PageTurners: We're Talking Literary Icons on International Women's Day

PageTurners: We're Talking Literary Icons on International Women's Day

The Girl Who Smiled Beads, What We Lose, Sula
The Girl Who Smiled Beads, What We Lose, Sula
Image: Penguin Random House, Penguin Random House, Knopf
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In celebrating women’s history this month, we should be putting special emphasis on the women who pioneered the literary world, both nationally and internationally. There is no greater way to understand history than exploring stories detailing the experiences of women around the world. March 8 is International Women’s Daythough, in my opinion, women should be celebrated every day, but I’ll take any excuse to hype up female authors any chance I get.

Across the African diaspora, literary geniuses have given us perspectives on love, loss, family and triumph. Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poetry collection, bone, explores the pressures of first-generation responsibilities and how they shaped her down to the bone. Meanwhile, ZZ Packer’s debut collection of short stories, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, gives readers perspectives of people of color across the globe and what it means to dream.

Sisterhood and family are laid out in Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi and The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Wiel. Both follow two sets of sisters navigating generational trauma in Rwanda and the Gold Coast, respectfully, their escape to America and how that changed their relationships.

And of course, on this International Women’s Day (and every day) we celebrate Toni Morrison, one of the most influential women across the literature world as a whole, and her exploration of friendship, love and betrayal in her 1973 novel, Sula.  

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2 / 10

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fiction)

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fiction)

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Image: Penguin Random House

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Ifemelu, beautiful and self-assured, moves to America and despite her academic success back home, she faces the reality of what it really means to be Black.

Obinze, quiet and thoughtful, had hoped to join her, but America closes its doors on him in a post-9/11 panic, forcing him instead to dive deep into a dangerous and undocumented life in London. Upon traveling back to Nigeria 15 years later, they finally reunite and reignite their passion.

March 14, 2014, Penguin Random House

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3 / 10

bone – Yrsa Daley-Ward (Poetry)

bone – Yrsa Daley-Ward (Poetry)

bone – Yrsa Daley-Ward
bone – Yrsa Daley-Ward
Image: bone – Yrsa Daley-Ward

Navigating the competing worlds of religion and desire, Yrsa Daley–Ward’s collection bone is exactly that: a reflection on a particular lifeso clear and pared-down they, become universal. Daley-Ward navigates society’s expectations in conjunction with being a woman in the world, providing details of her childhood as a first-generation Black British woman to working through situations of depression, dependence, loss and abuseall the while exploring what it means to be vulnerable and fall in love.

September 26, 2017, Penguin Random House

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4 / 10

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer (Fiction)

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer (Fiction)

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer
Image: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – ZZ Packer

ZZ Packer’s debut collection of short stories, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, follows a range of young men and women unsure of where they belong. A girl who has grown up in the Baltimore ghetto dreams of escaping her life and living the life of those she sees on television. A group of young Black girls in a Brownie troop are faced with and confronted by a troop of white girls. And a young man forced into going to the Million Man March by his father, hoping to come to terms with where his allegiance lies. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is a collection of transcontinental stories providing readers with penetrating insight and versatile and captivating points of view.


February 3, 2004, Riverhead Books

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5 / 10

His Only Wife – Peace Adzo Medie (Fiction)

His Only Wife – Peace Adzo Medie (Fiction)

His Only Wife – Peace Adzo Medie
His Only Wife – Peace Adzo Medie
Image: Workman Publishing Company

Afi Tekple, a young seamstress in Ghana, is smart, beautiful and has been persuaded by her mother to marry a man she has never met––but she does know who he is. Elikem is a wealthy businessman whose mother has claimed Afi, hoping she will pull attention away from the woman who his family has deemed inappropriate. But the drastic change from a small village seamstress to a life of wealth and sophistication whose sole responsibility is to cook for a man who does not eat them weighs her down, making her question whether the financial security is worth her sanity.

Adzo Medie’s debut novel, His Only Wife, is witty, smart and moving, following a brave young woman navigating the minefield of modern life and the caveats that come with it.

September 1, 2020, Workman Publishing Company

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Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (Fiction)

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (Fiction)

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Image: Penguin Random House

Two half-sistersborn into two different villages in Ghana in the eighteenth centuryare completely unaware of each other. One will marry a wealthy Englishman and live a life of comfort in the Cape Coast Castle while the other is captured in a raid, only to be imprisoned in the very same castle yet sold into slavery.

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing follows the story of two parallel paths and their descendants through eight generations spanning the globe and the passage of time. From the Gold Coast to the plantations in Mississippi, to the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Homegoing charts the paths of those who were taken and whose who stays, detailing how memories of captivity have been etched onto the soul of a nation.

May 2, 2017, Penguin Random House

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7 / 10

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After – Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil (Memoir)

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After – Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil (Memoir)

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After – Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After – Clemantine Wamariya, Elizabeth Weil
Image: Penguin Random House

When she was 6 years old, Clemantine Wamariya’s brother told her the loud, ugly sounds she was hearing was thunder. But when her family started speaking in whispers, and neighbors began to disappear without a trace, the truth could no longer be hidden. In 1994, she and her sister, Claire, fled their home and escaped from the horrors that were the Rwandan massacre. They ran for six years in hopes of finding safety but met with imprisonment, hunger and abuse instead.

When Clemantine was 12, she and her sister were granted refugee status and moved to Chicago where their bond, though never broken, was permanently damaged in ways that could never be fixed. Where Claire began to struggle even more, Clemantine was taken in by a family who raised her as her own. However, the privilege and opportunities she was soon had were shadowed by the years of being treated as less than humanmaking her feel like a child and 100 years old.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads redefines what it means to be a victim and provokes us to recognize the power that imagination holds, even in the most profound injuries, traumas and aftershocks.

April 2, 2019, Penguin Random House

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8 / 10

Sula – Toni Morrison (Fiction)

Sula – Toni Morrison (Fiction)

Sula – Toni Morrison
Sula – Toni Morrison
Image: Knopf

In her 1973 novel, Sula, Toni Morrison tells the story of two girls who grow up together as friends as they become two women living the lives of something worse than enemies. Nel Wright and Sula Peace meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio and bear the burden of bullies and dreadful secrets. Their devotion endures even after Sula becomes a pariah in the Black community while Nel has become a pillar. Terrifying, comical and tragic, Sula is a work overflowing with love, unforgivable betrayal and life.

November 1973, Knopf

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9 / 10

What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons (Fiction)

What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons (Fiction)

What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons
What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons
Image: Penguin Random House

Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever-present. Caught between being Black and white, American and not, Thandie tries to connect the dislocated pieces of her life. But as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandie desperately searches for someoneor somethingto love. Through emotional vignettes, Clemmons explores the waves of grief, loss, love and romance through Thandie’s eyes as she navigates what it means to live without the person who most profoundly shaped her existence.

June 5, 2018, Penguin Random House

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10 / 10

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