She Reigns, formerly #wcw: x edition, is a new series that will be on The Reign bi-weekly. Each installment will showcase women who have given their gifts to society in a myriad of arenas. Posts will feature women of the past, present, and “future”. These women, like all who use their gifts in service of the greater good, are Queens. The Reign hopes to both honor them and inspire readers to proudly wear their crowns through this series.
This week, we bring you a few of our favorite authors.
1. Alice Walker
Alice Walker is a Civil Right’s Activist, Women’s Rights Activist, and most importantly for this list, an Author/Writer/Poet. She has created worlds we’ve enjoyed getting lost in time and time again via The Color Purple, We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Light in a Time or Darkness, and The Chicken Chronicles (among others). In 1983 she won the Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple. As a child, she was shot in the right eye by a BB gun while playing with her brothers. Her injury afforded her the opportunity to go to college and led her to write due to the resulting isolation. In Alice Walker: The Mysterious Wonder of Life, an autobiography documentary, when speaking about her injury, she remarked, “You can’t even regret your misfortunes.” (Great advice.)
Her work has reminded us of the shoulders we stand on. It has also challenged us to be brave enough to forge our own path.
2. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist/author. Her best-known novels are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved. She is also an alumna of Cornell University (Go Big Red! – sorry, I couldn’t resist). Her works have explored slavery, friendship, the African American experience, love, and countless other themes. Beloved was one of the first grown up books I read and Sula helped me understand sisterhood and friendship. Her latest novel Home, was published in 2012 and explores the 1950s + Korean War. Toni Morrison is required reading.
(Also, if you get a chance to hear her speak in person, take it! She lectured at Cornell a few years ago and the woman is just.. amazing!)
3. Maya Angelou
Dr. Maya Angelou was a poet and award-winning author well known for numerous poetry and essay collections, as well as, her acclaimed memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It was the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American Woman. Her literary works were enriched by the sum of her life experiences – from being raped at 7, experiencing her uncles killing her rapist, and subsequently going mute to living in Ghana in the 1960s in an attempt to return to the motherland – she never shied away from telling her story. Reading Maya Angelou’s words helped so many find their own. (The older I get, the more I appreciate and understand “Still I Rise”). A beautiful soul, we miss her terribly.
PS. My favorite Maya Angelou work is All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Read it if you haven’t – it’s especially good if you’re on a trip. I read it while I was in Peru! 🙂
4. Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston, author and anthropologist, was a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance before falling into obscurity later in life. She penned the masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston was an amazing folklorist and her stories record the fabric of many cultures. No one is sure when she was born or where because she often adjusted her birth year and wrote her own autobiography (which apparently contradicts other records). Hurston was a student of both Howard and Barnard. At Barnard, she studied with Franz Boas, a foundational anthropologist who also influenced W.E.B. Du Bois. Hurston wrote her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, while traveling in Haiti studying voodoo. She fell into obscurity during the final decade of her life. It was not until Alice Walker went searching for her unmarked grave and chronicled her journey in Ms. Magazine in 1975 that interest in Zora Neale Hurston was renewed.
I have read Their Eyes Were Watching God more times than I can count and each time I revisit Janie I learn something else about myself. So you know, I’ll be here, waiting on my Tea Cake and praying I don’t have to kill him.
5. Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler is an author best known for her seamless blending of African-American spiritualism with science fiction. Her works include Patternmaster, Kindred, Dawn, and Parable of the Sower. In Kindred, Butler tells the story of an African-American woman who travels back in time to save her ancestor – a white slave over. In the writing of Kindred, Butler noted that she “wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure (NYT 2006).” Butler used science fiction as a way to face issues facing humanity head on, not to escape into a fantasy world. For her dedication to telling our stories, we thank her.