aAt the end of Sarah Ahmed’s novel Living a Feminist Life, she compiles The Survival Group: What can support feminists trying to live fully and freely, by themselves and in society? In her collection, turn to feelings, time, humor, and bodies – but first and foremost, the books: “You have to take it with you; you write it.
I’d like to put Ahmed’s book in my survival kit, not least because it has other great books tucked into it, including Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Bell Hooks Feminist Theory, and Judith Butler’s Important Objects. In writing after SapphoAnd the I was experimenting with the forms feminist life might take; I wondered, what would a loose circle of women at the turn of the century in Europe need to read in order to write their own lives? (Two things I learned from Sarah Ahmed in this regard: pride in the community, and more book smuggling than is officially allotted.)
For those who were considered at best a gentle footnote and at worst an inappropriate form of trouble, writing can be a feminist experience, a way to paraphrase what is possible in the narrative. In the spirit of books that fearlessly open up the forms they have inherited, of writing life over live wires, and of feminist thinking so broad that it barely fits between covers, this is a list of experimental twenty-first century feminist books that have inspired me. Maybe some of them will make their way into your survival kit, or maybe you’ll have to reinvent the model yourself.
1. The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand
The brand amazes me and prompts me to search for words like ‘brindle’ and ‘xylem’. Is it because she is a poet who can revive language like this, while moving seamlessly through history, music, and philosophy? The Blue Clerk is the kind of dialogue between a poet and a person – the blue writer – who receives the waves of her writing, her memories, and the questions that wash over dry land. The book unfolds in meditative portions titled “Back,” and I’ve come to believe that the brand can be seen through a page written to its hidden side.
2. Float by Ann Carson
Float isn’t really a book; It is a collection or archipelago of small books. “Reading can be fall-free,” he points out, and I often come back strongly to a poem or lyric essay from this collection (Cassandra Float Can is one of my favorites). Float It shows many of the things I adore about Carson: brilliance, juxtaposition, brilliant phrases, intellectual depth, quirkiness, sharp moves from line to line—plus a poem called Pronoun Envy.
3. In the House of Dreams by Carmen Maria Machado
This is such a deep and clever book that you wouldn’t expect a Dream House section like Stoner Comedy. But it’s also a book that knows how to capture clichés, outdated genres, and the concept of memoir itself, in order to break them all down into prismatic sections. Looking back at the abuse she survived, Machado ponders the intricacies of being a gay woman in the midst of stories already established, and inadequate; She invents her own kind of life narrative.
4. Anna Batova Crossing a Bridge by Renee Gladman
Although this is the third book in Gladman’s series about a mythical city called Ravica – a place where architecture speaks and the word “yellow” is not enough to describe the sky – the reader can easily start here. Ravicka is fantastical and utterly bizarre but also familiar: it’s a way of dreaming about streets, ruins, books and bridges. Like the Invisible Cities of Italo Calvino, this book navigates impossible cityscapes, while Anna Batova walks and writes (and occasionally demolishes the “migrant buildings” that cross her garden).
5. First Margaret by Daniel Dutton
Danielle Dutton should get additional credibility: in addition to writing this highly imaginative life of 17th-century writer Margaret Cavendish, she also runs Dorothy, the press that publishes Renee Gladman; Both are feminist works that I deeply admire. Like her previous book, Attempts at Life, Margaret I is meticulously detailed, vividly furnishing her worlds with “double black violets” and “aqua dress.” A novel, an autobiography, a charming novel, and an intellectual history, this is a book I think Virginia Woolf would appreciate.
6. Line Color by Ijiaba Sego, translated by John Cullen and Gregory Conti
It was exciting to see this ambitious novel written by one of the most important Italian writers in the English language. When I read it in Italian, I was struck by the skillful interweaving of lines between artistic, political, and personal history. Mixing real life and reinvented life, Scego creates an image of two black women, separated by centuries, making their way in Italy; Each one faces questions of vision and appearance. In its accounts with racism and colonialism, The Color Line explores the potential for artists to restore line and color in the name of justice.
7. Pool – Claire Louise Bennett
The catchy, sinuous and infectious narrative voice allows Bond to go absolutely anywhere; I started this book with absolutely no interest in oat cakes, cows, or the best way to squish sheets of stairs, and yet I couldn’t tear myself apart, even while discussing about boiling tongs. At Pond, Bennett made it easy to write a stunning original book on women’s thinking; Her latest novel Checkout 19 is an equally insightful and fun novel about a Women reading and writing.
8. The Silk Road by Katherine Davis
Crossing the Silk Road involves moving simultaneously through many layers. It’s a lot like our lives on this planet, where the permafrost thaws but we’re also falling in love, as pestilence haunts the earth but someone also needs to make dinner. The novel is populated by a mortal group of siblings – the cook compulsively making dinner, the archivist who faints with love, the topologist who leaves her evidence at the cafe table – and he falls into a mysterious predicament of the landscape. This is a deceptive novel about journeys beyond the individual self.
9. Dicks, Newburyport by Lucy Elman
I’ve heard that in a frustrating moment before publication, someone told Elman that her book was too big. Ducks, Newburyport is 1,000 pages, almost entirely composed of one connected sentence, and it is Not very big. It’s the perfect volume for an inward expression for the woman who must live in Central America now, with all her thoughts, fears, children, pastries, musings, and general hangovers.
10. A Misguided Life, Beautiful Experiences by Saidia Hartmann
A luminous beacon of what life writing and archival scholarship can become, it’s a perfect book for readers who think academic writing is boring and dry. Saidia Hartmann describes her style as “close narrative,” so approximating the lives of black women and girls at the turn of the century that their silk ribbons flutter off the page, along with their struggles and desires. There’s bean soup, racial violence, operettas, and dwellings. Above all, there is tremendous tenderness in restoring and rewriting these stories, bringing their rightful heroes back to the center.