The Feminist Know-It-All: You know her. You can’t stand her. Good thing she’s not here! Instead, this column by gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand will amplify stories of the creation, access, use and preservation of knowledge by women and girls around the world; share innovative projects and initiatives that focus on information, literacies, libraries and more; and, of course, talk about all of the books.
Happy New Year!
While it had its ups and downs, 2019 was a great year for books written by women, trans and gender nonconforming writers and other historically marginalized writers. This year is shaping up to be even better—as evidenced by the 86 books in this very 2020 preview!
This is the second year this list has been published on Ms. and I’m so grateful for the platform. We love playing a part, however small, in raising awareness about these amazing writers and their creative works. We’ve heard your feedback and will continue to produce monthly Reads for the Rest of Us lists this year.
As returning readers know, the aims of these lists are threefold: I want to do my part in the disruption of what has been the acceptable “norm” in the book world for far too long—white, cis, hetersexual, male; I want to amplify amazing works by writers who are women, feminist, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, APIA, international, LGBIA+, TGNC, queer, disabled, fat, immigrant, Muslim, neurodivergent, jjustice-involved, sex-positive or of other historically marginalized identities—you know, the rest of us; and I want to challenge and encourage you all to buy, borrow and read them!
There are some amazing books coming this year that you’ve probably already heard about that won’t be on this list. (Think: Wow, No Thank You by the hilarious Samantha Irby; Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, which includes several “rediscovered” stories by Zora Neale Hurston; the fantastic debuts How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang, All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad andLittle Godsby Meng Jin;The Night Watchman by the incomparable Louise Erdrich; A Long Petal of the Sea by the unparalleled Isabel Allende; and memoirs by Linda Sarsour, Alicia Keys and Chelsea Manning. While you should still read these, I’ve left them and other higher-profile books off the list to make room for those that I’m excited about but haven’t seen on many other lists.
In addition to increasing visibility of these books, I want to call attention to books from the widest variety of authors and publishers as possible, to encourage reading a variety of different perspectives and showcase books diverse genres and geographies. This list includes books and writers from over 25 different countries, including Korea, Nigeria, India, Colombia, Philippines, Việt Nam, Cambodia, Trinidad, Palestine, Guatemala, Somalia, Liberia, Taiwan, Ghana, Haiti, Morocco, the U.S. and more. The writers included below are women, TGNC, queer, LGB, aro/ace, Indigenous, Muslim, AAPI, Black, Latinx, refugees, immigrants, Jewish, Hmong, deaf, disabled, neurodivergent, Sikh and more. This list also represents over 55 publishers, from the Big Five to indies to university presses.
Since the list is so long, I tried to keep the descriptions to 1-2 sentences each —which was not easy! Unlike many other lists you see this time of year, this one includes nonfiction as well as fiction. I also include poetry here, which most other lists do not; my 2019 list didn’t either, but then I rediscovered my love of poetry. While there are a few young adult (YA) novels here, I focused mainly on adult books, so there are no middle grade or children’s books. The list is front-loaded for obvious reasons: While we don’t have confirmation of all the books being published later in the year, I did include the ones that I know of and am excited about.
These books will inform, entertain, educate and inspire. They are sure to make you laugh, cry, get mad and get going. One of them might be just what you need at just the right time.
There’s only one way to find out: Read ’em all.
This arresting memoir is a reflection of a daughter—EJ Koh—left in the U.S. by her mother who returned to Korea; Koh uses history, poetry and her mother’s letters to make sense of their relationship and herself.
This book is but one piece of a larger multidisciplinary project focused on Black mobility and culture through the lens of the Green Book; there will also be a board game, a children’s book, a Smithsonian exhibit and walking tours via mobile app.
In this semi-autobiographical debut, Echo Brown confronts themes of drug addiction, sexual abuse and depression within an evocative framework of magical realism and cements herself as a brilliant new literary voice at the same time.
This necessary collection is focused on practical, grassroots alternatives to current reactive measures for dealing with violence and crime.
Dr. Rita Woods’ debut is a beautifully written historical novel centering resistance to the racism of the past and the present.
If you’re looking for something completely different in the new year, check out Chana Porter’s absorbing debut for a peek into a utopian future brought on by a benevolent alien invasion, a future in which we still seek meaning, identity and connection.
P. Carl has written a candid, intimate and moving memoir about his gender transition in our current cultural moment and how it affected his relationships, his inner and outer identities and his place within the world.
The debut collection of poetry from moira j focuses on Indigeneity, queerness, nature and kinship. $1 of every pre-order will go to support the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, a nonprofit organization aimed at providing safety for Indigenous women and their children.
Set in Lagos over a period of decades, this absorbing debut follows twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike from the inseparable bonds of relative comfort to the challenges and independence of poverty.
The authors don’t claim that this volume is “the” definitive history of Black women in the U.S. but instead offer readers glimpses into lives all-but-lost to history and the importance of critical historiography to locate and share the experiences of Black women.
In her compelling debut, Abi Daré presents us with Adunni, a bold, young Nigerian girl determined to find her place, her autonomy and her voice in the world.
This is the book supporting the anti-harassment street art campaign created by Fazlalizadeh in 2012, which continues to light the flame of knowledge and resistance to fight for the safety and respect all women deserve.
By Kim Sagwa (Author), Sunhee Jeong (Translator). Two Lines Press. 160 pages. Out February 11.
In this slim volume, acclaimed South Korean writer Kim Sagwa presents us with a heartfelt look into today’s adolescence, with all its awkwardness, cruelty, questioning, searching and heartbreak.
This powerful first anthology from Catapult magazine features twenty writers sharing their stories of migration, family and what home means to them.
Troublemaker and love evangelist Alexis Pauline Gumbs is back with the final installment of her extraordinary trilogy of collections, with themes of Blackness, feminism, colonialism, humanity, environmentalism and genius. Be sure to check out the first two, Spill and M Archive.
By Meena Alexander. Nightboat. 104 pages. Out February 18.
Published since her untimely passing in 2018, this is Meena Alexander’s last collection of works. It’s in these lyric fragments that the reader will discover the beautiful whole.
This sharp epic fantasy is as badass as it sounds, so get out there and immerse yourself in this provocative, unflinching world of action, surprises and hope.
This is the triumphant memoir of Judith Heumann, who drove the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and is one of the most influential activists of our time.
With this unflinching collection of essays, Mikki Kendall serves feminists the reality check we need in order to make a more inclusive, equitable and useful feminism for the many, not just the privileged few.
With radical candor, Cathy Hong Park critically examines what it means to be Asian American today and challenges herself and her readers to abandon the idea of a monolithic Asian American experience and instead acknowledge a range of racialized emotions which have been heretofore dismissed.
Through poetry, Monica Sok processes her family’s experiences of the Khmer Rouge, immigration and the Cambodian diaspora with mythical, tender reflection.
If you enjoyed Meija’s amazing debut, We Set the Dark on Fire, you will love its thrilling, twisting, queer, feminist sequel.
Master poet jessica Care moore gifts us this latest collection of sharp, smart and defiant pieces and we will be better humans because of it.
The brilliant Natalie Diaz presents us with a captivating successor to her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, this one focused on embodiment, the layers of Indigeneity and the notions of goodness and love.
Maisy Card’s remarkable debut is for anyone out there with family drama or trauma and for those who have tried to make their own way despite (or in spite of) it.
Juliana Delgado Lopera’s bilingual novel about young Colombian immigrant Francisca is exceptional, unflinching, cheeky and queer AF.
This immersive anthology begins to address gaps and transform understanding in history and literature by, for and about Asian American and Pacific Islander women.
I am firmly convinced that the way to true equality and justice for all will be on a radical Black queer feminist road; Sensuous Knowledge is Ms. Afropolitan Minna Salami’s insightful contribution to our success.
A vast, epic historical novel set against the backdrop of the Việt Nam conflict through the eyes of the people themselves.
This original debut deftly addresses big themes in a slim volume: racism, colonialism, feminism, migration and history, to name a few.
Award-winning and bestselling writer N.K. Jemisin does it again, this time with a unique, immersive story of saving New York City that may just change the way you think about sci fi and fantasy—and the Big Apple.
With her arresting debut, Megan Giddings tackles themes of class, race and labor, all in a menacing and gripping dystopian tale of medical experimentation and what we’ll do for those we love.
Written from the perspective of two sisters—one a trans activist and the other an actor in “Orange is the New Black”—this book candidly relates the challenges and triumphs of supporting a loved one through exploration and affirmation of their authentic self.
This one-of-a-kind anthology includes poems, essays, excerpts and stories about reproductive freedom by the likes of Amy Tan, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gloria Naylor, Lindy West, Audre Lorde, Camonghne Felix, Leslie Marmon Silko and Gloria Steinem, to name a few.
This timely debut is a provocative examination of love and life in the 21st century, wrought with all the anxieties and complexities that come from existing in a capitalist society of ubiquitous technology, racism and distractions.
After almost 15 years, the irresistible Julia Alvarez is back with this remarkable and nuanced novel exploring immigration, humanity and compassion in a bitter and fractured world.
With grace, empathy and wisdom, this robustly written debut examines an American Muslim immigrant experience against the backdrop of a school shooting.
New to poetry and don’t know where to start? Looking to broaden your poetry perspectives? Either way, you should be reading the exceptional Breakbeats Poets series from Haymarket; the latest features the work of Latinx masters and up-and-comers alike. Seriously, just read them all.
This debut poetry collection, by spoken word artist extraordinaire Aija Mayrock, is a testament to the beauty, hardships and power of womanhood.
By Sasha Geffen (@sashageffen). University of Texas Press. 264 pages. Out April 7.
This is a unique examination of gender fluidity and queerness across genres of popular music; a must-read for music lovers.
In a powerful debut collection of poetry, the multitalented John Elizabeth Stintzi candidly details the fear, depression and isolation of examining one’s gender identity. Also be sure to check out Stintzi’s outstanding debut novel, Vanishing Monuments, due out in May from Arsenal Pulp Press.
Emerson Whitney’s first prose book is a frank and absorbing examination of transness, brokenness, mothering, femininity, embodiment and truth.
By Cho Nam-Joo (Author), Jamie Chang (Translator). Liveright. 144 pages. Out April 14.
Now available for the first time in English, this novel is said to have sparked a new feminist movement in Korea.
By Ingrid Persaud (@ingridpersaud). One World. 336 pages. Out April 14.
In a truly Caribbean novel, Ingrid Persaud tells the story of one Trinidadian family struggling to stay together across miles, secrets and differences.
Carter Sickles has written an unforgettable novel detailing a man with AIDS who goes home to Appalachia to die and touches the heart of love, sex, home and understanding.
In this utterly unique and important first novel, Young examines themes of love, intrusion, loss, community and trust against a backdrop of a Makah reservation in the Pacific Northwest.
By Hao Jingfang (Author), Ken Liu (Translator). Gallery / Saga Press. 640 pages. Out April 14.
This is the sci fi giant to read in 2020; and I mean that figuratively (it’s challenging but lyrically written) and literally (it’s 640 pages).
Candid and chilling, Deborah Paredez’s second collection of poems relates her stories and memories of being a Latinx daughter during the Việt Nam conflict.
Tunisian American poet Leila Chatti’s powerful collection of poems centers her faith, health, embodiment, shame and womanhood.
By Souvankham Thammavongsa. Little, Brown and Company. 192 pages. Out April 21.
Thammavongsa’s radiant debut collection of short stories is full of precarity, strength, uncertainty, messiness and life.
Personal and searing, Laila Lalami’s latest book is focused on immigration, white supremacy and what it means to be “American”.
Part memoir, part history, this informative and engaging book by University of Delaware professor Jaipreet Virdi explores deafness in the U.S. through the lens of the neverending search for a “cure”.
By Cheryl Savageau. University of Nebraska Press. 256 pages. Out May 1.
In this unique and poignant memoir, Abenaki/French Canadian poet Cheryl Savageau describes her bipolar disorder in lyrical, clear and candid prose.
By Micheline Aharonian Marcom. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages. Out May 5.
Inspired by interviews with Central American refugees, the latest captivating novel by Micheline Aharonian Marcom centers a Dreamer named Emilio, who is determined to return to California after being deported.
Award-winning author Kacen Callendar has written a vibrant and important YA novel about love: Felix Love, a transgender teen who is looking for love, for self and for others. Callender also has an LGBTQ-focused book for younger readers, King and the Dragonflies, out in February.
In this unsparing, unapologetic collection of poems, Lucia LoTempio addresses violence against women in intricate, powerful and potent style and language.
In her latest compelling poetry collection, Jenny Zhang dares you to flinch as she explores love and existence, innocence and anger, patriarchy and whiteness, capitalism and womanhood.
By Francesca Momplaisir. Knopf. 3043 pages. Our May 12.
Not only is this a startling thriller, My Mother’s House is a gripping examination of immigration, the American Dream and the dangers of toxic masculinity.
Following her brilliant This Will Be My Undoing, Morgan Jerkins takes readers on a journey to recreate the migrations of her ancestors and explores her present through the legacies of her past.
I love Gen Hudson’s writing so was excited to see she’s publishing her first novel, a coming of age story steeped in magical realism and themes of queerness, immigration and masculinity.
We’ll all need a giant dose of humor this year and Mia Mercado’s collection of essays will make you laugh out loud at the ridiculous truths of being a human.
By Zerlina Maxwell (@zerlinamaxwell). Hachette Books. 256 pages. Out May 26.
It seems I can’t turn on Sirius XM or any of my go-to news stations lately without hearing Zerlina Maxwell and I am a better citizen because of it. In her first book, she examines and exposes the shortcomings of liberal politics as well as what needs to be done to get us all out of this current political crisis.
In one of the most insightful memoirs of the recent past, Meredith Talusan tells her story of being born a Filipino boy with albinism to becoming a Filipino American woman with albinism. Truly triumphant in form and content.
With the assistance of Julie Schwietert Collazo, founder of Immigrant Families Together, Rosy Pablo Cruz shares her story of her desperate departure from Guatemala and her subsequent separation from her two children at the U.S. border. Illustrative of the human costs of inhumane immigration policies.
The author of the captivating novel She Would Be King has penned an exceptional memoir of her life in and exodus from war-torn Liberia and her adjustment to living as an African immigrant in the U.S.
In her uniquely written debut novel, Zaina Arafat tackles the challenges of being a queer Palestinian American attempting to disentagle identities to locate and celebrate the true self.
This may be the most important election year in our lifetimes and The Beat DC’s Tiffany Cross is here to explain how and why Black voters hold the key to our success.
Magical realism meets gothic suspense in this imaginative historical novel by the author of the outstanding Gods of Jade and Shadow. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has another book, Untamed Shore, scheduled for release in February from Agora Books, so be sure to check out both.
Kelli Jo Ford has penned an extraordinary debut set in 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that is focused on mothers and daughters, the strength and sacrifices of women and the journey that growth requires.
This is the striking debut memoir about a childhood in Oakland and the shooting death of a beloved older brother; it is also a powerful call to action to stop the endless violence against communities of color in the U.S.
By Kuniko Tsurita (Author), Ryan Holmberg (Translator). Drawn & Quarterly. 258 pages. Out July 21.
Available for the first time in English, this volume collects some of cartoonist Kuniko Tsurita’s best graphic short stories in all their feminist, gender-questioning, visionary, dystopian glory.
Those of you who keep up with my lists know that Akwaeke Emezi is one of my favorite writers of the last few years, so I am thrilled they are back with their next unforgettable novel of connection, understanding, loss and growth.
By Catherine Cho (@catkcho). Henry Holt and Co. 256 pages. Out August 4.
This debut memoir is an engrossing and frightening account of the author’s post-partum psychosis and subsequent commitment to a psychiatric hospital; it’s a candid story of motherhood, mental health and love.
We owe journalist Karen Attiah a debt of gratitude for keeping the important story of Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination in the public eye. With this volume, she can be assured that she’s made her mark on history and our current moment with an urgent call for truth.
Award-winning author Kao Kalia Yang has collected stories from a variety of Minneapolis refugees into this beautifully written “collective memoir” which will enlighten readers to the struggle, humanity and agency of refugees throughout the U.S..
Nadia Owusu has penned an engaging and reflective new memoir focused on universal themes of home, abandonment, identity and autonomy.
This one was on my list last year but—as so often happens in publishing—it was delayed. I feel this is our year and if we’re lucky, we’ll have the definitive Crenshaw collection in our hands by this time next year.
Renowned historian Donna Murch has written a fascinating and accessible new history of the Black Panther Party in honor of the 50th anniversary of its founding. Consider it #RequiredReading.
This utterly original debut traces three generations of Taiwanese women as they grapple with myth, secrets, queerness and migration.
Highly informative and readable, journalist Angela Chen’s examination of asexuality is poised to be the definitive volume of the topic.
By Yaa Gyasi. Knopf. 288 pages. Out September 15.
If you read Gyasi’s triumphant debut, Homegoing, you know what an extraordinary storyteller she is. Her follow up is equally powerful, focused on an immigrant Ghanaian family, their complex, heartbreaking trauma and their emotional fight for survival.
These are Alice Walker’s journals; need I say more? We are not worthy.
I haven’t seen this one yet but am so intrigued by over 500 pages of works representing the current—and future—Black cultural moment. It’s said to include stories, poems, recipes, Tweets, essays, art and more.
I love speculative fiction that ties an envisioned future with historical roots and Nicole Glover’s debut does just that; then it adds in pinches of mystery and magic for good measure.
The incomparable Ijeoma Oluo follows her bestselling So You Want to Talk About Race with this ambitious, well-researched examination of the impact white men’s stranglehold on leadership throughout history has had on the rest of us.
With the growth of books written about Appalachian life recently, we are in dire need of stories about the diversity of experiences and families in the area; Malaika Adero offers us one of these invaluable perspectives.