Literary Activism: Recommended Reading



Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. She is a former Comunity-Word Project Training Facilitator, TAP alum, and Teaching Artist. 

Some Places More Than Others is a heartwarming and inspiring middle-grade novel about finding deep roots and exploring the past, the present, and the places that make us who we are.

All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father’s family in New York City–Harlem, to be exact. She can’t wait to finally meet her Grandpa Earl and cousins in person, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. Maybe this will help her understand her family–and herself–in new way. But New York City is not exactly what Amara thought it would be. It’s crowded, with confusing subways, suffocating sidewalks, and her father is too busy with work to spend time with her and too angry to spend time with Grandpa Earl. As she explores, asks questions, and learns more and more about Harlem and about her father and his family history, she realizes how, in some ways more than others, she connects with him, her home, and her family.

Some Plaecs More Than Others is available for purchase though Indie Bound.


Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. She is a former Comunity-Word Project Training Facilitator, TAP Alum, and Teaching Artist.  Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, educator, and former Comunity-Word Project Teaching Artist.

Watch Us Rise: Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.

Watch Us Rise is available for purchase at Third Eye Books.


Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, is an educator, activist, motivational speaker, and author of multiple award-winning publications. She is also an active advocacy worker and an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. She is a former Comunity-Word Project Training Facilitator, TAP Alum, and Teaching Artist. 

Betty Before X is a powerful middle-grade fictionalized account of the childhood activism of Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s wife, written by their daughter Ilyasah Shabazz. In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.

Betty before X is available for purchase at Whistlestop Bookshop.


Poet Aracelis Girmay is a former Community-Word Project Teaching Artist and Teaching Artist Project alum. Girmay recently edited How to Carry Water: Selected Poems of Lucille Clifton.

Taking its name from the moon’s dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, The Black Maria investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within American culture, and the question of human identity. Central to this project is a desire to recognize the lives of Eritrean refugees who have been made invisible by years of immigration crisis, refugee status, exile, and resulting statelessness. The recipient of a 2015 Whiting Award for Poetry, Girmay’s newest collection elegizes and celebrates life, while wrestling with the humanistic notion of seeing beyond: seeing violence, seeing grace, and seeing each other better.

“to the sea”

great storage house, history
on which we rode, we touched
the brief pulse of your fluttering
pages, spelled with salt & life,
your rage, your indifference
your gentleness washing our feet,
all of you going on
whether or not we live,
to you we bring our carnations
yellow & pink, how they float
like bright sentences atop
your memory’s dark hair

the black maria is available for purchase at Indie Bound.


Nabila Lovelace is a poet, educator, and Community-Word Project Teaching Artist Project alum.

Sons of Achilles questions what it means to be in and of a lineage of violence when every interaction one has with violence and intimacy, fictional and/or real, feed into relationships with self and others. How does a black woman parse, navigate, and unlearn the ways violence and intimacy intertwine when the trauma from it is familial, cultural, and even state sanctioned? From mythical characters that depict and pass down a progeny of violence through their canonization, to the witnessing of violence, this collection questions the ways violence enters and inhabits a life.

Sons of Achilles is available for purchase at Yes Yes Books.


Muriels Leung's BONE CONFETTI

Muriel Leung, American Poet, is a former Teaching Artist with Community-Word Project. 

In Bone Confetti, there are two types of survivors at the end of the world—lovers and ghosts who die, are revived, and die again. Each death and resurrection carves its way into the landscape of a wrecked city where skies are flocked by molten birds and trees grow in shades of ash. The same confetti floats between funeral and parade, wedding and hell. When all that is left is the terrible residue of memory, lovers and ghosts try their best to make do. They scale the horizon, collecting debris wherever they go in the attempt to fashion a new sense of humanity.

Bone Confetti can be purchased at Small Press Distribution


Blooming Fiascoes

Ellen Hagen a writer, performer, and educator and former Community-Word Project Teaching Artist.

Blooming Fiascoes is a collective of verse that deconstructs identity. We are beautiful and monstrous. We live in a beautiful and monstrous world. Ellen Hagan poetically mirrors these metaphoric adversaries, drawing on her experiences as a woman, an artist, a mother, a transplanted southerner, and above all, a human being. She plumbs origins in history, body, and living to question how we reckon our whole selves in the catacombs of a world gone mad:

We mourn, we bless, / we blow, we wail, we / wind—down, we sip, / we spin, we blind, we / bend, bow & hem. We / hip, we blend, we bind, / we shake, we shine, / shine. We lips & we / teeth, we praise & protest.

 Blooming Fiascoes can be purchase at Northwestern University Press.


Trace DePass is a poet, Teaching Artist and Teaching Artist Project alum with Community-Word Project.

Self Portrait As The Space Between Us is natural inquiry being made in poetry: Whose children will you be mourning as you still love? How many can you mourn all at once and is there an end? Will the condolence for us all ever rest outside the comma?

Self Portrait As The Space Between Us is available for purchas at Lit Bar.


Javan Howard is a poet, musician, Teaching Artist, Teaching Artist Project alum, and the Teaching Artist Project Lead Mentor with Communiy-Word Project.

America is Me, America is NOT Me is the first poetic chapbook from Javan Howard. He interprets life from his own experiences giving us a glimpse into a young black males perspective in America. His writings contains the ever present essence of Hip-Hop with honor to the techniques of poetry (wordplay, metaphors) while signifying and attempting to make sense of modern black culture.

America is me, American is NOT Me is available for purchase on Javan’s website.


Tyehimba Jess is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and former Teaching Artist and Teaching Artist Project alum with Community-Word Project.

A biography in poems, leadbelly examines the life and times of the legendary blues musician from a variety of intimate perspectives and using a range of innovative poetic forms. A collage of song, culture, and circumstance, alive and speaking.

leadbelly is available for purchase at Indie Bound.


Jashua Sa-Ra is an author, host, poet, percussionist, healer, educator, as well as Teaching Artist Project alum, Teaching Artist, and facilitator with Community-Word Project

Black Whole is a fluid collection of thoughts distilled into poetic form by Jashua Sa-Ra. It is a cultural healing aid offered to stimulate, encourage, and empower. As suggested by the title, it has an immense gravity that is honed to bring community together. Love (or the lack thereof) is the central theme, spanning inter- and intrapersonal, familial, communal, spiritual, and global relationships. The lyricism is distinct and multi-layered; available to all, but especially engaging for those who read between the lines.Some of the poetry takes you to quiet spaces in serene natural environments, while others explode with the heat of inner city living. The breadth of this work thoroughly documents the travels of a spirit partaking of the human experience.

Black Whole is available for purchase at


Poets for Peace is a collective of artists unified by their reccognition of artistic expression as a pathway to understanding, soildarity, and acommunity. This anthology features Javan Howard, poet, musician, Teaching Artist, Teaching Artist Project alum, and Teaching Artist Project Lead Mentor with Communiy-Word Project.

Poems for Resistance is a zine published by Poets for Peace. It is inspired by the global uprising of QBIPOC and their allies to demand justice and equality and features poems, illustrations, and information you can use to guide yourself as you do The Work to combat white supremacy and other forms of inequality.

Poems for Resistance is available for purchase on Instgram.


Ibi Zoboi is a New York Times Bestselling author and educator. She is a former Teaching Artist with Community-Word Project.

Edited by National Book Award finalist, Ibi Zoboi, and featuring acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America. A selection of the Schomburg Center’s Black Liberation Reading List.

Black Enough is available for purchase at Changing Hands Bookstore.


Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was having an article about her in Right On! magazine. She holds a BFA in creative writing. The Hate U Give is her first novel. 

The Hate U Give is a groundbreaking, thought-provoking debut novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, about a teen girl who is the only witness to her friend’s fatal shooting by a police officer. Now an award winning major motion picture.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

The Hate U Give is available for purchase at Sisters Uptown Bookstore.


LatiNext is edited by Felicia Rose ChavezJosé Olivarez, and Willie Perdomo

Felicia Rose Chavez is a digital storyteller with an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Iowa. An award-winning educator, Felicia served as Program Director to Young Chicago Authors and founded GirlSpeak, a feminist webzine for high school students. Sheteaches writing at the University of New Mexico and Colorado College. 
José Olivarez is an award winning poet, educator, teaching artist, and public speaker. Olivarez worked for the writing and education organizations Urban Word in New York and Young Chicago Authors, which produces the youth poetry festival, Louder than a Bomb. Olivarez co-hosts the podcast The Poetry Gods.
Willie Perdomo is a Puerto Rican poet and children’s book author. He is the author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon, a National Book Critics Circle Awards finalist, Where a Nickel Costs a Dime, Postcards of El Barrio, and Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN Beyond Margins Award. He is currently a Lucas Arts Program Literary Fellow and teaches English at Phillips Exeter Academy.

In the dynamic tradition of the BreakBeat Poets anthology, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext celebrates the embodied narratives of Latinidad.  Poets speak from an array of nationalities, genders, sexualities, races, and writing styles, staking a claim to our cultural and civic space.  Like Hip-Hop, we honor what was, what is, and what’s next.

LatiNext is available for purchase at Haymarket Books.


Claudia Rankine is a poet, author, and playwright. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. Rankine teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Citizen recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seemingly slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

Citizen is available for purchase at Gray Wolf Press.


Black Girl Magic is edited by Mahogany L. BrowneIdrissa Simmonds, and Jamila Woods. Poet and vocalist Jamila Woods was raised in Chicago, and graduated from Brown University, where she earned a BA in Africana Studies and Theatre & Performance Studies. Influenced by Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks, much of her writing explores blackness, womanhood, and the city of Chicago. Mahogany L. Browne is a Cave Canem and Poets House alumna and the author of several books including Smudge and Redbone. She directs the poetry program of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Idrissa Simmonds is a fiction writer and poet. Her work has appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, The Caribbean Writer, Fourteen Hills Press, and elsewhere. She is the 2014 winner of the Crab Creek Review poetry contest, and a New York Foundation for the Arts and Commonwealth Short Story Award Finalist.

A BreakBeat Poets anthology to celebrate and canonize the words of Black women across the diaspora. Black Girl Magic continues and deepens the work of the first BreakBeat Poets anthology by focusing on some of the most exciting Black women writing today. This anthology breaks up the myth of hip-hop as a boys’ club, and asserts the truth that the cypher is a feminine form.

Black Girl Magic is available for purchase at Haymarket Books.


Terrance Hayes is an American poet and educator who has published seven poetry collections. His 2010 collection, Lighthead, won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2010. He is a professor of English at New York University.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin: In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, these poems are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin is available for purchase at Indie Bound.