11 Essay Collections By Women Of Color You Need To Read This Summer

by Kerri Jarema

We all love to have some good essay collections on our TBRs. These often humorous and always timely pieces are known for making readers laugh as much as they make them think, letting us into the minds and lives of the people who write them and sharing universal themes of love and family, identity and loss. And essay collections written by women, and especially non-white women, go even further to explore sexism and racism, culture and heritage. Of course, we don't have to tell you about the importance of reading from a diverse perspective, but if you were looking to add more personal stories from a diverse cast of incredible women, we've got you covered with these essay collections by women of color.

The 11 picks below include everything from ruminations on pop culture and feminism to personal stories of growing up between two cultures and moving on after tragedy. Each of them melds together humor with real-life issues, for essays that are just as entertaining as they are moving. Whether you gobble them up in a single afternoon or space out the essays between other reads, you're sure to be inspired, enlightened and uplifted by these stories and the women who wrote them.


'One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter' by Scaachi Koul

Scaachi deploys her razor-sharp humor to share her fears, outrages and mortifying experiences as an outsider growing up in Canada. Her subjects range from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to a shopping trip gone horribly awry, to dealing with internet trolls, to feeling out of place at an Indian wedding,, to parsing the trajectory of fears and anxieties that pressed upon her immigrant parents and bled down a generation. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color, where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision or outright scorn.

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'We Are Never Meeting In Real Life' by Samantha Irby

Blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making "adult" budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette, detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father's ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms, she's as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.

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'So Much I Want to Tell You: Letters to My Little Sister' by Anna Akana

In 2007, Anna Akana lost her teen sister, Kristina, to suicide. In the months that followed, she realized that the one thing helping her process her grief and begin to heal was comedy. So she began making YouTube videos as a form of creative expression and as a way to connect with others. In So Much I Want to Tell You, Anna opens up about her own struggles with poor self-esteem and reveals both the highs and lows of coming-of-age. She offers advice on everything from self-care to money, sex, dating, female friendship, and making your dreams come true.

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'You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain' by Phoebe Robinson

Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, and as a black woman in America, she maintains that sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the absurdity you are handed every day. Robinson has experienced her fair share: she's been relegated to the role of "the black friend,"; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel; she's been called "uppity" for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask to touch her hair all the time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page and she's going to make you laugh as she's doing it.

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'Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body' by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

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'Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a dear friend, asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie's letter of response. Here are 15 suggestions for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. From encouraging her to choose a helicopter, and not only a doll, as a toy if she so desires; having open conversations with her about clothes, makeup, and sexuality; debunking the myth that women are somehow biologically arranged to be in the kitchen making dinner, and that men can "allow" women to have full careers, Dear Ijeawele goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the 21st century.

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'How To Be A Bawse: A Guide To Conquering Life' by Lilly Singh

Lilly Singh's book is the definitive guide to being a "bawse" — a person who exudes confidence and reaches their goals. The message is simple: success, happiness, and everything else in life that you want needs to be fought for, not wished for. Singh shares what she's learned about achieving success and happiness, how to pick yourself up, and not allow anything to stand in your way. Using stories from her own life to illustrate her message, she proves that the path to success is paved with equal parts hard work and hilarity.

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'This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare' by Gabourey Sidibe

In This is Just My Face, Sidibe is unflinchingly honest about her experiences, from her Bed-Stuy/Harlem family life with a polygamous father and a gifted mother who supports her two children by singing in the subway to her first job as a phone sex "talker" to her unconventional rise to fame. Sidibe’s memoir hits hard with self-knowing dispatches on friendship, depression, celebrity, haters, fashion, race, and weight.

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'The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl' by Issa Rae

Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn’t easy. But when Issa Rae, the creator of the Shorty Award–winning hit series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, is that introvert—whether she’s navigating love, work, friendships, or “rapping”—it sure is entertaining. Now, in this collection of essays written in her witty and self-deprecating voice, Rae covers everything from cybersexing in the early days of the Internet to deflecting unsolicited comments on weight gain, from navigating the perils of eating out alone and public displays of affection to learning to accept yourself—natural hair and all.

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'Too Much And Not The Mood' by Durga Chew-Bose

On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words “too much and not the mood.” She was describing how tired she was of correcting her own writing, of the “cramming in and the cutting out” to please other readers. That sentiment inspired Durga Chew-Bose to write and collect her own work. The result is a lyrical and piercingly insightful collection of essays, letters (to her grandmother, to the basketball star Michael Jordan, to Death), and her own brand of essay-meets-prose poetry about identity and culture. Chew-Bose captures the inner restlessness that keeps her always on the brink of creative expression, and what it means to be a first-generation, creative young woman working today.

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'I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual' by Luvvie Ajayi

I'm Judging You dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives — from the cultural importance of the newest Shonda Rhimes television drama to serious discussions of race and media representation to what to do about your fool cousin sharing casket pictures from Grandma's wake on Facebook. With a lighthearted, rapier wit and a unique perspective, I'm Judging You is the handbook the world needs, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some "act right" into our lives, social media, and popular culture.

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