Columbia Writers Across Mediums Included on Zora's Best Books by African American Women

BY Audrey Deng, January 17, 2020

ZORA, the online literary magazine devoted to publishing women of color, recently released the Zora Canon on its website listing the best books by African American women. Several books by Columbia writers were included on this impressive list.

Morgan Jerkins, adjunct faculty member, serves as ZORA’s senior editor.

This canon contains the 100 greatest books ever written by African American women. To choose these books, the magazine consulted authorities on African American women’s literature, asked them for their selections, then worked with them to vet and shape the final list. The group included Malaika Adero, a former vice president and senior editor for Atria Books at Simon & Schuster; Margo Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning critic and creative nonfiction writing professor at Columbia, Ayana Mathis, a professor and New York Times bestselling author; Tressie McMillan Cottom, an author and sociologist; Imani Perry, a professor of African American studies and an author; and Jesmyn Ward, an author and English professor.

Of the 100 books selected by this esteemed group, eight were written by Columbia writers.


Lynn Nottage, Theatre Professor, published Sweat in 2015. ZORA describes this work as a “provocative play set in Reading, Pennsylvania, where the relationships between blue-collar workers are tested during a time of heightened economic insecurity.”










Morgan Parker CC ’10 is the author of the recently released Magical Negro. She is also a former adjunct assistant professor of writing. Magical Negro is described by ZORA as “a poetry collection from the prolific writer that praises, upends, and defies expectations of Black womanhood.”











Saidiya Hartman is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who wrote Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. “Saidiya Hartman, a MacArthur Fellowship grant recipient and Columbia professor, brilliantly displays her storytelling and archival talents by detailing the intimate lives of African American people at the dawn of the 20th century.”











Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School by Monique W. Morris CC ’94, GSAPP ’96 is about the punitive measurements in school systems, and how these schools push Black girls out of the system altogether. Morris graduated from Columbia College in  '94, and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in ‘96.











Martha S. Jones GSAS ’01 is the author of All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900. She is also an alumna of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences ‘01. “Martha Jones is another one of those thinkers who makes everybody around her smarter—when they have enough sense to listen,” says Cottom, who was part of the group which chose this book for the canon. “All Bound Up Together is about Black women’s participation in various public arenas, particularly as knowledge producers.”










Eight years after Mary Pattillo-McCoy CC '91 graduated from Columbia College she published Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class. Here, “Sociologist Mary Pattillo-McCoy spent three years in a Black middle-class neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side in order to provide a candid look at an often ignored milieu of U.S. society.”











Sylvia Ardyn Boone MSW ’62 is the author of Radiance From the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art by. Boone graduated from the School of Social Work in '62 and was the first tenured African-American woman on the Yale faculty. “For the Mende people of Sierra Leone, women are the leaders. Art historian Sylvia Ardyn Boone chronicles their aesthetic, philosophy, rituals, and customs about the mind and body.”










The writer Audre Lorde LS ’60 has two books on Zora’s list: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982) and Sister Outsider (1984). Lorde graduated from Columbia’s Library Service program in '60. In Zami, “Audre Lorde creates a hybrid “biomythography”—biography, history, and myth—all told through one woman of West Indian lineage growing up and maturing in New York City.” Sister Outsider is a collection of essays and speeches in which Audre Lorde explores intersectionality, love, war, violence, and mobilization, among many other topics.









Zora Neale Hurston Barnard ’28, after whom this literary site is named, has three books on the ZORA list: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica, and Moses, Man of the Mountain. In each book, Hurston’s skill as an anthropologist highlights the narration, whether it is in Florida as Janie Crawford, as herself in Haiti and Jamaica, or as Hagar, the discarded woman, in a re-telling of the Book of Exodus.



The ZORA Canon: The 100 greatest books ever written by African American women is online now.