March is Women’s History Month, and while we celebrate women year-round at The Rumpus, we wanted to share a list of books written exclusively by women and genderqueer authors this month. We asked our editors to select titles that shine a light on women’s lived experiences and that have changed how we think about women’s rights and gender equality.
Without further ado, here are our editors’ picks for writing that speaks to women’s history past, present, and future—we’re especially excited about the new and forthcoming work below from women and non-binary writers we love and admire. Long live the matriarchy!
Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev
An arresting memoir equal parts refugee-coming-of-age story, feminist manifesto, and meditation on motherhood, displacement, gender politics, and art that follows award-winning writer Sophia Shalmiyev’s flight from the Soviet Union, where she was forced to abandon her estranged mother, and her subsequent quest to find her.
New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent edited by Margaret Busby
This magnificent follow-up to the original landmark anthology brings together fresh and vibrant voices that have emerged from across the globe in the past two decades, from Antigua to Zimbabwe and Angola to the United States. Each of the pieces in this remarkable collection demonstrates an uplifting sense of sisterhood, honors the strong links that endure from generation to generation, and addresses the common obstacles female writers of color face as they negotiate issues of race, gender, and class and address vital matters of independence, freedom, and oppression.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.
The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi
How can a search for self‑knowledge reveal art as a site of community? Yanyi’s poems weave experiences of immigration as a Chinese American, of racism, of mental wellness, and of gender from a queer and trans perspective. Between the contrast of high lyric and direct prose poems, Yanyi invites the reader to consider how to speak with multiple identities through trauma, transition, and ordinary life.
I Am Yours: A Shared Memoir by Reema Zaman
In Reema’s own words: “For too long, through the most intimate acts of erasure, women have been silenced. Now, women everywhere are breaking through the limits placed on us by family, society, and tradition. To find our voices. To make space for ourselves in this world. Now is the moment to reclaim what was once lost, stolen, forsaken, or abandoned. I Am Yours is about my fight to protect and free my voice from those who have sought to silence me, for the sake of creating a world where all voices are welcome and respected. Because the voice, without intimacy, will atrophy. We’re in this together. You are mine, and I am yours.”
Soft Science by Franny Choi
Soft Science explores queer, Asian American femininity. A series of Turing Test-inspired poems grounds its exploration of questions not just of identity, but of consciousness―how to be tender and feeling and still survive a violent world filled with artificial intelligence and automation. We are dropped straight into the tangled intersections of technology, violence, erasure, agency, gender, and loneliness.
Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger edited by Lilly Dancyger
Women are angry, and from the #MeToo movement to the record number of women running for political office, they’re finally expressing it. But all rage isn’t created equal. Who gets to be angry? If there’s now space for cis white women’s anger, what about black women? Trans women) How do women express their anger? And what will they do with it-individually and collectively? In Burn It Down, a diverse group of women authors explore their rage—from the personal to the systemic, the unacknowledged to the public. Broad-ranging and cathartic, Burn It Down is essential reading for any woman who has burned with rage but questioned if she is entitled to express it.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Difficult Women tells of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection. The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay gives voice to a chorus of unforgettable women.
Still Life with Mother and Knife by Chelsea Rathburn
Chelsea Rathburn seeks to voice matters once deemed unspeakable, from collisions between children and predators to the realities of postpartum depression. Still Life with Mother and Knife considers the female body as object of both art and violence. Once an artist’s model, now a mother, Rathburn knows “how hard / it is to be held in the eyes of another.” Intimate and fearless, her poems move in interlocking sections between the pleasures and dangers of childhood, between masterpieces of art and magazine centerfolds, and―in a gripping sequence in dialogue with Delacroix’s paintings and sketches of Medea―between the twinned ferocities of maternal love and rage. Rathburn crafts a complex portrait of girlhood and motherhood from which it is impossible to look away.
Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life by bell hooks
Wounds of Passion describes a woman’s struggle to devote herself to writing, sharing the difficulties, the triumphs, the pleasures, and the dangers. Eloquent and powerful, this book lets us see the ways one woman writer works to find her own voice while creating a love relationship based on feminist thinking. With courage and wisdom she reveals intimate details and provocative ideas, offering an illuminating vision of a writer’s life.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle—and Cherry. But what Jerome doesn’t know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for one hundred nights, keeping him at bay. Those tales are beautifully depicted here, touching on themes of love and betrayal and loyalty and madness.
feeld by Jos Charles
In feeld, Charles stakes her claim on the language available to speak about trans experience, reckoning with the narratives that have come before by reclaiming the language of the past. In Charles’s electrifying transliteration of English―Chaucerian in affect, but revolutionary in effect―what is old is made new again. The world of feeld is our own, but off-kilter, distinctly queer―making visible what was formerly and forcefully hidden: trauma, liberation, strength, and joy.
Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through by T Fleischmann
How do the bodies we inhabit affect our relationship with art? How does art affect our relationship to our bodies? T Fleischmann uses Felix Gonzáles-Torres’s artworks―piles of candy, stacks of paper, puzzles―as a path through questions of love and loss, violence and rejuvenation, gender and sexuality. From the back porches of Buffalo, to the galleries of New York and LA, to farmhouses of rural Tennessee, the artworks act as still points, sites for reflection situated in lived experience. Fleischmann combines serious engagement with warmth and clarity of prose, reveling in the experiences and pleasures of art and the body, identity and community.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
With unflinching honesty and lyrical prose, spanning from 1960s Hawai’i to the present-day struggle of a young woman mourning the loss of a father while unearthing truths that reframe her reality, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls is equal parts eulogy and love letter. It’s a story about trauma and forgiveness, about families of blood and affinity, both lost and found, unmade and rebuilt, crooked and beautiful.
Selected Poems of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton
The one hundred and thirty-four selected poems in this volume include fifty published for the first time. Wharton’s poetry is arranged thematically, offering context as the poems explore new facets of her literary ability and character. These works illuminate a richer, sometimes darker side of Wharton. Her subjects range from the public and political—her first published poem was about a boy who hanged himself in jail—to intimate lyric poems expressing heartbreak, loss, and mortality. She wrote frequently about works of art and historical figures and places, and some of her most striking work explores the origins of creativity itself.
Standing Our Ground: Women, Environmental Justice, and the Fight to End Mountaintop Removal by Joyce M. Barry
Mountaintop removal coal mining, which involves demolishing the tops of hills and mountains to provide access to coal seams, is one of the most significant environmental threats in Appalachia, where it is most commonly practiced. The Appalachian women featured in Barry’s book have firsthand experience with the negative impacts of Big Coal in West Virginia. Through their work in organizations such as the Coal River Mountain Watch and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, they fight to save their mountain communities by promoting the development of alternative energy resources. Barry’s engaging and original work reveals how women’s tireless organizing efforts have made mountaintop removal a global political and environmental issue and laid the groundwork for a robust environmental justice movement in central Appalachia.
Talking to My Body by Anna Swir, translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan
Swir was one of Poland’s most distinguished poets, and she was open in her feminism and eroticism, with poetry that explored the life of the female body—from the agonizing depths of wartime to delirious sensual delight. A member of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation and a military nurse in a makeshift hospital during the Warsaw Uprising, Swir once waited an hour fully expecting to be executed. Affected deeply by her experience, she wrote a poetry which rejected the grand gestures of war in favor of a world cast in miniature, a world in which the body and individual survive.
Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera
Sixteen-year-old Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That role brings with it violent throwdowns and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but Nalah quickly grows weary of her questionable lifestyle. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega Towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder and cross the border in a search of the mysterious gang the Ashé Ryders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles crews and her own doubts but the closer she gets to her goal the more she loses sight of everything—and everyone—she cares about. Nalah must choose whether or not she’s willing to do the unspeakable to get what she wants. Can she discover that home is not where you live but whom you chose to protect before she loses the family she’s created for good?
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.
domina Un/blued by Ruth Ellen Kocher
domina Un/blued dislocates the traditional slave narrative, placing the slave’s utterance within the map and chronicle of conquest. Charting a diaspora of the human spirit as well as a diaspora of an individual body, Ruth Ellen Kocher reaches beyond the story of historical involuntary servitude to explore enslavements of devotion and desire, which in extremity slide into addiction and carnal bondage.
Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas
Setting aside a straightforward narrative in favor of brief passages of vivid prose, Abigail Thomas revisits the pivotal moments and the tiny incidents that have shaped her life: pregnancy at eighteen; single motherhood of three by the age of twenty-six; the joys and frustrations of three marriages; and the death of her second husband, who was her best friend. The stories made of these incidents are startling in their clarity and reassuring in their wisdom.
The Dream of Water by Kyoko Mori
In a memoir that is both a search for belonging and a search for understanding, Japanese-American author Kyoko Mori travels back to Kobe, Japan, the city of her birth, in an unspoken desire to come to terms with the memory of her mother’s suicide and the family she left behind thirteen years before. Throughout her seven-week trip, Mori struggles with her ever-present past and the lasting guilt over her mother’s death. Although she meets with beloved cousins and other relatives, she agonizes over the frustrating relationship she barely maintains with her fierce father and selfish stepmother. Searching for answers, Kyoko attempts to find a new understanding of what her father is really like, and how it has affected her own place in two distinct worlds. As her time to leave draws near, Kyoko begins to understand that her family connections may be a powerful cry of the heart, but it is the new world that has given her escape from a lonely past and the power to believe in herself.
I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems by Eileen Myles
Eileen Myles’s work is known for its blend of reality and fiction, the sublime and the ephemeral. Their work opens readers to astonishing new considerations of familiar places and invites them into lush—and sometimes horrid—dream worlds, imbuing the landscapes of their writing with the vividness and energy of fantasy. I Must Be Living Twice brings together selections from the poet’s previous work with a set of bold new poems that reflect their sardonic, unapologetic, and fiercely intellectual literary voice. Steeped in the culture of New York City, Myles’s milieu, I Must Be Living Twice is a prism refracting a radical world and a compelling life.
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
Originally published in 1977, The Women’s Room was a novel that expressed the inner lives of women who left education and professional advancement behind to marry in the 1950s, only to find themselves adrift and unable to support themselves after divorce in the 1970s. Some became destitute, a few went insane. But many went back to school in the heyday of the Women’s Liberation movement, and were swept up in the promise of equality for both sexes. Marilyn French’s characters represent this wide cross section of American women, and her wry and pointed voice gives depth and emotional intensity to this timeless book that remains controversial and completely relevant.
By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry edited by Molly McQuade
Have women finally moved beyond the status of cultural outsiders to become full participants in American poetry and its criticism? In By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, contemporary women poets reconsider their art form on their own terms, and the results are both telling and fascinating. This lively and richly varied collection offers more than two dozen essays that are uniformly original, challenging, playful, and ruthlessly individualistic.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
In writing that explores the nature of memoir itself, Yuknavitch’s story traces the effect of extreme grief on a young woman’s developing sexuality that some define as untraditional because of her attraction to both men and women. Her emergence as a writer evolves at the same time and takes the narrator on a journey of addiction, self-destruction, and ultimately survival that finally comes in the shape of love and motherhood.
A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris Hill
In A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, Hill presents bitter, unflinching history that artfully captures the personas of these captivating, bound yet unbridled African-American women. Hill’s passionate odes to Zora Neale Hurston, Lucille Clifton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, and others also celebrate the modern-day inheritors of their load and light, binding history, author, and reader in an essential legacy of struggle.
High Heel (Object Lessons) by Summer Brennan
Fetishized, demonized, celebrated, and outlawed, the high heel is central to the iconography of modern womanhood. But are high heels good? Are they feminist? What does it mean for a woman (or, for that matter, a man) to choose to wear them? Meditating on the labyrinthine nature of sexual identity and the performance of gender, High Heel moves from film to fairytale, from foot binding to feminism, and from the golden ratio to glam rock. Summer Brennan considers this most provocative of fashion accessories as a nexus of desire and struggle, sex and society, violence and self-expression, setting out to understand what it means to be a woman by walking a few hundred years in her shoes.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
A genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes the author’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making.
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson
Now, for the first time in English, are all the stories that made Lispector a Brazilian legend: from teenagers coming into awareness of their sexual and artistic powers to humdrum housewives whose lives are shattered by unexpected epiphanies to old people who don’t know what to do with themselves. Lispector’s stories take us through their lives―and ours.
Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille Dungy
As a working mother whose livelihood as a poet-lecturer depended on travel, Camille Dungy crisscrossed America with her infant, then toddler, intensely aware of how they are seen, not just as mother and child, but as black women. With a poet’s eye, she celebrates her daughter’s acquisition of language and discoveries of the natural and human world around her. At the same time, history shadows her steps everywhere she goes.
Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution by Amber Tamblyn
In Era of Ignition, Amber Tamblyn addresses gender inequality and the judgment paradigm, misogyny and discrimination, trauma and the veiled complexities of consent, white feminism and pay parity, reproductive rights and sexual assault—all told through the very personal lens of her own experiences, as well as those of her Sisters in Solidarity. At once an intimate meditation and public reckoning, Era of Ignition is a galvanizing feminist manifesto that is required reading for everyone attempting to understand the world we live in and help change it for the better.
Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India by Sangtin Writers Collective and Richa Nagar
Playing with Fire is written in the collective voice of women employed by a large NGO as activists in their communities and is based on diaries, interviews, and conversations among them. Together their personal stories reveal larger themes and questions of sexism, casteism, and communalism, and a startling picture emerges of how NGOs both nourish and stifle local struggles for solidarity. The Hindi edition of the book, Sangtin Yatra, published in 2004, created controversy that resulted in backlash against the authors by their employer. The publication also drew support for the women and instigated a public conversation about the issues exposed in the book. Here, Richa Nagar addresses the dispute in the context of the politics of NGOs and feminist theory, articulating how development ideology employed by aid organizations serves to reinforce the domination of those it claims to help.
Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985 by Adrienne Rich
That Adrienne Rich is a not only a major American poet but an incisive, compelling prose writer is made clear once again by this collection, in which she continues to explore the social and political context of her life and art. Examining the connections between history and the imagination, ethics and action, Rich explores the possible meanings of being white, female, lesbian, Jewish, and a United States citizen, both at the particular time of writing and through the lens of the past.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
What does it mean to lose your roots―within your culture, within your family―and what happens when you find them? With the same warmth, candor, and startling insight that has made her a beloved voice, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets―vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Meet Alison’s father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter’s complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned “fun home,” as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic, and redemptive.
Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot
Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of PTSD and Bipolar II; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father—an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.
Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets by Feminista Jones
Complex conversations around race, class, and gender that have been happening behind the closed doors of academia for decades are now becoming part of the wider cultural vernacular—one pithy tweet at a time. With these important online conversations, not only are Black women influencing popular culture and creating sociopolitical movements; they are also galvanizing a new generation to learn and engage in Black feminist thought and theory, and inspiring change in communities around them. In Reclaiming Our Space, social worker, activist, and cultural commentator Feminista Jones explores how Black women are changing culture, society, and the landscape of feminism by building digital communities and using social media as powerful platforms.
The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood edited by Patricia Dienstfrey and Brenda Hillman
The Grand Permission is a book of deeply enriching and articulate meditations on motherhood and the composition of poetry by practicing poets. The thirty-two contributors write with originality and commitment about the startling, intense, and dynamic connections between motherhood and creative achievement—connections that shed new light on the nature of language and genre, the practical life of mothering and the writing vocation.
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
Originally released in 1981, This Bridge Called My Back is a testimony to women of color feminism as it emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Through personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, the collection explores, as coeditor Cherríe Moraga writes, “the complex confluence of identities—race, class, gender, and sexuality—systemic to women of color oppression and liberation.” Reissued nearly thirty-five years after its inception, the fourth edition contains an extensive new introduction by Moraga, along with a previously unpublished statement by Gloria Anzaldúa.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
Maggie Smith writes out of the experience of motherhood, inspired by watching her own children read the world like a book they’ve just opened, knowing nothing of the characters or plot. These poems stare down darkness while cultivating and sustaining possibility and addressing a larger world.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the straitened confines of her domestic situation. Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry, and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening.
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