freedom, power, and rage to create change in the world? The following PEN America book list is an excellent place to start, with narratives from individuals of different backgrounds who amplify their frustrations and call out oppressiveness.

Black feminist, academic, author, and co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective Dr. Brittney Cooper, along with writer, activist, and editor Darnell L. Moore, will be coming to Strand for our PEN Out Loud series to discuss their work and our current political situation. Following the tradition of black literary salons, our guests will interrogate each other’s work and engage in a lively discussion on the intersection of race and gender in their activism; the importance of translating theory into accessible ideas that inspire collective change; and how we can use our freedom, power, and rage to change the world.

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Dr. Brittney Cooper

Named one of the most anticipated books of 2018, Eloquent Rage takes on what it means to be a Black woman in America, in a series of searing, personal, and provocative essays. As Publishers’ Weekly put it: “Cooper is both candid and vulnerable, and unwilling to suffer fools.”

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson’s genre-bending memoir documents her relationship with the gender-fluid author Harry Dodge. Starting from the beginning of their love affair through her pregnancy, it is a book that shows how complicated and beautiful sexuality can be, and takes on the traditional institutions of family and marriage.

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins

Morgan Jerkins brave and bestselling debut This Will Be My Undoing addresses the question: “What does it mean to be a black woman today?” She writes both about her own experiences and the lives of other black women to unpack this question and to contemplate how we can look towards a future of equality for not only black Americans but for women, as well.

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

In this mixed collection of essays, Zadie Smith welcomes a diverse range of topics from pop culture to politics. She captivates readers with wit, determination, and effortlessly eloquent and uniquely intimate prose.

When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

From Patrisse Khan-Cullors, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, comes a timely book about the resilience and struggle in the everyday lives of the people behind one of the most prolific civil rights movements in present-day America.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

A book filled with rich language and bold vision, The Bluest Eye is set in the author Toni Morrison’s childhood town of Lorain, Ohio. It tells the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, asking powerful questions about race, class, and gender with nuance while examining society’s obsession with beauty and conformity.

Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

A passionate and riveting memoir, Dirty River is an honest and transformative work that shows how a disabled queer woman of color and survivor of abuse navigates the dirty river of the past.

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor

This collection of essays describes the importance of one group of radical, black feminists: The Combahee River Collective. Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor writes about their profound impact on current Black politics and feminism and how, without them, intersectional feminism would not be in such close grasp.

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

Feminism is for Everybody brings an open-hearted and welcoming vision of gender, sexuality, and society in an inspiring and accessible volume.

The Crunk Feminist Collection by Susana M. Morris

The Crunk Feminist Collection brings together some of their website’s most popular and thought-provoking essays on race, sisterhood, sex, and pop culture, examining how the editors and authors have tackled lives intersecting hip-hop culture and political activism.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

This National Book Critics Circle Award winner is a critical look at the portrayal of racial aggressions in the media and our daily lives. Citizen is a revelation of the ways that racism has penetrated every aspect of the contemporary world, from minor remarks to larger aggressions.

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Following the aftermath of the Ferguson protests, historian Carol Anderson writes about what she calls “white rage,” a historically present and strategic opposition to the participation of black people in American democracy.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want to Talk About Race offers a contemporary and unique take on the racial landscape of America; addressing issues such as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, microaggressions, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a concrete and highly actionable discussion, reinforced with evidence that every reader can understand and empathize with.

Shrill by Lindy West

West’s book weaves boundless humor with unrestrained honesty as she recounts her experiences of questioning the gender norms set for women. Filled with a self-awareness that is enlightening, Shrill is West’s journey from leading a life that is invisible to one that is uncompromisingly singular.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

A collection of funny and insightful essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism which looks at the ways that the culture we consume becomes who we are. Roxane Gay talks about her evolution as a woman of color while commenting on the current state of feminism.

Speaking Truth to Power by Anita Hill

Against a backdrop of sex, politics, and race, Speaking Truth to Power reveals the story of a woman who has empowered millions to stand up for equality and justice. The book details not only Anita’s professional relationship with Clarence Thomas, but also provides intimate glimpses into the personal life of Anita Pill. From her early life as the youngest of 13 children on a farm in Oklahoma to her current position as a law professor, she provides a story of struggle and inspiration.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

In a collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Audre Lorde addresses issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, class, and everything in between. She writes about the importance of hope, power, and love in a tumultuous and disastrous time.

A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown

From the first and only female leader of the Black Panther Movement, A Taste of Power is a quintessential book of the civil rights movement. Elaine Brown shares her journey of growing up as a poor, black woman in America and how she decided to join the Black Panther Movement. From her stormy love affair with Huey Newton to the male-power rituals that plagued the party, readers gain an inside perspective on the sexuality, gender, and race dynamics behind the Movement.

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis

Legendary activist and scholar, Angela Davis’s study of the women’s liberation movement and how it has been halted by the racist and classist biases of its leaders in the United States is a powerful work of literary nonfiction. Women, Race, and Class amplifies voices from the movement that are rarely heard: those that exist in the bodies of black women.

No Ashes in the Fire by Darnell Moore

No Ashes in the Fire is a story of beauty and hope — an honest reckoning with family, belonging, and what it means to be free. Moore traces his life from childhood to his search for intimacy in the gay community of Philadelphia and, finally, to the movements in Newark, Brooklyn, and Ferguson where he could fight for those who, like him, have survived on society’s edges.

Honorable Mentions:

Colored No More by Treva Lindsey
The Restless
by Gerty Dambury
In the Wake
by Christina Sharpe
Friendship as Social Justice Activism: Critical Solidarities in a Global Perspective,
edited by Niharika Banerjea, Debanuj DasGupta, Rohit K. Dasgupta and Jaime M. Gran
Becoming Dangerous
by Katie West
Spill
by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Stolen Life
by Fred Moten
Playing with Fire
by Sangtin writers

If you like what you read, give us a 👏 so other readers can enjoy it, too!

For more literary content, follow Strand on Instagram 📷, Twitter 🐥, and Facebook 👤. Plus, sign up for our 📩 Strand Insider newsletter 💌!

Independent NYC bookstore since 1927. Where books are loved.