Women’s History Month 2022 Reading List (Curated by Andreina Fernandez)

Happy Women’s History Month! Women’s History Month had its origins as a national celebration in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”

To start the celebration of Women’s History Month, we shared an excerpt from Robin Brook’s Class Interruptions: Inequality and Division in African Diasporic Women’s Fiction. To further continue the celebration, throughout the month we will be sharing reading lists curated by our staff featuring all authors who identify as women. Today’s reading list is curated by Andreina Fernandez, one of our Editors.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, don’t forget to use code 01DAH40 at checkout to get 40% off; this discount code applies to any other UNC Press book as well.

This year we’re also celebrating our centennial; happy 100th year anniversary to us! Visit our centennial page to see the latest on all of our centennial content, events, blog posts and more.


LIVING QUEER HISTORY: REMEMBRANCE OF BELONGING IN A SOUTHERN CITY

BY G. SAMANTHA ROSENTHAL

Queer history is a living practice. Talk to any group of LGBTQ people today, and they will not agree on what story should be told. Many people desire to celebrate the past by erecting plaques and painting rainbow crosswalks, but queer and trans people in the twenty-first century need more than just symbols—they need access to power, justice for marginalized people, spaces of belonging. Approaching the past through a lens of queer and trans survival and world-building transforms history itself into a tool for imagining and realizing a better future. 

Living Queer History tells the story of an LGBTQ community in Roanoke, Virginia, a small city on the edge of Appalachia. Interweaving  historical analysis, theory, and memoir, Gregory Samantha Rosenthal tells the story of their own journey—coming out and transitioning as a transgender woman—in the midst of working on a community-based history project that documented a multigenerational southern LGBTQ community. Based on over forty interviews with LGBTQ elders, Living Queer History explores how queer people today think about the past and how history lives on in the present.

REMAKING BLACK POWER: HOW BLACK WOMEN TRANSFORMED AN ERA

BY ASHLEY D. FARMER

In this comprehensive history, Ashley D. Farmer examines black women’s political, social, and cultural engagement with Black Power ideals and organizations. Complicating the assumption that sexism relegated black women to the margins of the movement, Farmer demonstrates how female activists fought for more inclusive understandings of Black Power and social justice by developing new ideas about black womanhood. This compelling book shows how the new tropes of womanhood that they created–the “Militant Black Domestic,” the “Revolutionary Black Woman,” and the “Third World Woman,” for instance–spurred debate among activists over the importance of women and gender to Black Power organizing, causing many of the era’s organizations and leaders to critique patriarchy and support gender equality.

Making use of a vast and untapped array of black women’s artwork, political cartoons, manifestos, and political essays that they produced as members of groups such as the Black Panther Party and the Congress of African People, Farmer reveals how black women activists reimagined black womanhood, challenged sexism, and redefined the meaning of race, gender, and identity in American life.

INCARCERATED STORIES: INDIGENOUS WOMEN MIGRANTS AND VIOLENCE IN THE SETTLER-CAPITALIST STATE

BY SHANNON SPEED

Indigenous women migrants from Central America and Mexico face harrowing experiences of violence before, during, and after their migration to the United States, like all asylum seekers. But as Shannon Speed argues, the circumstances for Indigenous women are especially devastating, given their disproportionate vulnerability to neoliberal economic and political policies and practices in Latin America and the United States, including policing, detention, and human trafficking. Speed dubs this vulnerability “neoliberal multicriminalism” and identifies its relation to settler structures of Indigenous dispossession and elimination. Using innovative ethnographic practices to record and recount stories from Indigenous women in U.S. detention, Speed demonstrates that these women’s vulnerability to individual and state violence is not rooted in a failure to exercise agency. Rather, it is a structural condition, created and reinforced by settler colonialism, which consistently deploys racial and gender ideologies to manage the ongoing business of occupation and capitalist exploitation. 

With sensitive narration and sophisticated analysis, this book reveals the human consequences of state policy and practices throughout the Americas and adds vital new context for understanding the circumstances of migrants seeking asylum in the United States.

NO MERCY HERE: GENDER, PUNISHMENT, AND THE MAKING OF JIM CROW MODERNITY

BY SARAH HALEY

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries imprisoned black women faced wrenching forms of gendered racial terror and heinous structures of economic exploitation. Subjugated as convict laborers and forced to serve additional time as domestic workers before they were allowed their freedom, black women faced a pitiless system of violence, terror, and debasement. Drawing upon black feminist criticism and a diverse array of archival materials, Sarah Haley uncovers imprisoned women’s brutalization in local, county, and state convict labor systems, while also illuminating the prisoners’ acts of resistance and sabotage, challenging ideologies of racial capitalism and patriarchy and offering alternative conceptions of social and political life.

A landmark history of black women’s imprisonment in the South, this book recovers stories of the captivity and punishment of black women to demonstrate how the system of incarceration was crucial to organizing the logics of gender and race, and constructing Jim Crow modernity.

THE LESBIAN SOUTH: SOUTHERN FEMINISTS, THE WOMEN IN PRINT MOVEMENT, AND THE QUEER LITERARY CANON

BY JAIME HARKER

In this book, Jaime Harker uncovers a largely forgotten literary renaissance in southern letters. Anchored by a constellation of southern women, the Women in Print movement grew from the queer union of women’s liberation, civil rights activism, gay liberation, and print culture. Broadly influential from the 1970s through the 1990s, the Women in Print movement created a network of writers, publishers, bookstores, and readers that fostered a remarkable array of literature. 

With the freedom that the Women in Print movement inspired, southern lesbian feminists remade southernness as a site of intersectional radicalism, transgressive sexuality, and liberatory space. Including in her study well-known authors—like Dorothy Allison and Alice Walker—as well as overlooked writers, publishers, and editors, Harker reconfigures the southern literary canon and the feminist canon, challenging histories of feminism and queer studies to include the south in a formative role.

FLORENCE “FLO” KENNEDY: THE LIFE OF A BLACK FEMINIST RADICAL

BY SHERIE M. RANDOLPH

Often photographed in a cowboy hat with her middle finger held defiantly in the air, Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (1916–2000) left a vibrant legacy as a leader of the Black Power and feminist movements. In the first biography of Kennedy, Sherie M. Randolph traces the life and political influence of this strikingly bold and controversial radical activist. Rather than simply reacting to the predominantly white feminist movement, Kennedy brought the lessons of Black Power to white feminism and built bridges in the struggles against racism and sexism. Randolph narrates Kennedy’s progressive upbringing, her pathbreaking graduation from Columbia Law School, and her long career as a media-savvy activist, showing how Kennedy rose to founding roles in organizations such as the National Black Feminist Organization and the National Organization for Women, allying herself with both white and black activists such as Adam Clayton Powell, H. Rap Brown, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm.

Making use of an extensive and previously uncollected archive, Randolph demonstrates profound connections within the histories of the new left, civil rights, Black Power, and feminism, showing that black feminism was pivotal in shaping postwar U.S. liberation movements.

LIBERATED THREADS: BLACK WOMEN, STYLE, AND THE GLOBAL POLITICS OF SOUL

BY TANISHA C. FORD

From the civil rights and Black Power era of the 1960s through antiapartheid activism in the 1980s and beyond, black women have used their clothing, hair, and style not simply as a fashion statement but as a powerful tool of resistance. Whether using stiletto heels as weapons to protect against police attacks or incorporating African-themed designs into everyday wear, these fashion-forward women celebrated their identities and pushed for equality.

In this thought-provoking book, Tanisha C. Ford explores how and why black women in places as far-flung as New York City, Atlanta, London, and Johannesburg incorporated style and beauty culture into their activism. Focusing on the emergence of the “soul style” movement—represented in clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, and more—Liberated Threads shows that black women’s fashion choices became galvanizing symbols of gender and political liberation. Drawing from an eclectic archive, Ford offers a new way of studying how black style and Soul Power moved beyond national boundaries, sparking a global fashion phenomenon. Following celebrities, models, college students, and everyday women as they moved through fashion boutiques, beauty salons, and record stores, Ford narrates the fascinating intertwining histories of Black Freedom and fashion.

BORDER BODIES: RADICALIZED SEXUALITY, SEXUAL CAPITAL, AND VIOLENCE IN THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY BORDERLANDS

BY BERNADINE MARIE HERNÁDEZ

In this study of sex, gender, sexual violence, and power along the border, Bernadine Marie Hernández brings to light under-heard stories of women who lived in a critical era of American history. Elaborating on the concept of sexual capital, she uses little-known newspapers and periodicals, letters, testimonios, court cases, short stories, and photographs to reveal how sex, violence, and capital conspired to govern not only women’s bodies but their role in the changing American Southwest. Hernández focuses on a time when the borderlands saw a rapid influx of white settlers who encountered elite landholding Californios, Hispanos, and Tejanos. Sex was inseparable from power in the borderlands, and women were integral to the stabilization of that power.

In drawing these stories from the archive, Hernández illuminates contemporary ideas of sexuality through the lens of the borderland’s history of expansionist, violent, and gendered conquest. By extension, Hernández argues that Mexicana, Nuevomexicana, Californiana, and Tejana women were key actors in the formation of the western United States, even as they are too often erased from the region’s story.