5 Women of Color Who Are Changing The World For The Better

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Always books. Never boring.

This post is part of our International Women’s Day celebration. See all the posts here.

This is a guest post from Keah Brown. She reads a lot of books and watches far too much TV. Music is her third favorite thing after cheesecake and pizza of course. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Literary Hub, Catapult, and Lenny Letter among other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @Keah_Maria.

Books were my first friends. I’d find refuge in the pages of blank ink pressed on white pages when I started thinking too much, when my body began to ache after a long day of playing outside creating stories of my own with my sister and cousins, and when I just wanted to see how Leigh Botts, Stanley Yelnats, and Esperanza Cordero would deal with the curve balls life threw at them. Still, while I loved these characters and rooted for a happy ending and healing for each of them, I felt as though I would never see a black character at the center of a story of longing to meet their favorite author and have him answer all of life’s questions, as a young boy in a family down on their luck when he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to dig holes where he breaks curses and finds lasting friendship along the way, or as the girl growing up in Chicago who turns to the streets as a way out of her neighborhood with a promise to come back for the people she left behind. I read these books repeatedly, desperate to be a part of their lives and to keep a piece of them with me always.

Where I didn’t see myself in these characters, I saw myself in the stories of Toni Morrison, ZZ Packer, and Maya Angelou. I saw my blackness, strength, and vulnerability in their characters, my joy, pride, and liberation present there too. These writers are some of the greats whose work I will always cherish. In this current political climate, I find solace in their work and the works of many women of color through their media, books, and essays. The works that I enjoy aren’t always about the election and the consequences of it; in fact, while many of these writers have spoken candidly about the new administration, the strength that I am finding in their work is that it exists at all. So often there are restrictions on women of color: we are to be strong, stoic, and resilient but never angry, vulnerable, or tired. These women choose to defy these ideals and write what they want. That is why they are changing the world for the better.

Doreen St. Félix is a force to be reckoned with. She is arguably MTV News’ best writer, and also cohosts a podcast with fellow MTV writer Ira Madison called Speed Dial. She has been published widely everywhere, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Pitchfork, and MTV among other publications. Named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2016, Félix has positioned herself as a writer you stop whatever you are doing to read. As the former Editor at Large of Lenny Letter, Félix has proved that she can excel at whatever she chooses to do.

Franchesca Ramsey is all over your computer and TV screens. When she’s not schooling bitter trolls on Twitter, she’s educating the masses on MTV’s web series Decoded and cohosting the podcast Last Name Basis with her husband Patrick. Last Name Basis, with its science corner and Florida man segment, covers everything from science, politics, and noisy neighbors to life advice, protest, and “Slanguage.” Patrick and Franchesca don’t always agree, but that’s the beauty of the show. Ramsey is always busy and I think she likes it that way.

Esmé Weijun Wang’s work reminds me a lot of the Tom Stoppard quote, “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” Because in my opinion that’s exactly what she does. In her debut novel The Border of Paradise, she tells the story of a man with mental illness who kills himself and the way it shapes and changes his surviving family members throughout the rest of their lives. Wang is set to release an essay collection titled The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays via Graywolf in 2018.

Roxane Gay needs no introduction. The New York Times Bestselling author is one of the best writers to ever exist. When she isn’t writing meaningful essays about her life, feminism, and how she navigates the world like in the bestselling Bad Feminist, she is writing breathtaking fiction in An Untamed State and her new collection of fiction short stories Difficult Women. Gay just finished a screenplay for An Untamed State with Gina Prince-Bythewood and is writing in the Black Panther comic universe at Marvel. With her memoir Hunger slated for a June release, Gay is set to take over the world. Hopefully she can get some rest first; she deserves it.

Akilah Hughes is killing the YouTube game. Even after spending 2016 dealing with Lyme Disease she went back to make hilarious and educational videos like she never left. Her work can also be found at Fusion and rumor has it that she’s writing a TV pilot and book. I am excited to see what she does next.