“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” wrote the poet and musician Leonard Cohen who knew his way around the darker alleys of our hearts and minds. No one said shifting the tide of more than four centuries of suffering and oppression would be like a Brady Bunch episode–the one where the plucky Brady kids enter a song contest and wind up ending racism. It is a pretty bleak world we wake up to most days, but that’s hardly the whole story—hence Leonard’s crack (I APOLOGIZE FOR NOTHING!) The necessary, painful, tragic fissures happening in our selves and society open up new channels for growth, love, creativity, and hope.
For me, humor has always been both the crack and the light. It is the force that disrupts, challenges, and makes space to think, to recognize, to gain new perspective; it is also the energy of connection, healing, empathy, and uplift. And if there ever was a time more urgent and important to embrace the intelligence, humanity, and wit of humorists from every walk of life, from every corner of the globe, now is it.
Tracy Sherrod, the editorial director of Amistad Press, the Black and multicultural imprint of the publisher, HarperCollins, has launched the #BlackoutBestsellerList initiative. Sherrod’s aim is to amplify the work of Black writers to flood bestseller lists with these works. She encourages people to purchase 2 books by Black authors during the week of June 14-20. In solidarity with this campaign, here are five fearless, funny Black women writers who will get you laughing, but will keep you thinking long after you finish reading.
Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
You might already know Robinson from the podcast 2 Dope Queens where she and bestie Jessica Williams dished up hilarious truth talk alongside other guests such as Jon Hamm and Aparna Nancharla. Her sizzling, insightful wit made its way onto the pages of her first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain—unflinching essays on race, racism, and the complicated business of being a Black woman in American. Everything’s Trash takes up this similar terrain with essays that range from Robinson’s look at body shaming (she is not having it), to the politics of sex and sexuality, to harassment, and even to meeting her idol Bono. Conversational and sharp, Robinson is that filter-free girlfriend we all need, especially now.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, by Issa Rae
Issa Rae had me at “awkward.” With few exceptions (looking at you Betty White and Michelle Obama), most of us know the pain, angst, and deep cuts that come with being perpetually uncool. Rae is the creative engine behind the hit HBO series, Insecure. In Misadventures, Rae mines what she considers her own unhip elements in all of the highly-relatable life areas: work, dating, and navigating friendships. She quickly shatters the notion that any one of us has much figured out, but rather we’re all making it up as we go along, as best we can (at least we hope). Rae also brings her wry, observational humor to bear on more complicated topics such as privilege and representation. Humor is the wedge she uses to open up truths we need to hear and absorb. She writes: “The discussion of representation is one that has been repeated over and over again, and the solution has always been that it’s up to us to support, promote, and create the images that we want to see.” Let Issa Rae help you embrace your awkward. You’ll be glad you did.
Wow, No Thank You: Essays by Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby has gifted us with four books: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life; Meaty; New Year, Same Trash; and Wow, No Thank You: Essays. The last one is her most recent, but really you can do yourself an enormous favor and pick up any or all of these criminally funny reads. Irby brings a lot of nuance and emotional depth to her self-deprecating humor. You might be drawn in by her voice and style, but you definitely stay for the heart and insight. In Wow, No Thank You, Irby takes a deep dive into the attitudes and experiences about women and aging. She opens up about anxiety, about making a life in a place that challenges her comfort zone, and about the various bullshit our bodies put us through in the “journey” of womanhood. Irby somehow manages to make all this life stuff feel a little easier to handle (and definitely a lot funnier).
The Last Black Unicorn, by Tiffany Haddish
In 2017, actor and comedian Tiffany Haddish became the first, African-American female comedian to host Saturday Night Live. It was an appearance that earned her an Emmy award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. That’s a long, long way from Haddish playing her high school mascot as a teenager. The journey is one Haddish recounts in The Last Black Unicorn. It’s a memoir that is raw and real as Haddish takes stock of how challenges such as ending up in foster care and eventually breaking into entertainment as a funny Black woman shaped her creatively and personally. Haddish pulls no punches about her experiences, writing about them with humor and heart that will make readers snarf with laughter one minute and tear up the next.
“Treat yo self!” Parks and Rec’s Donna Meagle’s unmistakable catch-phrase, uttered by the incomparable comedian Retta. But before she was giving the fictional Pawnee it’s undeniable cool factor, Retta was slogging away as a contract chemist (just contemplating Googling that makes me sleepy) for GlaxoSmithKline and hustling for laughs on the touring stand-up circuit. You don’t have to be a fan of Parks and Rec to fall for this memoir by a woman who took a chance on herself to pursue a life in comedy. This did not exactly square with her Liberian parents who were preparing to see her breeze through medical school on her way to becoming a doctor. So Close showcases Retta’s stand-up chops as someone who knows how to make wit land, but it also offers perspective on the challenges women, especially Black women, have experienced (and continue to grapple with) in the comedy industry. I’m going with Donna Meagle on this one: Treat yo self to this read.