Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories

The theme for Women’s History Month 2023 is ‘Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories’. The National Women’s History Alliance says throughout 2023, they “will encourage recognition of women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, and more. The timely theme honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art, pursuing truth, and reflecting the human condition decade after decade”. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’ve gathered a list of books that we feel fit this theme. The descriptions below have been provided by the publishers. Let us know your favorite books that celebrate women in the comments!

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On This Day She: Putting Women Back into History One Day at a Time by Jo Bell, Tania Hershman, and Ailsa Holland

A fascinating page-a-day collection profiling extraordinary women of all races, eras, and nationalities.

Our past is full of influential women. Whether politicians, troublemakers, explorers, artists, and even the odd murderer, women have shaped society around the globe. But too often, these women have been unfairly confined to the margins of history.

On This Day She: Putting Women Back into History One Day at a Time corrects this imbalance. A day-by-day collection of inspiring stories about incredible women who made history but seldom received the acknowledgement they deserved, this book introduces readers to women of all colors, eras, and nationalities. From Queen Elizabeth I to Beyoncé, Doria Shafik to Lillian Bilocca, this book gives voice both to female icons and to those whom the history books have overlooked.

These women campaigned, cured, and adventured their way through life. They include musicians, painters, scientists, poets, and more. Spanning centuries, On This Day She is a record of human existence at its most authentic.

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The Genius of Jane Austen: her love of theatre and why she works in Hollywood by Paula Byrne

This updated edition features an introduction and a brand new chapter that delves into the long and lucrative history of Austen adaptations. The film world’s love affair with Austen spans decades, from A.A. Milne’s “Elizabeth Bennet,” performed over the radio in 1944 to raise morale, to this year’s Love and Friendship. Austen’s work has proven so abidingly popular that these movies are more easily identifiable by lead actor than by title: the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility, the Carey Mulligan Northanger Abbey, the Laurence Olivier Pride and Prejudice. Byrne even takes a captivating detour into a multitude of successful spin-offs, including the phenomenally brilliant Clueless. And along the way, she overturns the notion of Jane Austen as a genteel, prim country mouse, demonstrating that Jane’s enduring popularity in film, TV, and theater points to a woman of wild comedy and outrageous behavior.

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Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop by Danyel Smith

A weave of biography, criticism, and memoir, Shine Bright is Danyel Smith’s intimate history of Black women’s music as the foundational story of American pop. Smith has been writing this history for more than five years. But as a music fan, and then as an essayist, editor (Vibe, Billboard), and podcast host (Black Girl Songbook), she has been living this history since she was a latchkey kid listening to “Midnight Train to Georgia” on the family stereo.

Smith’s detailed narrative begins with Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved woman who sang her poems, and continues through the stories of Mahalia Jackson, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Mariah Carey, as well as the under-considered careers of Marilyn McCoo, Deniece Williams, and Jody Watley.

Shine Bright is an overdue paean to musical masters whose true stories and genius have been hidden in plain sight—and the book Danyel Smith was born to write.

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With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism by Laura L. Lovett

The first biography of Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a trailblazing Black feminist activist whose work made children, race, and welfare rights central to the women’s movement.

Dorothy Pitman Hughes was a transformative community organizer in New York City in the 1970s who shared the stage with Gloria Steinem for 5 years, captivating audiences around the country. After leaving rural Georgia in the 1950s, she moved to New York, determined to fight for civil rights and equality. Historian Laura L. Lovett traces Hughes’s journey as she became a powerhouse activist, responding to the needs of her community and building a platform for its empowerment. She created lasting change by revitalizing her West Side neighborhood, which was subjected to racial discrimination, with nonexistent childcare and substandard housing, where poverty, drug use, a lack of job training, and the effects of the Vietnam War were evident. Hughes created a high-quality childcare center that also offered job training, adult education classes, a Youth Action corps, housing assistance, and food resources.

Hughes’s realization that her neighborhood could be revitalized by actively engaging and including the community was prescient and is startlingly relevant. As her stature grew to a national level, Hughes spent several years traversing the country with Steinem and educating people about feminism, childcare, and race. She moved to Harlem in the 1970s to counter gentrification and bought the franchise to the Miss Greater New York City pageant to demonstrate that Black was beautiful. She also opened an office supply store and became a powerful voice for Black women entrepreneurs and Black-owned businesses. Throughout every phase of her life, Hughes understood the transformative power of activism for Black communities.

With expert research, which includes Hughes’s own accounts of her life, With Her Fist Raised is the necessary biography of a pivotal figure in women’s history and Black feminism whose story will finally be told.

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A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter

An unprecedented literary landmark: the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to the present.

In a narrative of immense scope and fascination, here are more than 250 female writers, including the famous—Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dorothy Parker, Flannery O’Connor, and Toni Morrison, among others—and the little known, from the early American bestselling novelist Catherine Sedgwick to the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell. Showalter integrates women’s contributions into our nation’s literary heritage with brilliance and flair, making the case for the unfairly overlooked and putting the overrated firmly in their place.

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Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean

The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work.

These ten women—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm—are united by what Dean calls “sharpness,” the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. Sharp is a vibrant depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slugging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is also a passionate portrayal of how these women asserted themselves through their writing in a climate where women were treated with extreme condescension by the male-dominated cultural establishment.

Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is a celebration of this group of extraordinary women, an engaging introduction to their works, and a testament to how anyone who feels powerless can claim the mantle of writer, and, perhaps, change the world.

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Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas written by Jeanne Walker Harvey; illustrated by Loveis Wise

Meet an incredible woman who broke down barriers throughout her whole life and is now known as one of the most preeminent painters of the 20th century. Told from the point of view of young Alma Thomas, readers can follow along as she grows into her discovery of the life-changing power of art.

As a child in Georgia, Alma Thomas loved to spend time outside, soaking up the colors around her. And her parents filled their home with color and creativity despite the racial injustices they faced. After the family moved to Washington DC, Alma shared her passion for art by teaching children. When she was almost seventy years old, she focused on her own artwork, inspired by nature and space travel.

In this celebration of art and the power of imagination, Jeanne Walker Harvey and Loveis Wise tell the incredible true story of Alma Thomas, the first Black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York City and to have her work chosen for the White House collection. With her bold and vibrant abstract paintings, Alma set the world ablaze with color.

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The Story: A Reporter’s Journey by Judith Miller

In The Story, Judy Miller turns her journalistic skills on herself and her controversial reporting, which marshaled evidence that led America to invade Iraq. She writes about the mistakes she and others made on the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. She addresses the motives of some of her sources, including the notorious Iraqi Chalabi and the CIA. She describes going to jail to protect her sources in the Scooter Libby investigation of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame and how the Times subsequently abandoned her after twenty-eight years.

Judy Miller grew up near the Nevada atomic proving ground. She got a job at The New York Times after a suit by women employees about discrimination at the paper and went on to cover national politics, head the paper’s bureau in Cairo, and serve as deputy editor in Paris and then deputy at the powerful Washington bureau. She reported on terrorism and the rise of fanatical Islam in the Middle East and on secret biological weapons plants and programs in Iraq, Iran, and Russia. Miller shared a Pulitzer for her reporting. She describes covering terrorism in Lebanon, being embedded in Iraq, and going inside Russia’s secret laboratories where scientists concocted designer germs and killer diseases and watched the failed search for WMDs in Iraq.

The Story vividly describes the real life of a foreign and investigative reporter. It is an account filled with adventure, told with bluntness and wryness.

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Have you read any of these titles? Do you have others you want to recommend? Comment below to share!

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