Tayari Jones’s Favorite Books By Women

The author of “An American Marriage” recommends five books that aren’t by men

Read More Women is Electric Literature’s series featuring prominent authors, of any gender, recommending their favorite books by women and non-binary writers. Twice a month, you’ll hear about the five non-male authors who most delight, inspire, and influence your favorite writers. Books by men get plenty of attention in reviews, reporting, and academic syllabi, and have for hundreds of years. It’s time to read more women.

Tayari Jones is the award-winning author of Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and most recently An American Marriage, which was an Oprah book club pick and a New York Times bestseller. An American Marriage has gotten almost too much praise to reprint, but just as a sample, Edwidge Danticat called it “an exquisite, timely, and powerful novel that feels both urgent and indispensable.”

For her five recommended and influential books by non-men, Jones chose five books by and about black women. They range from poetry to young adult novels, from tumultuous coming-of-age stories to quiet books about ordinary lives, but always with an eye towards the crucial and undervalued perspectives of black women and girls.

The Darkest Child by Dolores Phillips

This coming of age story set in a small Georgia town on the eve of the civil rights movements is as iconic as To Kill A Mocking Bird. Tangy is an unforgettable heroine who must find a place for herself as a girl who is black, poor, and whip-smart. Her mother is a complete nightmare and Jim Crow threatens her health and happiness as every turn. But somehow she rises.

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

I love slim novels written by poets. This was the first novel I ever read that told the story of a black women who lives as ordinary life. This is not a story that you will see praised as “devastating” or “brutal.” Instead it is a love letter to everyday challenges and triumphs.

Mercy by Lucille Clifton

This National Book Award winner is sometimes described as Brooks’ “Post 9/11” book, and while many of the poems directly engage that national tragedy, you soon see that it is more a meditation on a single day in our history. Reading these poems you come to see that there are calamities throughout history and even throughout any given day. This is a book about the hard and meaningful work of listening and healing.

The Friends by Rosa Guy

When I was a girl, this novel was among my favorites. Set in New York City, it is the story of two black girls — one with American roots, the other from the Caribbean. This is a story about love, friendship, class diaspora. I recently read it again for the first time in 30 years, and I cried as hard as I did the first time.

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

This is a less-lauded novel by the greatest American novelist. Some read it as a wink at the Tempest, but Morrison is always her own best thing. Set on a small island, this is (among other things) a love story that manages to be very hot while interrogating race, class, and gender. It’s sharp in its wit and its brilliant observations about the way we live now and the way we lived then.

Read More Women is presented in collaboration with MCD Books.

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