PageTurners: Historic Black Women and the Literary Legacies They've Paved

PageTurners: Historic Black Women and the Literary Legacies They've Paved

Wings of Ebony; Just as I Am; The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
Wings of Ebony; Just as I Am; The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
Image: Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Beacon Press
It's Lit!It's Lit!Where all things literary live at The Root

It has already been a historic year for Black women, and this week we can reflect on the legacies of history-making women who paved the way for our successes today. The long-awaited biography Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells; Cicely Tyson’s, Just as I Am: A Memoir; and conversations with Shirley Chisholm in Shirley Chisholm: The Last Interview have all landed on our list of releases this week. Additionally, Clover Hope, formerly the culture editor of our sister site Jezebel, is giving us hip hop her-story with The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop on February 2, (and will be telling us all about her ultimate guide to women in hip hop next Friday, February 5, in our The Root Presents: It’s Lit! podcast).

As previously noted, I’ve been really excited about the Young Adult books coming out in 2021 because I love the way authors are using their platforms to educate young readers on important topics while still remaining in an accessible genre. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Young Readers Edition is releasing on February 2, and I am looking forward to seeing how Parks’ story is explored through a different lens.

Black women are featuring heavily in our fictional releases, as well: Wings of Ebony, the debut release from fantasy writer J. Elle, came out on January 26 and explores activism in Black communities throughout generations (and worlds), while other fiction and nonfiction works explore different ways of living and coping in Black America.

Black women have been shaping American history and advocating for the rights of Black people longer than any other group. Their histories, lives and activism have been respected yet often overlooked—but not in many of the books dropping this week and next. Grab your stack of books, audiobooks and (try to) find an uninterrupted place where you can get lost in these inspiring stories.

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Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 – Ibram X. Kendi (Editor), Keisha N. Blain (Editor) (Nonfiction)

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 – Ibram X. Kendi (Editor), Keisha N. Blain (Editor) (Nonfiction)

Four Hundred Souls, Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain
Four Hundred Souls, Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain
Image: Penguin Random House

Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X. Kendi, bestselling author of How To Be an Antiracist, and fellow historian Keisha N. Blain begins with the arrival of the first twenty enslaved people on the shores of the British colony in America in 1619, one year before the arrival of the Mayflower. Four Hundred Souls consists of 80 chronological chapters that bring to life the numerous and previously overlooked facets of slavery, segregation, resistance and survival. In these pages, dozens of extraordinary lives and personalities resurface from archives and are restored to their rightful place in the narrative of American history.

Michael Harriot, senior writer at The Root is among the powerful collection of authors, which includes well-known scholars, writers, historians, journalists, lawyers, poets and activists contributing to the conversation.

Additionally, the star-studded Four Hundred Souls audiobook will be available from Penguin Random House Audio and Audible on February 2, 2021.

February 2, 2021, Penguin Random House

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Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells – Michelle Duster (Biography)

Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells – Michelle Duster (Biography)

Ida B. The Queen, Michelle Duster
Ida B. The Queen, Michelle Duster
Image: Simon and Schuster

Nearly a century after her death, Ida B. Wells, celebrated activist, journalist and co-founder of the NAACP won a Pulitzer Prize in 2020 for “her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching,” according to the Pulitzer website,

Ida B. the Queen, written by Wells’s great-granddaughter and fellow activist Michelle Duster, tells the story of an inspirational pioneer of racial justice who brought the horrors of lynching in America to light. Ida B. the Queen delves deep into the life of Wells and the Black experience through visual storytelling and recounts the life, successes and hardships of one of the most renowned leaders of justice in American history.

January 26, 2021, Simon and Schuster

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Just as I Am: A Memoir – Cicely Tyson (Memoir)

Just as I Am: A Memoir – Cicely Tyson (Memoir)

Just as I Am: A Memoir, Cicely Tyson
Just as I Am: A Memoir, Cicely Tyson
Image: HarperCollins

Cicely Tyson has graced the screen, stage and public eye for over 60 years. In her new memoir, Just As I Am, Tyson gives readers a glance into life behind the glamour, glitter and grandeur of her decades-long career to her beginnings as the young, shy church girl who rarely let her voice be heard. Just As I Am is named for the verses of an old hymn in which Tyson sought comfort as a teenager. At 96, she opens up about her relationship with her mother, her daughter and God. In a quote from her own description of the book, “I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.”

January 26, 2021, HarperCollins

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Mrs Death Misses Death – Salena Godden (Fiction)

Mrs Death Misses Death – Salena Godden (Fiction)

Mrs Death Misses Death, Salena Godden
Mrs Death Misses Death, Salena Godden
Image: Cannongate Books

Mrs Death, a Black working-class woman who shape-shifts to bring death upon those whose time on Earth has ended, is tired of her job. A young writer, Wolf Willeford, is very familiar with Death—however, he’s never encountered her personally. After finally meeting her, Wolf becomes fascinated by the ordinary life Mrs Death leads, and wanting to know more, he agrees to be her scribe, writing down her stories of past and present deaths, compiling them into one long account of her life. Though a relationship based on hope, resilience and love begins to blossom, Mrs Death must continue to hold the fates of humans in her hands.


January 28, 2021, Canongate Books

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No Heaven for Good Boys: A Novel (Hardcover) – Keisha Bush (Fiction)

No Heaven for Good Boys: A Novel (Hardcover) – Keisha Bush (Fiction)

No Heaven for Good Boys: A Novel, Keisha Bush
No Heaven for Good Boys: A Novel, Keisha Bush
Image: Penguin Random House

Six-year-old Ibrahimah enjoys life with his family in Senegal, stealing pastries from his mother, harvesting food from his father’s garden and hunting for precious shells with his sisters. However, life drastically shifts when Marabout Ahmed, a seemingly kind stranger and highly regarded teacher, approaches Ibrahimah in his village and offers him a spot at a school in the capital city of Dakar. There, Ibrahimah joins his cousin, Étienne—but rather than learning the teachings of the Koran for a year, the boys are met with a gruesome fate.

In this modern-day reboot of Oliver Twist, Ibrahimah and Étienne are forced to beg in the streets for coins that go straight into the pockets of their teachers. No Heaven for Good Boys, inspired by Bush’s experiences living in Senegal, brings to light the extreme poverty, suffering and loss of innocence that young boys face every day through a tale of family, resilience and love.

January 26, 2021, Penguin Random House

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Shirley Chisholm: The Last Interview – Shirley Chisholm, Introduction by Rep. Barbara Lee (Biography)

Shirley Chisholm: The Last Interview – Shirley Chisholm, Introduction by Rep. Barbara Lee (Biography)

Shirley Chisholm: The Last Interview, Shirley Chisholm, Introduction by Rep. Barbara Lee (Biography)
Shirley Chisholm: The Last Interview, Shirley Chisholm, Introduction by Rep. Barbara Lee (Biography)
Image: Penguin Random House

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress; just four years later, she became the first Black candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Throughout, she embodied the mentality of “Unbought and Unbossed,” the slogans of her political campaigns—and never veered from it.

Through sets of interviews ranging from her first major profile by Susan Brownmiller to her final interview, Shirley Chisholm tells the story of her disciplined and demanding childhood, the expectations placed on her family and the public, and her unrelenting advocacy for the poorest and most disadvantaged within the halls of American government over one of the darker courses of our history.


Hardcover release, January 19, 2021, Penguin Random House

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The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto – Charles M. Blow (Nonfiction)

The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto – Charles M. Blow (Nonfiction)

The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, Charles M. Blow
The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, Charles M. Blow
Image: HarperCollins

Drawing on his political observations and personal experiences growing up Black in the South, Charles Blow gives readers a powerful manifesto—and Black Americans a call to action in his new book, The Devil You Know. Violence against Black people has been steadily increasing over the years, however, the increase in systemic violence against Black men and women and the discourse around it has rapidly increased in the last decade. In the summer of 2020 the violence culminated during the devastating pandemic and nationwide protests after several murders of Black people in the summer of 2020. Despite his disinterest in writing a “race book,” Blow felt compelled to pen a new narrative for Black people, envisioning an impassioned and counterintuitive corrective to the myths that have shaped and governed the thinking and ideology behind race and racism.

January 26, 2021, HarperCollins

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The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop – Clover Hope (Nonfiction)

The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop – Clover Hope (Nonfiction)

The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop, Clover Hope
The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop, Clover Hope
Image: Abrams Press

Clover Hope, former culture editor of The Root’s sister site Jezebel and a collaborator on Beyoncé’s 2018 Vogue cover story and 2020’s Black is King, , now brings the important and historic women who have influenced hip hop culture to the fore. The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop an illustrated book highlighting more than 100 women in rap who have shaped the genre all the while changing the perception of gender norms. The book highlights everyone from groundbreaking artists such as Roxanne Shanté, Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott to newer women in the game—Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Lizzo—as well as hundreds more who pioneered the movement of women in hip hop.

The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop illustrates the stigmas, career breakthroughs, highs and lows of hip hop to show how these iconic women helped shape and change the culture of rap.


February 2, 2021, Abrams Press

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The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Young Readers Edition – Jeanne Theoharis, Brandy Colbert (Young Adult)

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Young Readers Edition – Jeanne Theoharis, Brandy Colbert (Young Adult)

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Young Readers Edition, Jeanne Theoharis, Brandy Colbert
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Young Readers Edition, Jeanne Theoharis, Brandy Colbert
Image: Beacon Press

Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert explore the unknown aspects of Parks’ life in this young readers’ edition The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. The book explores her relationships with her husband and family, showing readers a different side of her life and the vulnerability behind the veneer of activism. After her stand in Montgomery Ala. sparking the bus boycotts, marches and other protest, Parks continued with her efforts for equal rights for Black Americans until her death in 2005.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks illustrates the total extent of her sixty years in activism, from twenty years of activism before the Montgomery boycotts to the forty years after. As described by publisher Beacon Press, the book encapsulates how the movement “radically sought to expose and eradicate racism in jobs, housing, schools, and public services, as well as police brutality and the over-incarceration of Black people—and how Rosa Parks was a key player throughout.”

February 2, 2021, Beacon Press

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Vicissitudes – Kim Green (Fiction)

Vicissitudes – Kim Green (Fiction)

Vicissitudes, Kim Green
Vicissitudes, Kim Green
Image: Transgress Press

After her painful divorce, Morgan was content with living an isolated single life, determined to guard her heart and put all of her energy into raising her daughter. But her determination starts to crumble when she meets Jahn, a charming high school teacher who is everything Morgan has ever dreamed of and more. She begins to question her commitment to being single but their budding romance is halted by the threat of secrets, lies and past lovers resurfacing. Vicissitudes, a provocative and emotional thriller, follows Morgan and Jahn as they face their choices head-on and choose between a life together or a lifetime of regret.


February 1, 2021, Transgress Press

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Wings of Ebony – J. Elle (Young Adult)

Wings of Ebony – J. Elle (Young Adult)

Wings of Ebony, J. Elle
Wings of Ebony, J. Elle
Image: Simon and Schuster

After witnessing the tragic death of her mother, life for teenage Rue and her younger sister is turned upside down forever. Moments after her mother’s death, Rue learns of her secret, godly ancestry and is forced to leave her little sister behind, taken from her home in Houston and transported to the island of Ghizon—a hidden island of magic-wielders. Rue is the only half-human, half-god on Ghizon and learns that the magic around her can only be sustained at the cost of human suffering. Desperate to see her sister, Rue breaks a sacred rule to return to Houston and the human world, where she finds a new horror awaiting her. J. Elle’s debut novel, Wings of Ebony, follows teenage Rue as she must embrace her true identity to save the two worlds she stands between.

January 26, 2021, Simon and Schuster

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