Black Girlhood | An Introductory Reading List

Image of author bell hooks with plaits in her hair, a gold blouse, and black pants, sitting on a sofa.

“Not enough is known about the experience of black girls in our society. Indeed, one of my favorite novels in the whole world is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. When the book was first published, she explained that it was her desire to write about “the people who in all literature were always peripherals—little black girls who were props, background; those people were never center stage and those people were me.” I was still in my teens when I read this book. It shook me the very roots of my being. There in this fictional narrative were fragments of my story—my girlhood. Always an obsessive reader, I had felt this lack. To see this period of our life given serious recognition was awesomely affirming. My life was never going to be the same after reading this book. It wasn’t that Morrison focused on black girls but that she gave us girls confronting issues of class, race, identity, girls who were struggling to confront and cope with pain. And most of all she gave us black girls who were critical thinkers, theorizing their lives, telling the story, and by so doing making themselves subjects of history.”

bell hooks, Bone Black: Memoirs of Black Girlhood

Image: Monica Almeida/The New York Times

I was suppose to post this earlier this summer, yet here we are.

Earlier this year, I had the honor of moderating a conversation on Black girlhood with Taller Electric Marronage. The event featured Drs. Annette Joseph-Gabriel (Duke), Kabria Baumgartner (Northeastern), Aria Halliday (University of Kentucky), Habiba Ibrahim (University of Washington), Crystal Webster (University of British Columbia), and Nazera Wright (University of Kentucky). You can view the event below. Please note that the video will be available until September 2, 2022.

SOLIDARITIES: Black Girlhood Conversations (February 2022)

As a historian and graduate student, this event prompted this blog post, a brief reading list for folks interested in Black girlhood. I compiled this list from works cited from Solidarity: Black Girlhood, in addition to works I engaged with for my studies.

Please note this is not a comprehensive list by any means. It is also based in U.S. History and there are many works of fiction I could have included. Some works are not directly about Black girlhood per se but speak to larger themes on geography, Black being, and Black feminism. If there are any works, you would like to suggest, please share them in the comments.

Happy reading!

Black Girlhood, A Reading List

(Aug. 2022)

“What does it mean to love Black girls?”

-Dr. Annette Joseph-Gabriel, Solidarities: Black Girlhood Conversations.

“What happens when we look at and listen to these and other Black girls across time?

-Dr. Christina Sharpe, In the Wake.

“As children we realized that we were different from boys and that we were treated differently. For example, we were told in the same breath to be quiet both for the sake of being “ladylike” and to make us less objectionable in the eyes of white people. As we grew older we became aware of the threat of physical and sexual abuse by men. However, we had no way of conceptualizing what was so apparent to us, what we knew was really happening.”

-Combahee River Collective

“How did girlhood help Black feminists theorize a politic of gendering?”

-Dr. Habiba Ibrahim, Solidarities: Black Girlhood Conversations.

“I want to be clear that I think Black feminist scholarship is helpful. It’s generative, it is important, it is a starting place, but we do and should think about Black girls’ experience as separate from Black women or we recreate this system we are talking about. People don’t see Black girlhood because we also continue to subsume Black girlhood in our conversations.”

-Dr. Aria Halliday, Solidarities: Black Girlhood Conversations.

Bambara, Toni Cade. Gorilla, My Love. New York: Vintage, 1992.

Baumgartner, Kabria. In Pursuit of Knowledge: Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum America. New York: New York University Press, 2019.

———. “Searching for Sarah: Black Girlhood, Education, and the Archive.” History of Education Quarterly 60, no. 1 (February 1, 2020): 73–85.

Boylorn, Robin M. “On Being at Home With Myself: Blackgirl Autoethnography as Research Praxis.” International Review of Qualitative Research 9, no. 1 (2016): 44–58.

Brown, Ruth Nicole. Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang Inc., 2008.

———. Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

Butler, Tamara T. “Black Girl Cartography: Black Girlhood and Place-Making in Education Research.” Review of Research in Education 42, no. 1 (March 2018): 28–45. 

Carroll, Rebecca. Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997.

Chatelain, Marcia. South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

Cox, Aimee Meredith. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.

Donaldson, Sonya. “‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?’ Black German Girlhood and the Historical Entanglements of Nation.” Women, Gender, and Families of Color 7, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 12-36,102.

Corinne T. Field and LaKisha Michelle Simmons, eds. The Global History of Black Girlhood. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2022.

Edim, Glory, ed. On Girlhood: 15 Stories from the Well-Read Black Girl Library. First edition. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2021.

Field, Corinne T. The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014. 

Garner, Porshé R., Dominique C. Hill, Jessica L. Robinson, and Durell M. Callier. “Uncovering Black Girlhood(s): Black Girl Pleasures as Anti-Respectability Methodology.” American Quarterly 71, no. 1 (March 2019): 191–97.

Gaunt, Kyra Danielle. The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

Griffin, Farah Jasmine. “On Black Girlhood.” Public Books, November 1, 2016.

Halliday, Aria S, ed. The Black Girlhood Studies Collection. Toronto: The Women’s Press, 2019.

Hargrove, Nancy D. “Youth in Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love.” The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 22, no. 1 (1983 Fall 1983): 81–99.

Hartman, Saidiya V. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2019.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Hill, Dominique C. “Black Girl Pedagogies: Layered Lessons on Reliability.” Curriculum Inquiry 48, no. 3 (January 1, 2018): 383–405.

———. “Blackgirl, One Word: Necessary Transgressions in the Name of Imagining Black Girlhood.” Cultural Studies/Critical Methodologies 19, no. 4 (August 2019): 275–83.

Hine, Darlene Clark. “Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West.” Signs 14, no. 4 (1989): 912–20.

hooks, bell. Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood. 1st ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Hull, Gloria T., Patricia Bell-Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies. Old Westbury, N.Y: Feminist Press, 1982.

Ibrahim, Habiba. Black Age: Oceanic Lifespans and the Time of Black Life. New York: NYU Press, 2021.

Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Michigan Publishing, 1861.

Jesus, Desirée de. “Black Girl Refusals and Reimaginings: Theorizing Liberatory Black Girlhoods Across the Diaspora: The Black Girlhood Studies Collection.” Girlhood Studies 14, no. 2 (June 2021): 141–45.

Jones, Lindsey Elizabeth. “‘The Most Unprotected of All Human Beings’: Black Girls, State Violence, and the Limits of Protection in Jim Crow Virginia.” Souls 20, no. 1 (January 2, 2018): 14–37. 

King, Wilma. African American Childhoods: Historical Perspectives from Slavery to Civil Rights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

———. Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2011.

Ladner, Joyce A. Tomorrow’s Tomorrow: The Black Woman. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1971.

Lindsey, Treva B. America, Goddam: Violence, Black Women, and the Struggle for Justice. First edition. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2022.

———. “‘One Time for My Girls’: African-American Girlhood, Empowerment, and Popular Visual Culture.” Journal of African American Studies 17, no. 1 (March 2013): 22–34.

McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Owens, Tammy C. “Fugitive Literati: Black Girls’ Writing as a Tool of Kinship and Power at the Howard School.” Women, Gender, and Families of Color 7, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 56-79,103.

Phillips, Michelle H. “The Children of Double Consciousness: From ‘The Souls of Black Folk to the Brownies’ Book.’” PMLA 128, no. 3 (2013): 590–607.

Sankofa Waters, Billye, Venus E Evans-Winters, and Bettina L Love, eds.. Celebrating Twenty Years of Black Girlhood: The Lauryn Hill Reader, 2019.

Schwartz, Marie Jenkins. Born in Bondage: Growing up Enslaved in the Antebellum South. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Shange, Savannah. Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, + Schooling in San Francisco. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

Sharpe, Christina Elizabeth. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press2016. 

Simmons, LaKisha Michelle. Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 2015.

Spillers, Hortense J. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987): 65–81.

Taylor, Ula Y. The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Traylor, Eleanor W. The Black Woman: An Anthology. Edited by Toni Cade Bambara. Reprint edition. New York: Washington Square Press, 2005.

Wade, Ashleigh. “When Social Media Yields More than ‘Likes’: Black Girls’ Digital Kinship Formations.” Women, Gender, and Families of Color 7, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 80-97,103.

Wall, Cheryl A. “On Dolls, Presidents, and Little Black Girls.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 35, no. 4 (June 2010): 796–801. 

Webster, Crystal Lynn. Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021.

Wheatley, Phillis. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

Wilson, Harriet E. Our Nig.

Wright, Nazera Sadiq. “Black Girl Interiority in Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love.” Black Scholar 50, no. 4 (October 2020): 5–16.

———. Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2016.

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