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The Color Purple by Alice Walker
By Beth Train-Brown
This modern classic is set in the deep American South and explores the lives of African-American women in the Southern US during the 1930s, focusing on Celie. Celie is a poor, uneducated woman whose character development is the best we’ll see for a generation.
Alice Walker writes a gradually-realised identity with poignancy. Celie evolves as a woman and as an LGBTQ+ person with a real commitment to character, playing off her own past experiences and traumas, playing off the family and culture around her. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking story that stars characters mainstream literature often forgets – poor, Black, LGBTQ+ women.
The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, making Alice Walker the first Black woman to win the award. She was born in Georgia before going on to study in Atlanta and New York, where she married Jewish civil rights lawyer, Melvyn Leventhal. They moved to Mississippi soon after and became the first legally married inter-racial couple in the state. Alice Walker is a bisexual activist who is still involved in anti-war protests and continues to write prose and poetry.
Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy
By Maddy Jeffrey
If you’ve done an English Literature A-Level, it’s likely you have studied Duffy’s work in some capacity. Although her name may be associated with gruelling school poetry classes, please don’t let this deter you from venturing into her work! In Feminine Gospels, as the name suggests, Duffy explores a plethora of female and LGBTQ+ experiences ranging from finding belonging and self-worth to motherhood. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, her poems are marked with resistance and an appreciation for love and peace. The Laughter of Stafford Girl’s High is a particular standout with both the students and the teachers laughing back in the face of patriarchy and heteronormality. The Light Gatherer and The Cord are another two moving poems in the collection, beautifully capturing the importance of the right for all to form a loving family. Duffy made history as being the first female and lesbian UK poet laureate in 2009, smashing a multitude of glass ceilings for millions of aspiring poets. Although all of Duffy’s collections deserve to be read, Feminine Gospels holds a special place in my heart due to its emphasis on empowerment, love, and inner peace.
Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall
By Megan Jones
Though a more recent release, Who I Was With Her quickly became one of my favourite books. It is a beautiful tale of grief and loss, of mourning a person no one knew you were with and attempting to figure out your identity in the midst of it.
Nita Tyndall’s writing is incredible; she really captures Corinne’s emotions following the sudden death of her girlfriend in a messy, chaotic stream-of-consciousness style. The novel is told in two timelines, switching between the past, in which Corinne and Maggie’s relationship is gradually unveiled, and the present days and months that Corinne struggles through in grief. Events aren’t told chronologically; instead, past events are weaved around the present to explain Corinne’s current thoughts and emotions. This offers a subjective view of Maggie through Corinne’s eyes, revealing only small glimpses of the person she was.
There is a heavy focus on Corinne questioning her identity, fearing coming out and experiencing a relationship when only one of the people in that relationship is ‘out’. It tackles some of the common stereotypes and jokes that bisexual people experience and depicts Corinne wrestling with her identity as she struggles with anxieties over what everyone else will think of her. The small, southern American town setting allows for an examination of “backwards” areas that are less than accepting.
Nita Tyndall is a passionate LGBQ+ advocate and Who I Was With Her is their first novel. I loved everything about this book and I am already excited to see what they write next.