Books and Authors

What We're Reading: Selections from 2022

The Clayman Institute community, including faculty, staff, fellows, and students, recommends a wide-ranging list from our reading in 2022. The selections include popular, academic, fiction, and nonfiction books; a title adapted for television; a recent translation; a new collection and a re-issued classic; and more. 

The Terrible We, Cameron Awkward-Rich (2022). Subtitled “Thinking with Trans Maladjustment,” this book leads us to what’s sad and scary about thinking with gender and it shows us why to set up work there. Gender is depressing, Awkward-Rich prompts us to admit. But The Terrible We is a resource for learning how to be depressed about it––creating room to acknowledge that some things are worth feeling bad about. – from Casey Wayne Patterson, dissertation fellow.

Assembly, Natasha Brown (2021) & Such a Fun Age, Kiley Ried (2019). I couldn’t put down these two Black feminist works of fiction this year. Brown’s Assembly is a story about the dystopias that racism and (British) imperialism create within the human psyche, offering a meditation on how these forces live within the dynamics of close relationships. It is a lucidly told and deeply felt story that will stay with me, along with Reid’s Such a Fun Age. Reid tells the story of a relationship between a young Black babysitter and her affluent white woman employer, and along the way explores the nature of transactional cross-race relationships between women. Both books are page turners packed with enough feminist critique to fill a doctoral seminar. – from Angelica Puzio Ferrara, postdoctoral fellow 

Kindred, Octavia E. Butler. Originally published in 1979, this time-traveling slave narrative arrives into the present this year as a T.V. adaptation for FX. It is a novel about how flat and ungenerous contemporary imaginations can be toward the thoughtful compromises made in the past; and about the same terrible choices that modern actors like ourselves could surely make, in order to hold on to some chance of a future. Now that the TV adaptation is bringing the the story forward and backward in time once again, it’s worth meeting the provocation of the novel all over again. How are we failing to imagine the demands of 1818? How are we dismissing the complex choices Butler made in 1979? What compromises are we making now, in 2022 (and 2023!) when confronting these same, timeless challenges? – from Casey Wayne Patterson, dissertation fellow. 

Mona Chollet’s In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of the Witch Hunts and Why Women Are Still on Trial (first released in France in 2018 and translated to English by Sophie R. Lewis in 2022) explores historical and contemporary obsessions with and condemnations of witch-like figures, and what these enduring enchantments and criticisms reveal about the treatment of women in societies of the past and present. Chollet dissects the experiences of widows, childless women, and the elderly in developing a thoroughfare between the witch hunts of prior centuries and the misogyny deeply entrenched in today’s communities. Weaving historical records and analysis together with modern-day gender theory and context, along with a foreword by Carmen Maria Machado, this piece is fascinating, feminist, and thoroughly wicked. – from Lexi Kupor, undergraduate research assistant

Anna Julia Cooper’s life spanned from slavery all the way to 1964 (she died 5 months before the Civil Rights Act was passed), and her writing encompasses academic studies, essays, and important exchanges of letters. This sort of oeuvre can easily feel daunting; it certainly did to me, until now. Which is why I really appreciated Penguin Classics putting out a Portable Anna Julia Cooper (edited by Shirley Moody-Turner, with an introduction by Henry Louis Gates) this year. In nearly 550 pages, the book gathers materials from across the remarkable and staggeringly productive life of a scholar and public intellectual. I found it the rare Reader that I could start with page one of the introduction and not put down until I read the final letter in the collection. – from Adrian Daub, director 

The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of US Empire, Erica R. Edwards (2021). In 1994, Ann DuCille observed that as a Black woman in the university, her body had become the “sacred text” of somebody else’s cult––a warning that “Black feminism” was taking on academic life far beyond what Black feminists had intended. With The Other Side of Terror, Erica Edwards shows the reach of that expropriated Black womanhood when fashioned as an arm of U.S. empire. This book sets a high standard for the new works that seek to disengage our radical intellectual traditions from the brambles of late 20th century power, and adapts anti-colonial critique to the contexts and complicities of our present. – from Casey Wayne Patterson, dissertation fellow. 

Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America, Saidiya Hartman (2022, Norton). Twenty-five years after its original publication in 1997, Norton has secured the rights to reissue Scenes of Subjection. There are so many things to say about this book, but most importantly: it now retails for $20. At the 2022 meeting of the American Studies Association, a panel of scholars celebrating Hartman’s work described the intimacy of their first encounters with copies of Scenes. Copies that were loaned, stolen, borrowed, and coveted, the closeness felt to this work of theory recalled the testimony of Black women readers a generation earlier, handing around and Xeroxing copies of Zora Neale Hurston’s (then) out of print novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. For my part, I first read Scenes as a string of blurry PDFs, gathered from an evening’s search for online bootlegs, after seeing the library’s only copy was out and that a used copy would cost $65. I’m now looking forward to the winter quarter, when students in my class will each be able to read along from a brand new copy. – from Casey Wayne Patterson, dissertation fellow.

With The #MeToo Movement (2019), Laurie Collier Hillstrom provides a condensed history of actions: In chronological order, she depicts landmark events, starting off with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, explaining how the term “sexual harassment” was coined in 1975, and more so, how the presidential campaign in 2016 brought issues of gender equality and sexism to the forefront. While she mainly focuses on the U.S., she also illustrates the global reach. Hillstrom concludes with a list of 13 important figures who significantly shaped the movement such as Anita Hill, Moira Donegan, and Katie Roiphe. While this is the end of the book, it’s not the end of the story. – from Theresa Rosinger-Zifko, research associate 

Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women, Lyz Lenz. In this 2020 book, Lenz looks at the historical, religious, and cultural forces surrounding pregnancy and motherhood, from purity pledges to abortion myths and the challenge of doing right by herself and her children in a politically divided marriage. She writes with candor, sincerity, and humor; it’s informative, affecting, and a great pleasure to read, and a worthy follow-up to her excellent first book, God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America (2019). Her weekly newsletter Men Yell at Me ( will renew your faith in email. – from Cynthia Newberry, communications manager

Rehearsals for Living (2022) is a series of letters written between Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, noted Black and Indigenous writers/activists, respectively. With a backdrop of vulnerability and the intimacy of close friends, the book is a winding discussion of white supremacy, sexism, colonization, and the degradation of our earth. I recommend reading this if you’re in the mood for fresh feminist and anti-racist analyses, with a twist of optimism. – from Alison Dahl Crossley, executive director