7 Poetry Books by BIPOC Women to Add to Your TBR List

updated Mar 3, 2021
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Poetry can do a lot of things — hurt and heal, be sweet and dangerous, all at the same time. When Amanda Gorman took to the stage during the inauguration back in January, her spoken word touched millions of hearts and reignited a love for the lyric, rhyme, and a form as old as language itself.

Poetry is a powerful tool, and when in the hands of BIPOC women, they can turn into blazing words of action, honest depictions of identity, and melancholic echoes of despair. For Women’s History Month, here are seven poetry collections written by women of color that you need to read — compilations of influential and transformative words that redefine both poetry and the truth of history.

“Bestiary” by Donika Kelly

Some of the best poetry attempts to get to the atom of what it is to be a human. What separates us from animals, from monsters? Donika Kelly’s collection explores humanity through those who aren’t human. Rich in imagery, mythological allusions, and intense emotions, “Bestiary” is a collection of poems about trauma, love, relationships, and the vulnerable self.

“If They Come for Us” by Fatima Asghar

Fatima Asghar, who is also the co-creator and writer for the Emmy-nominated webseries “Brown Girls,” captures the essence of the Pakistani American immigrant identity in her debut poetry collection. Her poems take the reader through familial loss, sexuality, race, and dealing with a world that continues to shun you for the way you look and the language you speak. Asghar’s poems are as heartbreaking as they are hopeful, and they don’t hesitate to explore tainted identities, complicated histories, and the generational and historical trauma of partition, being a Pakistani, a Muslim, and an immigrant.

“Sonata Mulattica” by Rita Dove

Sonata Mulattica” is probably U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove’s best and most ambitious work. It’s a collection that blends genres and forms, telling the real-life story of biracial musician George Polgreen Bridgetower as fiction through brilliant poetry and a short play. Bridgetower is a friend of Beethoven’s who gets erased out of history as second fiddle, due to his altercation with the famous musician. Dove explores what it means to be filled with so much promise, talent, and divine music, and yet ultimately be sidelined to the shadows. In Dove’s words, the shadow shines, and a complicated man in history is given his voice and his music.

“When My Brother Was an Aztec” by Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz’s debut poetry collection is angry, fast, and melancholic. She writes about growing up in the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation and being a sister to a brother addicted to meth. Equal parts moving and powerful, “When My Brother Was an Aztec” is a brilliant examination of Native American identity, sexuality, eroticism, substance abuse, femininity, and loss; told with a sense of urgency that doesn’t hesitate to make the reader uncomfortable. Natalie Diaz is a professional basketball player, and her poetry has a similar vibrancy, aggression, and impact that her sport does.

“Soft Science” by Franny Choi

An intelligent and seamless blend of Asian American femininity, queer identity, and technology, Franny Choi’s genre-defining poems take full advantage of its sci-fi theme. There are cyborgs, robots, and artificial intelligence — but “Soft Science” doesn’t lose its thread of vulnerable humanity. The collection brilliantly infuses the relationship between science and Asian womanhood, subverting it by taking control and looking back at dehumanization through the eyes of a cyborg. Even if you are not a sci-fi fan — and I am most definitely not — this one’s bound to impress.

“Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths” by Elizabeth Acevedo

From the National Books Foundation award-winning author of “The Poet X” comes a set of captivating folkloric poems. “Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths” is on the short side — it’s classified as a chapbook — and is deeply inspired by Dominican folklore and Afro Latinx identity. It sets a different tone than Acevedo’s YA books and takes on a more whimsical, lyrical, and bittersweet quality. The collection deals with the body and the spirit and everything in between: It exists in a sort of liminality that questions and addresses real-life contemporary American issues.

“The Inheritance of Haunting” by Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes

There is something so direct and powerful about this poetry collection. Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes takes on colonialism, decolonization, and the way our colonial pasts continue to transform, traumatize, and trivialize our existences. It’s about inheriting and being haunted by the ghosts of our ancestors, their trauma, and their loss. The poems take on genocides, wars, generational knowledge in the same vein as it explores racialized, gendered, and queer identities.