With Black History Month upon us and Women’s History Month following closely behind, we celebrate the Black women who have made waves and brought the past to vibrant life. These speakers weave together political, social, and deeply personal aspects of Black history to share trenchant, mind-shifting narratives about the Black experience in America.
Isabel Wilkerson is an acclaimed historian and journalist whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns, provides a comprehensive account of the Great Migration, illuminating a crucial period of Black American history. Her latest book, Caste: The Origins of our Discontents—which was longlisted for the National Book Award and chosen for Oprah’s Book Club—examines the unspoken hierarchy that shaped America and still defines our lives today. Time, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, and several other publications all chose Caste as one of their best books of 2020, and the book is being adapted into a Netflix film directed, written, and produced by Ava DuVernay. Wilkerson brings the past’s complexities to vivid life through her passionate research and her profound gift for connecting with audiences of all backgrounds.
The youngest of the famed Little Rock Nine—a group of students who were the first to integrate their high school in 1957—Carlotta Walls LaNier is a living icon of the Civil Rights Movement. She remains an indispensable voice on racial justice who brings a watershed moment of black history to life for captive audiences. While her story and strength are extraordinary, LaNier reminds audiences that everyone can—and should—stand up for what is right with courage and conviction.
Evette Dionne is a Black feminist culture writer, editor, and scholar. Known on the internet as “free Black girl,” she is the editor-in-chief of Bitch Media, a publication that examines mainstream media through a contemporary feminist lens. Her National Book Award longlisted nonfiction book for young readers, Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box, details the often overlooked contributions of Black suffragists in earning the right to vote for all American women. In her impactful talks, Dionne speaks on building a mission-driven coalition for change and facilitates a clearer understanding of the intersections of race, gender, and size in popular culture and politics.
Yaa Gyasi’s debut New York Times-bestselling historical novel, Homegoing, movingly chronicles the descendants of a Ghanaian family across history, oceans, and continents. In tracing the lineage of these characters, Homegoing is a sweeping epic that opens eyes to the origins of slavery, racism, and Black American identity. Gyasi’s sophomore novel, Transcendent Kingdom, was an instant New York Times bestseller and a #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick. Informed by her experience as the child of Ghanaian immigrants to America, Gyasi interweaves history, current events, and her own personhood to explore the complexities and intersections of African immigrant and African-American identities in the United States today.
Emily Bernard is a professor of American Studies at the University of Vermont specializing in the complicated history of race and racism in American culture. In her powerful essay collection, Black is the Body, Bernard reflects on blackness, whiteness, and the personal connections that can bridge racial divides. Bernard discusses her evolution as a storyteller, as well as the role of the classroom and personal relationships in the larger project of understanding the past, present, and future of race.
Robin Coste Lewis is an award-winning poet and the poet laureate of Los Angeles. She made her publishing debut with Voyage of the Sable Venus, an electrifying volume of poetry inspired by her research into representations of black women in Western art. Named a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, Lewis’s service as poet laureate of Los Angeles focused on truth and reconciliation projects dealing with the city’s history, and her poetry is grounded in the representation of Black women in Western art. A warm and passionate speaker, Lewis’s talks take audiences through her deliberate process, from diving into archival research and understanding her work’s historical context.
Edwidge Danticat has long been recognized as one of the most vital voices writing today, with over fifteen acclaimed books that span memoir, historical fiction, and books for young readers. Her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning short story collection, Everything Inside, takes readers from Miami to Haiti and beyond, asking them to grapple with big questions about family, identity, and love. Danticat’s profound connection to her native Haiti and the Haitian community in the United States has not only informed her writing on the history of the Haitian diaspora in America, but has also made her a passionate advocate for racial and immigration justice.