23 African Feminist Books for the Aspiring Revolutionary

This week in our book recommendation series in celebration of women’s history month, we present a booklist for all those readers who want to think and act like revolutionaries. The books here are touchstones of African feminism and are all about dismantling the patriarchy.

“I wrote this book with enough rage to fuel a rocket” is how Mona Eltahawy opens her powerful manifesto The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, which seeks to inspire girls to break the rules and lean into their inner rebel. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s memoir Black and Female, Minna Salami’s Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach for Everyone, and Desiree Lewis and Gabeba Baderoon’s edited collection Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa all challenge the reader to rethink whatever assumptions they might have about the black female experience, black feminist knowledge making, and what it means to live, think, and create as a feminist. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah’s The Sex Lives of African Women and Leila Slimani’s Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World challenge the culture of silence and taboo around sex and female pleasure. In both groundbreaking books, the joys of a truly feminist experience is linked to a fulfilling sex life lived in all its transgressive diversity.

You will also find fiction that feature heroines who are willing to do whatever it takes to cut the patriarchy down to size. My Sister the Serial Killer is a humorous and feminist take on the serial-killer trope while Mary Watson’s Blood to Poison is a story about harnessing anger as a force for change.

The books

The Sex Lives of African Women

This book amplifies the diverse experiences of sex, sexualities, and relationships of individual women from across Africa and the diaspora. From finding queer community in Egypt to living a polyamorous life in Senegal, these narratives are as individual and illuminating as the women who share them. (Dialogue/2021).

Radius: A Story of Feminist Revolution

In 2012, the hopes of the democratic Egyptian Revolution were tempered by mass sexual assault in Tahrir Square in Cairo. This is the story of the women and men who formed Opantish – Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment. Journalist Yasmin El-Rifae was one of Opantish’s organizers, and this is her evocative account of their work. (Verso/2022).

She Would Be King

Moore’s powerful debut novel reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three unforgettable characters who share an uncommon bond. Moore’s intermingling of history and magical realism finds voice in these three characters and in the spirit of the wind, who embodies an ancient wisdom. “If she was not a woman,” the wind says of Gbessa, “she would be king.” (Graywolf/2018).

These Bones Will Rise Again

In November, 2017, the people of Zimbabwe took to the streets in an unprecedented alliance with the military. Their goal, to restore the legacy of Chimurenga, the liberation struggle, and wrest their country back from more than 30 years of Robert Mugabe’s rule. Chigumadzi reflects on the “coup that was not a coup.” (Indigo/2018).

Hullo Bu-Bye Koko Come In

The title of the book is inspired by a South African phrase made famous by the legendary musician Brenda Fassie in her 1992 song, Istraight lendaba…The book is divided into four chapters dealing with subjects related to history, the erasure of black women from the archive and more personal poems where Putuma resuscitates the stories of women in her lineage who have had an influence on her life. (Manyano Media/2021).

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls

A book that turns girls into “angry, ambitious, profane, violent, attention-seeking, lustful, and powerful” beings? Yes please! Eltahawy criticizes the culture of feminine respectability, arguing that girls should be taught to harness anger, desire, and joy. A powerful manifesto from one of Africa’s beloved feminists. (Beacon/2019).

Black and Female

This paradigm shifting essay collection weaves the personal and political in an illuminating exploration of internationally acclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga’s complex relationship with race and gender. Black and Female offers a powerful vision toward re-membering – to use Toni Morrison’s word – those whose identities continue to be fractured by the intersections of history, race and gender. (Faber/2022)

Blood to Poison

Seventeen-year-old Savannah is cursed. It’s a sinister family heirloom; passed down through the bloodline for hundreds of years, with one woman in every generation destined to die young. Blood to Poison is a furious and mesmerising story about discovering magic, historical rage and love in all its guises. (Bloomsbury/2022)

Confident and Killing It

In Confident and Killing It, Tiwalola guides readers in becoming the most unapologetic and unstoppable version of themselves. Featuring practical tips and tricks and real-life stories from everyday women, Confident and Killing It will help you master your mind, overcome fear and live life to the fullest. (Harper Collins/2022)

Even When Your Voice Shakes

A young woman speaks out against her wealthy abuser in this riveting YA novel. Through the life of an ordinary girl from a small country village, Even When Your Voice Shakes exposes the damage wrought by institutionalized misogyny and poverty and reveals how even those who are most disadvantaged are never without their own power. (US: Norton; Nigeria: Ouida/2022)

I Am Because We Are: An African Mother’s Fight for the Soul of a Nation

In this innovative and intimate memoir, a daughter tells the story of her mother, a pan-African hero who faced down misogyny and battled corruption in Nigeria. (Knopf/2022)

A Bigger Picture

Leading climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate brings her fierce, fearless spirit, new perspective, and superstar bona fides to the biggest issue of our time. In A Bigger Picture, her first book, she shares her story as a young Ugandan woman who sees that her community bears disproportionate consequences to the climate crisis. (Houghton/2021)

Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa

This is the first collection dedicated to contemporary Black South African feminist perspectives. Radical polemic sits side by side with personal essays, and critical theory coexists with rich and stirring life histories. (Wits UP/2021)

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America

In this beautiful collection of essays straddling the personal and the political, Leila Lalami exposes the contradictions at the heart of American political life. She dissects the long-standing structures put in place to keep “outsiders” out. (Pantheon/2020)

Embracing My Shadow: Growing Up Lesbian in Nigeria by Unoma Azuah

Embracing My Shadow traces Unoma Azuah’s challenging growth as a lesbian in Nigeria and how she navigated the paths of abuse, ethnic discrimination and homophobia in a hyper-religious and patriarchal Nigerian society. (Beaten Track Publishing/2020)

No Roses From My Mouth by Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi was arrested on November 2, 2018 for posting a poem on Facebook that was said to cyber-harras the long-serving President of Uganda, Mr. Yoweri Museveni. She was convicted and sentenced to eighteen months in jail…She wrote all the poems in this collection during her detention. (Ubuntu Reading Group/2020)

Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach for Everyone

Salami’s debut is groundbreaking work! She offers an Africa-centered, black feminist approach to knowledge by excavating African cosmologies, philosophies, history, and art for ideas on dismantling patriarchal ideals of beauty, power, womanhood, and more. (Amistad/2020)

Riot Baby

Ella awakens to a super power that could save her brother Kev from the racist stranglehold of the criminal justice system. Rooted in the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is as much an intimate family story as a global dystopian narrative. It burns fearlessly toward revolution and has quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience. (Tor/2020)

Sex and Lies: True Stories of Women’s Intimate Lives in the Arab World

In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside of marriage are all punishable by law, and women have only two choices: They can be wives or virgins. This book makes a case for a sexual revolution in the Arab world. (Penguin/2020)

The Shadow King

A gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record. (W. W. Norton & Company/2019)

Your Body Is War

Your Body Is War contemplates the psychology of the female human body, looking at the ways it exists and moves in the world, refusing to be contained in the face of grief and trauma. Bold and raw, Mahtem Shiferraw’s poems explore what the woman’s body has to do to survive and persevere in the world, especially in the aftermath of abuse. (U of Nebraska/2019)

Can We All Be Feminists?

Chimamanda Adichie says we should all be feminist. But how might class, race, and sexual orientation complicate a woman’s decision to identify as a feminist? June Eric-Udorie invites 17 writers from diverse backgrounds to address multiple ways of relating to feminist politics and ideals. (Penguin/2018)

My Sister, the Serial Killer

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. (Anchor, 2018)

Brittle Papers

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