Phenomenal Women

Parklands-Turner LibraryStaff Picks

Phenomenal Women

"Women hold up half the sky, but it is the heavier half." (ancient Egyptian Nut; ancient Chinese proverb)

"Man is the head, but woman is the neck that turns the head." (South African Proverb)

It often is said that "behind every great man, there is a great woman." That is because strong, intelligent men choose strong, intelligent women whose stories often don't get told.

My Life, My Love, My Legacy
How timely.  This autobiography by Coretta Scott King hit the streets around the time Senator Warren was being gagged for reading a letter written by Mrs. King (one which Congress previously had heard but had failed to enter into record).  In My Life, My Love, My Legacy, Mrs. King offers vivid, detailed, childhood memories of family and love within segregated Heiberger, Alabama, where white terrorism raged and sharecropping ensured that the quality of life for African Americans remained frozen at post-antebellum standards.  Yet, none of this kept Mrs. King from staring up at the stars and asking, "Why am I here?  I know God made me, but why?"  The answer: Love.

Very honest, personal, and reflective, this autobiography shares both the monumental as well as the often overlooked imprints that her marriage to Dr. King left on her life path and on their children's lives. In a mindful but straight-no-chaser manner, Mrs. King elucidates decades of human-rights organizing, strategizing, and coalition building that defined her adult years, offering readers a still-relevant glance into US national and international affairs.  In her final chapter, after laying out the damning but largely unreported 1999 jury findings of government conspiracies to murder Martin and frame James Earl Ray, Mrs. King ends by letting her overarching legacy of love have the last say.  Nicely tucked in the back is an afterword that could have been expanded into a stand-alone text - a compilation of essays by people who knew Coretta Scott King. Like many other autobiographies by phenomenal women, My Life, My Love, My Legacy quietly demonstrates that a society is doomed to historical illiteracy when it does not read its own story of as told by its women.  Without their telling, half the sky falls.

Shooting Women [videorecording]
Winner of the Best International Documentary World of Women Film Festival, Shooting Women reverses the camera focus, enabling audiences to see and hear women who do the technical film production work for blockbuster feature films, independent shorts, and everything in between.  After decades of struggling to earn respect from their male colleagues, a cadre of internationally diverse female camera operators, editors, directors, and grips share their love of cinematography and, in doing so, shine a light on the industry's institutionalized gender and ethnic/racial stonewalling and career sabotaging against which these women have pushed back.  Ultimately, these veterans celebrate victories they have won (often by slight of hand), and they allude to barriers still to be torn down on behalf of young women coming behind them.

Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson
A native Washingtonian who evolved into a global native, Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson lived a life that illustrates why Black Studies is a more appropriate term than African American Studies. "Black" signals global citizenship and comradery, where as "African American" limits the scope to the Americas. Like many of her predecessors, contemporaries, and descendants, Robeson -her passions and causes, alliances and foes, personal, professional, and political development - cannot be understood correctly outside of their global contexts.  Like singer/actorPaul Robeson, her husband whose career she managed, Robeson began her life work in the performing arts as an actress and writer but became a devotee to national and international Human Rights after witnessing police brutality in Harlem.  Perhaps because she so completely maintained a full life on the international stage, apart from her famous husband, as well as with him, Mrs. Robeson seems to have been conveniently omitted from history books.  However, she was present for just about every notable Cold War event, and her most intimate friends were both international heads of state and labor and human-rights activists of every ethnic background.  The lengthy chronology of her life and the hefty chapter notes alone are juicy reads.

Twenty Feet from Stardom
In this docu-concert, several songbirds - whose signature voices have shaped decades of popular music - step out from the shadows and into the spotlight.  Despite having phenomenal, signature voices that made an indelible imprint upon decades of popular music, these women failed to succeed as headliners even though they helped earn millions for others.  For some of these women, singing back up transformed a life passion into a prison sentence.  For others, being the complement to a marque talent ensured them a semblance of privacy and self-identification.  For a few, notoriety came late in life or only fleetingly.  Those who are just starting out continue to chase their dreams of becoming lead vocalists.

The Rebellious life of Mrs. Rosa Parks illustrates that even famous women can remain largely "hidden in plain sight."  Far from being a tired seamstress who simply, spontaneously refused to give up her seat in the Coloreds section of the bus, Rosa Parks grew up in an extended family that reared her to be a political agitator. Prior to the infamous bus incident and her introduction to Dr. King, Parks already had risen to leadership in the NAACP as she strove to advance Civil (Human) Rights.  Naturally, she would broaden the scope of her political efforts to encompass international Human Rights movements. Yet none of this activism was to be part of her public persona.  By feigning frailty and simplicity, Rosa Parks, in Brer Rabbit fashion, was taking advantage of Jim Crow troupes in an effort to further a counter-agenda on behalf of African Americans, and thus all citizens.  This tactic, however, resulted in her public self being diminished to an ice princess - frozen like snow white in a glass coffin which, by design, negated the trajectory of her activism, and thus left out the story of her life-long work as a Human Rights strategist and leader.  For those who are interested in reading more about Parks's social leadership activities, read At the Dark End of the Street : Black Women, Rape, and Resistance : A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power

The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own
In this compilation, a broad spectrum of voices reflect on how Michelle Obama's publicly -scrutinized choices as First Lady (1) mirrored some of these writers' most pivotal, milestone moments and (2) blazed trails they and others have been inspired to follow and widen.   Personal, probing, and at times political, these essays are written by men and women; millennials and burgeoning elders; people of African, Asian, and European descent; people living state-side and people living abroad.  In light of what several of these contributing writers say sold them on Barack Obama - that it was Michelle Obama's presence that gave this little-known senator "credibility - one can make sense of the recent calls for "Michelle in 2020."  If you are looking for a visual complement to this book, you also may want to check out Deborah Willis's Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs.