Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Tarana Burke has already released a book this year—the NYT-bestselling anthology You Are Your Best Thing co-edited by Brené Brown. Next month comes an even more personal work, her memoir Unbound (Flatiron: An Oprah Book), two days after she turns 48. The founder of the Me Too movement (started in 2006; amplified by Alyssa Milano in 2017) and executive director of the Me Too organization has long fought for the end of sexual violence with the empowerment and healing of survivors paramount. Earlier this year, the organization, along with the National Women’s Law Center and Time’s Up, launched We, As Ourselves, focusing on Black survivors.
The activist, who started community organizing at 14 and organized around the Central Park Five at 16, was a Time Person of the Year and on its list of 100 Most Influential People (Gabrielle Union wrote her tribute), won the Sydney Peace Prize and the Ridenhour Courage Prize, and recently signed a production deal with CBS Studios to develop content with her partner at Field/House Productions, Mervyn Marcano.
The mother of an artist/filmmaker daughter, she was a consultant on Ava DuVernay’s Selma, counts Dr. Maya Angelou as a personal hero, took the TED stage, has giant posters of Diana Ross movies in her house, used to be a fashion blogger (“Yes, She Slays”), had her engagement photos taken on High Bridge in the Bronx neighborhood where she and her fiance grew up (the July 2020 wedding was postponed due to the pandemic), shared the mic of Glennon Doyle, was a middle school track star, took Swahili lessons in daycare, loves boots, and likes spending time in her garden. Let’s dig into her picks.
The book that…
…helped me through a breakup:
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Janie’s resilience was a powerful lesson in choosing yourself.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. I mean, for obvious reasons.
…I recommend over and over again:
The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown. This book validated what I saw in my life and work about how shame can crush us.
…made me feel seen:
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, by Ntozake Shange. I have known, met or been every one of the women in this choreopoem. It amplifies the humanity of Black women unlike anything I have ever encountered.
…made me rethink a long-held belief:
One Drop, by Yaba Blay. Never thought about the privilege of not having to identify as Black.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
Sugar, by Bernice L. McFadden. This book is so engaging and beautiful and intriguing and satisfying that I could not put it down.
…I’d gift to a new graduate:
Wisdom from the Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a wonderful grounding before going out in the world.
…made me laugh out loud:
Meaty. Samantha Irby is a comedic and life genius. Period.
…I last bought:
Somebody’s Daughter, by Ashley C. Ford. I was so excited to devour this book. She is such a beautiful writer!
…has the best title:
Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, by Maya Angelou. I read this title on my mom’s shelf for years. It reads like a song lyric.
…should be on every college syllabus:
How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. Kiese Laymon is unrelenting in his truth telling. We are all the better for it.
…everyone should read:
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk, MD. It will advance your healing work or help you to understand why you need it.
…fills me with hope:
Untamed. Glennon [Doyle] has a way of making things make sense and not seem as terrible.
More Beautiful and More Terrible. Imani Perry is one of the greatest thinkers of our time, and I thought I wouldn’t understand this work but it is completely accessible and necessary reading.
…I’d want signed by the author:
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Because…Toni Morrison.
If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be: Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago. It’s so gorgeous and haunting. It draws you in to all of the nooks and crannies.
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