The Black Lives Matter movement exploded through cities last summer, challenging age-old beliefs and closeted racism, prompting many white professionals to dig deep into their psyches. In what may one day be called a ‘great awakening’ in the history books, the momentum behind anti-racism values is only speeding up, providing a runway for those who want to be better citizens of the planet. In addition to having difficult conversations with family and friends who may not realize their words and actions are discriminatory, an effective way to battle inequality internally is to read poignant, powerful books from Black authors.
We asked two Black female executives about their top reads to explore topics of race and get inspired by the wisdom and talent of Black authors. Here, they shared their selections:
If you’re someone who struggles to get through a bulky non-fiction book or can’t get into the imagination of fiction, small chapters might be a better route for your attention span. Joy Altimare, the chief engagement and brand officer for EHE Health, is a fan of Zadie Smith’s short stories, which she’s known for as an author. “These narratives are about race and class. And although these are fictional stories, it’s more like a masterclass in creativity, providing easily-digestible bites around a topic that is so important and relevant for today,” Altimare shares.
Initially, Audrey Vassal, the founder of Glam Essentials, thought this was another book of inspiration that’s easy to flip through casually. But when she dug in, Vassal was surprised by Michelle G. Stradford’s transparency and candidness in a non-victim manner. “She beautifully touches on these delicate subjects in an empowering way with directives,” she continues. “This is a must-read for women who look to reconcile their negative past through self-love.” Through the use of poetry, Vassal says the author encourages women to confront negative experiences, as well as be unapologetic or ashamed of their own past decisions. “The author unashamedly speaks to every woman of color who has been afflicted by others in any way. She inspires women to live victoriously, confidently, and persevere boldly,” she adds.
If you ask Altimare about her favorite authors, the late icon Toni Morrison would be near the top of her list. In Morrison’s debut album, she tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, a Black girl who dreams of having blue eyes. In her quest to be what she considers the ideal depiction of beauty — aka, white — she can’t see the allure in her own reflection. For Altimare, a southern Black woman, relates to this experience all too well. “It’s a story that is close to my heart and is a piece of my own history and initiated my journey of loving my Blackness today,” she shares. “It helps to understand that representation matters: in advertising and media as well as in corporate America. You cannot be what you don’t see.” As we soon welcome the new — and first female — Black vice-president, Kamala Harris, Altimare recommends reading this poignant story.
Renowned for her poetry and activism, Maya Angelou was beloved worldwide for her essays, books of poetry, autobiographies and other works. For Vassal, a must-read from Angelou’s collection is ‘The Heart of a Woman’, which she says is filled with a healthy mix of drama, love, adventure and courage. It’s the true story of Angelou’s life as a single mom who built her life, going through many jobs, including a singer, a performer, a political activist, and of course, a writer. “She unashamedly depicts her unwavering and uncompromising pursuit of happiness. She embraced her femininity through her openness to intimacy with her lovers, and eventually, her husband,” Vassal continues. “Her travels throughout the United States and abroad were experiences any woman would envy and admire. This book gives every woman the strength and boldness to pursue her life on her terms.”
While a white man writes this, Altimare says it’s an impactful read from an author and anarchist political activist who encourages all people to join together with love and courage. In this read, Crass explores the notion that if Black Lives genuinely matter, then a world where death culture and white supremacy would no longer devour the lives of Black people. “It’s a combination of soul-searching essays that hit at the heart and soul of white people to introduce tangible solutions and advice to ‘new activists,’” Altimare continues.
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