Jules Bourbeau ’25
At my all-boys’ Catholic high school, a teacher once asked if everyone in the class who had read a book by a woman within the past year would raise their hand. She and I were the only two who did. I say this not to brag about my “wokeness” but just to illuminate the unfortunate fact that, first, most people around my age do not read for pleasure, and, two, when they do, they rarely read women authors. In honor of Women’s History Month, I give you five books written by and about women to help rectify this gap. Please note that many of these books contain depictions of sexual violence among other difficult topics, so read with caution.
My first recommendation is Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde. By no means is Audre Lorde obscure, but while many an academic enjoys throwing her name around in order to seem cultured, few have actually read her work. In seriousness, this “biomythography” is an eye-opening look at Lorde’s experience as a Black lesbian. It is a woman-centered book at its core, with most sections of the work oriented around presenting intimate portraits of the women that shaped Lorde’s life.
Gayl Jones’ Corregidora is a heavy exploration of the lasting impacts of slavery and generational trauma. Set in 1940s Kentucky, it is narrated by a blues singer named Ursa Corregidora. At times, the memories of Ursa’s mother and grandmother blend into her own, highlighting how legacies of pain do not die with their victims.
Next is Erzulie’s Skirt by Ana-Maurine Lara, which will be of particular interest to students of Professor Landry’s “Voodoo” class. The title comes from the loa spirits, Erzulie, who have an affinity with water and femininity, two themes that are present throughout the entire narrative. The novel follows two women as they journey across oceans and find comfort and solidarity with each other and in their Haitian Voudou faith as they navigate extreme trauma while also finding ways to survive beyond loss.
The penultimate selection is The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai. The story takes place over three generations of Vietnamese women during three very different but interconnected periods in the nation’s history: French colonial rule of the 1930s, the Land Reform era of the 1950s, and finally the Vietnam War. It is both informative and nuanced enough for anyone to enjoy regardless of familiarity with Vietnamese history and culture, and its powerful assertion of familial strength transcends all boundaries.
Finally, and my favorite of the five, is Summer Fun by Jean Thornton. Essentially, she asks the question: What if Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was a trans woman? Okay, there’s much more to the novel than that, but you’ll spot inspiration from The Beach Boys everywhere. The narration is presented in the form of a series of letters written by a modern-day trans woman who is obsessed with this in-universe band, giving a unique structure to the book. Thornton’s novel asks questions about what it means to reach into the past and find someone like ourselves: What does it mean to be a woman today, and what did it mean in the past?