When Beyoncé does…well, anything, it’s difficult to miss. Thus, when she dropped her newest album Renaissance last Friday, even the least musical, most oblivious people noticed. (It’s me. I’m people.)
Soon enough, my group chats were blowing up, my Twitter feed was full of lyrics and hot takes, and I had to ask Alexa to please play the new Beyoncé. Now, I cannot claim to be a member of the notorious Beyhive, but I always enjoy her music and definitely still listen to Lemonade from start to finish on occasion. She is a living legend and her talent is unquestionable.
However, for me, it’s what King Bey (as she calls herself in “Cozy”) stands for that is so important. It’s the activism for me. Beyoncé is a cultural icon who repeatedly advocates and creates space for women, particularly Black women, and queer folks to be loud, proud, and free. Her work is about liberation. As she said on her instagram post about the album, her “intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment.”
Of course, Beyoncé’s music is for everyone. Still, we cannot deny that it is particularly for those of us who have been marginalized. My favorite headline so far calls Renaissance “a big, gay mess” and, honey, it’s meant as a compliment. The album is full of queer voices, including frequent Beyoncé collaborator Big Freedia.
In the few days since the album’s release, there have been a number of thoughtful, insightful examinations of its meaning and implications from people much smarter than me. The references to and inclusions of Black historical figures will undoubtedly lead to even more great think pieces. Thus, I won’t try to step into that lane here.
Instead, I’m going to suggest books that match the vibe and substance of the album. According to Queen Bey herself, Renaissance is meant to “a place to scream, release, feel freedom.” So this book list is going to be an unapologetically Black, queer, feminist celebration. And because I’m me, I’m going to offer both a children’s book and an adult book for selected tracks. Buckle up!
Track 1: “I’m That Girl”
I Am Enough by Grace Byers, Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
This book is an obvious choice for this list. Just as this track includes the line “From the top of the mornin’, I shine”, Byers’s beautiful main character proclaims “Like the sun, I’m here to shine.” Both are about knowing how amazing you are, just as you are.
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
I mean, the cover and title of this books says it all. The radical self-love Taylor advocates for is the exact vibe of this track. Furthermore, the idea of refusing to apologize for the bodies we live in matches the defiant tone of both Beyoncé’s lyrics and of the lines by deceased Black woman rapper Princess Loko that open and close the song.
Track 2: “Cozy”
Her Body Can by Katie Crenshaw & Ady Meschke, Illustrated by Li Liu
Cozy is one of my favorite songs on Renaissance. In it, Beyoncé declares she’s “comfortable in [her] skin” and cozy with who she is. This fabulous picture book is all about body positivity. The rhyming pattern is catchy and the illustrations perfectly complement the empowering words. “Her body can play with all friends of each size, worth is no measured by the shapes of our thighs.” YASSSS.
Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha AOC
Described as a “queer disabled femme-of-color love song”, this collection of poems belongs here. Beyoncé’s decision to remove an ableist slur from the song “Heated” is yet another reflection of her intention to include and elevate marginalized voices. Though some might argue she should have known better in the first place, her listening to the disabled community and making the change is a win. As a leader in the music industry, her actions in such moments are important and she made the right move.
Track 7: “Church Girl”
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Just as in “Church Girl”, this book focuses on finding the space between tradition, trying to be “good”, and being your true, free self. Protagonist Sophia has read the holy book of her people (“Cinderella”) and has tried to appease her parents by adhering to the oppressive rules of their misogynistic king. However, when it comes time to present herself at the annual ball to be auctioned off to some man in marriage, Sophia bucks tradition. She embraces who she is — queer, strong, and a maker of good trouble.
Red Lip Theology by Candice Marie Benbow
Listen, I’m not sure that Beyoncé didn’t read this while writing “Church Girl”. In this collection of essays, Benbow talks about all the things Black church girls aren’t supposed to discuss, pushing theology to address LGBTQ+ rights, healthy sexuality, and womanist theory. As one of my dear friends said when suggesting this book: “she love church and [insert eggplant emoji].” As Bey sings on this twerk-worthy club track ,”You know you got church in the mornin’ but you doin’ God’s work, you goin’ in.”
Track 11: “Heated”
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
The incomparable Jacqueline Woodson has written so many amazing books that she always finds a way onto my lists. In this middle grade novel, she includes a queer Black man, who is the beloved sibling of one of the main protagonists. The way she handles the character and the fierce love his family has for him definitely matches Beyoncé’s energy on this track. In this track and on the liner notes, Bey shows love to her own queer uncle/godmother (“Uncle Jonny made my dress”), who died of AIDS.
No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies by E. Patrick Johnson
This collection of 19 essays is edited by the brilliant E. Patrick Johnson, who has done way too much amazing work for me to detail here. This book focuses on scholars and activists who are experts of Black gender and sexuality. Any of his other works would be great choices as well.
Track 6: “Break My Soul”
I saved this one for last because it’s my favorite song on the entire album. Honey, this track is a whole WORD! It speaks to Black women’s absolute exhaustion and our refusal to let all the forces exhausting us win. When Beyoncé said “I just quit my job, I’m going to find a new drive…and they work my nerves that’s why I cannot sleep at night” I shouted like I was in church.
I’m going to leave you with a few books that reflect this vibe. I hope you feel free and whole. I hope, like Queen Bey, you can say “I’m building my own foundation…you won’t break my soul!”
- Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
- Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
- Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen
- A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
- Please by Black Girl Bliss
- How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
- We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
- Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution by Joy Michael Ellison & Teshika Silver