3 Books By Black Women That Reshaped My View on Poetry

FF2 Guest Post by Joycelyn Ghansah

Books have always been my comfort zone, but I’ve noticed that poetry was one area of literature that I rejected in the past. In my experience, the poetry we were required to read in high school was great, but it wasn’t made for me. So, I spent most of my time avoiding poetry until relatively recently.

Two years ago, while trying to process the trauma of the ongoing pandemic that opened my eyes to a world that doesn’t care about the lives of others, I sought out books and ultimately rekindled my relationship with poetry. I was searching for words I could relate to and someone who could understand me. I found that need filled by books and poetry written by women of color, particularly Black women. As a reformed “hater of poetry,” I am glad I gave poetry another chance because I found pieces of myself when I wasn’t looking.

At the end of 2021, I decided to read more books written by Black women, so I joined book blogger MelanatedReader’s #20BooksByBlackWomen challenge.  The goal is to read 20 books by Black women in 2022. Participants review the books, post them with the hashtag on Instagram, tag MelanatedReader, and track their progress on StoryGraph. Another book blogger, Danzi Books, was kind enough to create two templates for participants to review their books and add their book covers onto a 20-space template. While choosing my books for the challenge, I began to reflect on the books that made me embrace my newfound love of poetry and how wonderful it was to read words from women who looked like me.

Most importantly, I identified with their words. Some experiences were or weren’t unique to me. And I loved it. Poetry and essays tell stories of past traumas. Love, fear, and hatred are emotions I was afraid to express until two years ago when I decided to challenge myself by reading words written by people I could connect with.

Here are three poetry and essay books by Black women that spoke to me:

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans

One of the books that I found myself between the pages of was Black Girl, Call Home. The poems like “Speak to Me of My Mother,” “Who She Was,” “She doesn’t look like rape,” and “I exchange body parts…,”  highlight the experiences of Black womanhood and emphasize how rooted Black women’s livelihood is in a system that erases their identity.  Each poem explores Black women’s painful paths, especially those of queer Black women.

Black Girl, Call Home explores the confusion between adolescents that increases with tensions related to everything from period pains and medical traumas to even death that Black women have faced. Jasmine Mans’ Black Girl, Call Home is a love letter to self, often broken by our world. It’s a call to action for Black women to do something so violent and dangerous as to believe in themselves and love themselves in a world that doesn’t see them.

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night by Morgan Parker  

“The breakdown doesn’t end.” These words replay in my mind every so often. Will there be a moment in time where I don’t try to fit into society’s perspective of what a Black woman should be, do, and look like? Morgan Parker does a great job of bringing Black women’s subconscious thoughts to life. Each page is a question, answer, confession, and an imaginative thought.

What makes Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night relatable is how raw it is. As a Black woman, I want to free myself but stay in that box for comfortability’s sake. The book is full of questions and statements. It expresses the frustrations and fears attached to the “real” Black woman stereotype: “Does she go to church, does she have RESPECT as her ringtone, and does she know what makes her special?” It’s a question but also a statement.  It’s comedic and sad.

Reading pieces like “There is another world, and I’m better in it. In search of Morgan, season 3, episode 24 reminds us how difficult it is to try to find yourself in a place that strips you of authenticity. Each poem reminds us that trying to cover up and be brave simultaneously is tiring for Black women.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine does a great job of reminding me of memories I chose to ignore. Etched in my memory are times when I felt invisible because no one saw me when I was there, or they mistook me for someone because “we looked alike.” Citizen: An American Lyric is about being caught between invisibility and hypervisibility.  It reminded me of all of the moments in life when I, a Black person, thought I’d be chosen, moments when I was the token, and moments when I felt sick to my stomach that I was the only.

There are bits of police brutality, mistaken neighborly identity, and moments when friends see characters as too woke and Black for their comfort. The book makes you think about the Black body and its unwelcomeness in many spaces. We have guilt, shame, and anger all around, and Citizen embodies that in a collection of thoughts focused on the effects of racism on the individual and society as a whole.

I love how this book of lyrics and essays takes readers on an uncomfortable journey about what it means and doesn’t mean to be Black. It doesn’t matter what kind of privilege or degree you hold because you’ll never be one of them, a citizen; you’ll always be Black.

© Joycelyn Ghansah (2/18/22) Special for FF2 Media®

Learn More/Do More

To visit the Melanated Reader blog, click here.

To learn more about the #20BooksByBlackWomen challenge, click here.

To visit Danzi Books on Instagram, click here.

To find out more about the challenge on StoryGraph, click here.

Finally, learn more about Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans; Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night by Morgan Parker; and Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.


All images were specifically created for this post by Joycelyn Ghansah. Authorized for responsible use as long as link to this post is included in user’s credits.

Tags: 20BooksByBlackWomen, Claudia Rankine, Jasmine Mans, Joycelyn Ghansah, MelanatedReader, Morgan Parker, poetry

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