Every year, digital magazine The Root selects its prestigious list of 100 African-American "achievers and influences" between the age of 25 and 45 who affected the landscape of the year. The Root 100 2015 Honorees list includes some intense writing starpower, whether they have provided thought-provoking essays or novels that have captured the zeitgeist of the year.
The magazine is chock full of thought-provoking pieces on pop culture, societal issues, politics, and more from a variety of black perspectives. The Root's list has major names like TV master Shonda Rhimes, rapper-actor Common, Mr. Beyonce Knowles Jay-Z, comedians Key and Peele, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, and Crazy Eyes herself Uzo Aduba. But it also includes some lesser-known names that have wielded immense influence in 2015's culture and political climate, like @MillionHoodies organizer Dante Barry, the first black mayor of San Antonio Ivy Taylor, and activist Opal Tometi, who helped form Black Lives Matter.
The writers on this list have shaped and influenced the state of our culture in 2015 in their own ways, through meditating on prominent issues in the country, reporting back from the front lines of conflict, and simply being a strong voice for an often overlooked or sidelined segment of our society. This isn't a comprehensive list, but, in particular, you're going to want to check out the recent influential work by these seven writers, in alphabetical order.
As a staff writer and oft-podcast guest for Grantland, Rembert Browne has tackled the serious to the downright silly and everything in between. The proud Atlanta native has covered The Full House reboot Fuller House, written the greatest Pretty Little Liars recap that has ever existed, and explained the '80s to his older colleagues. But, even more importantly, his wit and best pal voice has also lent itself to covering Trayvon Martin's death and the hoodie movement, the front lines of Ferguson, Missouri, and even a sit-down discussion with President Obama on Air Force One. The latter, by the way, opens with the line that only Browne could pull off: "I couldn’t sleep for shit."
The national correspondent of The Atlantic has taken his experience writing about society, culture, and politics and written one of the most talked-about books out right now, July's Between the World and Me . Framed as a letter from a father to his son, Between the World and Me attempts to unpack what it means to be a black man in America right now. It's a profound, and deeply necessary, work about finding your place is a disruptive world, fraught with a history of violence and segregation. (Not to mention the violence present day.) This is his sophomore book, after his 2008 father-son story The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood.
With Bad Feminist and An Untamed State , Roxane Gay hit 2014 with a one-two punch of crucial, honest books that we'd be talking about well into the next year. Her sharp, direct prose allows the story, and its powerful message, to shine through, whether she's talking about what feminism means in the modern era or telling a fictional story of real-life issues of race and class in Haiti. If 2014 was the year of Roxane Gay, as Time once said, then I'm really excited to see what 2015, 2016, 2017 ... and so on ... will bring with the thought-provoking writer.
Terrance Hayes' National Book Award for Poetry winning Lighthead is emblematic of the poet's beautiful musicality in his writing. He is strongly influenced by music, but also by themes of popular culture, race, and masculinity, as you can see in his three other poetry collections Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music. And because poetry is always far better read than explained, here's an excerpt from one of his poems in Lighthead:
I am carrying the whimper you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash. Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.
You may know Saeed Jones as the Buzzfeed's Literary Editor, but you definitely should get to know him for his poetry as well. In 2010, Jones was a Pushcart Prize nominee, and he subsequently released two books of poetry: 2011's When the Only Light is Fire and 2014's Prelude to a Bruise. Jones also runs a blog called His blog, For Southern Boys Who Consider Poetry, that he dedicates to "emerging queer poets of color." You can hear him read his poem "Jasper, 1998" from When the Only Light is Fire here, which was written in honor of a boy who was killed in a hate crime.
Writer, editor, and activist Janet Mock stepped forward for the first time as an openly trans woman in a 2011 Marie Claire piece, and since then she has been a diehard proponent for trans rights. Mock has written across loads of sites about her own life and experiences, and in 2012 she started the viral Twitter hashtag #GirlsLikeUs to empower transgender women of every age to also speak out. In 2014, Mock released her much anticipated (and must-read) memoir Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. To complete the perfect circle, Mock has announced that she's joining Marie Claire as a contributing editor.
As the founder of online publication TheUrbanCusp, Rahiel Tesfamariam has her hands in a whole lot of areas related to urban culture. She's a noted theologian and a powerful social activist, and she brings all of this experience to her thoughtful writing. TheUrbanCusp's tagline is "life, style, faith, culture, social change," so you know it's an encompassing look at leading a progressive lifestyle in the modern age. She also regularly contributes content the The Washington Post. Tesfamariam writes about everything from her personal relationship with hip hop music, how activism should never be just a fad, and sexual assault against women.
Images: Grantland.com; TheAtlantic.com; Roxane Gay/Goodreads; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation/Wikimedia Commons; Saeed Jones/Goodreads; Rahiel.com