Cover Image: The Sisterhood

The Sisterhood

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A powerful look at some amazing lives of some amazing women. Well researched, entertaining, and engaging, this book is important.

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In this fascinating book about the Sisterhood, readers learn all about a group of great Black feminist female authors from the late twentieth century. Including names like Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker, readers learn about the influence that this particular group of women has had on Black feminist scholarship and Black literature by and for women. Courtney Thorsson draws on existing scholarship, correspondence, and interviews with members of the Sisterhood to explore the scope of their meetings and their influences on changes to various social institutes. Many of these women went on to publish books or work in academia, where they continued to change and challenge social institutions through their discussions of literature and Black feminist thought. Thorsson, beyond looking into the successes and platforms of the Sisterhood, also explores the dissolution of the group and their organizational and community building successors in the decades after. By highlighting the large-scale social contributions of these women, Thorsson brings a critical part of Black studies and gender studies to life, emphasizing these connections and the larger significance of this body of intersectional work and theory. This excellent deep dive into Black feminist scholarship is a great introduction to the topic or a great companion piece to the work done by these incredible women.

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Based on historical archives and interviews, this book centers the black women authors who formed a sisterhood to support each other's writing to get published. Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan, Michelle Wallace, Margo Jefferson, among others.. The subtitle is "How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture." and as outlined in this book, they clearly did! They had to fight against racism within the white feminist community as well as sexism within the black community. When Michelle Wallace published "Black Macho and the Myth of the Superman" she even had critics within the black feminist community. Similarly, there was controversy with Ntozake Shange's important work too. There was harsh criticism from prominent black men. Wallace felt chastised for being too young, too bourgeois, not scholarly enough etc. What I had forgotten is that Michelle Wallace is Faith Ringgold's daughter! The key is in all this work and art -- the focus here is on Black women's voices not on men's reactions to these voices. At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, there are archives where you can find letters and meeting minutes from the Sisterhood. Sometimes the writing felt a bit disjointed but overall a really good and important read.

Thank you to Netgalley and Columbia University Press for an ARC and I voluntarily left this review.

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Such an important and forgotten history chronicled here. The labour and contributions of Black women are often left out of our historical memory, their achievements credited to the white men (and women) around them. This text sits in conversation along with a growing library of research giving credit to the forgotten work across disciplines.

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One very interesting book how to use black writers? Who were women got together in a sisterhood to help each other out. So they would get published occasions. And it was really interesting how they helped each other out especially tony morrison. Some of the black men did not want them because they felt it was too feminist. How they turned the magazine. My essence around so they can promote the block writers of the In the seventies. This was very interesting, How some of them got 10 years at these really well-known schools. This is also very fascinating. How amused writers were exposing people to different subjects in their black lives. This is so refreshing to see how these writers. Especially the ones from the harlem renaissance are following getting recognition too. It's very hard for women to write, especially black women. And this was interesting how they all got together and talked about things and had meetings and helped each other out. We've come a long way in this country now. I think this would be a really good book to read for black month. Because it would show case different writing and the how they evolved over the years.

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Thorsson’s accessible book explores the story behind a 1977 photograph of nine Black women posed in front of a portrait of a tenth:

[Evelyn] White’s caption describes the photo this way: “A group of black women writers in New York who met informally during the 1970s. Back row, left to right: Verta Mae Grosvenor, Alice Walker, Lori Sharpe, Bessie Smith, Toni Morrison, June Jordan. Seated, left to right: Nana Maynard, Ntozake Shange, Audrey Edwards.”
[Alice] Walker knew this group was important enough to go back later and make sure that all the names of the women were on the back of the photo.
More than a decade after first holding “The Sisterhood, 1977” in my hands, I learned that the purple writing on the back had misidentified Audreen Ballard as Audrey Edwards. Both women were in the group and both were important journalists, editors, and activists, but Ballard is the one in the photo.

The woman in the portrait on the wall is Bessie Smith. The group of women in the photograph are the Sisterhood in question, and in this book, Thorsson has done the crucial work of excavating and recovering the history of these important women of letters, who changed literature and academia, and who were (and continue to be) pivotal in activism and Black feminism.

Although it feels quite repetitive in parts (perhaps in an attempt to make the same points over and over), The Sisterhood is an important record of what the Sisterhood was, and the work it did. Some of these women were or went on to become famous (Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange), but others are beginning to be forgotten outside of rarefied circles. Arguably, the Sisterhood laid the foundation for the current success of African American literature in academia (pedagogy) and popular culture, and The Sisterhood rightly remembers, honours and celebrates them. Highly recommended, for everyone.

Thank you to Thorsson for expanding my knowledge of these women and their work; my copy of the book is almost completely highlights. Thanks, too, to NetGalley and to Columbia University Press for access.

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Picture this. A Sunday afternoon in February 1977. Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and several other Black women writers met at June Jordan's Brooklyn apartment to eat gumbo, drink champagne and talk about their written work. The group called themselves "The Sisterhood" and would meet once a month over the next two years to discuss literature and liberation.

The Sisterhood: How a Network of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture tells the story of how this legendary community of women changed American writing. Original interviews, meeting minutes and correspondence is shared. Author Courtney Thorsson traces the personal and professional ties that brought the group together and how their work impacts Black women's writing today.

The Sisterhood is an informative book and intimate look into the thoughts of black feminist literary greats. How many times have we as readers wondered, "What was Toni Morrison thinking when she wrote this? What's the meaning behind this plot of Alice Walker's? What is the story behind this photograph on the book cover?" Well we get more than a glimpse in this new nonfiction novel.

I will revisit my highlighted passages often for inspiration and guidance. It provides a cultural background on writing and publishing. A great resource of aspiring and active writers today.

Happy Pub Day, Courtney Thorsson! The Sisterhood is now available.

Disclaimer: An advance copy was received directly from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own and would be the same if I spent my hard-earned coins. ~LiteraryMarie

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The Sisterhood: How A Network Of Black Women Writers Changed American Culture by Courtney Thorsson begins with a legendary picture of a group of Black women writers, scholars, feminists and activists who believed in the power of literature as an agent of political and social transformation, and dared to challenge white male capitalism and colonial institutions. The Sisterhood was composed of some of the brightest minds of the time: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Vertamae Grosvenor, Lori Sharpe, June Jordan, Nana Maynard, Ntozake Shange, and Audreen Ballard. In the two short years that they met, February 6, 1977 to February 1979, they helped recover the displaced works of Black women writers such as Zora Neal Hurston and Nella Larson, and aided in the establishment of Black studies and African American literary studies in academia. In the years that followed, they wrote books that defined the 1980s as a prodigious decade for Black women writers in the United States. A second Renaissance, a kin to the Harlem Renaissance led by Black male authors in the 1920s.
The Sisterhood is a scholarly work examining the cultural impact this group of female activists had during their time and changed American culture as the title states. Thorsson relied on both primary and secondary sources such as membersʼ meeting minutes, correspondence, journals, poetry, fiction, essays, biographies, and interviews to uncover and chronicle the everyday work of The Sisterhood. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to cultural, artistic and political happenings during this era. I was particularly captivated by the discourse illuminating the differences between the Black and White feminist agendas, and challenges faced within and outside the group related to homosexuality.
I am glad I read The Sisterhood as I feel I am much better informed about this influential group of Black women writers. It is unimaginable to think of the American literary cannon without the works of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, or the recovered works of Zora Neal Hurston or Nella Larson. Yet, without the countercultural actions of The Sisterhood and their determination to change White Academia and White publishing houses, these literary masterpieces would not exist.
Many thanks to the author @courtneythorsson, @columbiauniversitypress, and @NetGalley for the gift of an advanced digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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This was a quite interesting intro to The Sisterhood, which includes some of the most notable black women literary voices from the 60s-80s.

It’s also a nice resource if you have a new found interest for this niche of American Literature.

I know the book is about this particular group of women (The Sisterhood) and the author states (a few times) how we shouldn’t limit ourselves (our reading) to just this distinguished group, but in my opinion that’s exactly what she does. And it’s done in a fashion where everything just seems to repeat itself, making this a drawn out monotonous read.

I am glad that she is bringing attention to this group of ladies and their important contributions, but I wish it would have been done in a different way.

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This book was full of info I had no clue about. I was curious about this group of Black women writers and came across a wealth of knowledge. It was a well written, well researched book that I’m thoroughly glad I had a chance to read. This is definitely the book to check out if you want to learn more about black female writers and the world they helped shape.

Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the arc.

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The Sisterhood is a group of black woman authors, journalists, activists, scholars and others who worked together to uplift each other’s voices and get their writings published in the 70s. This book looks at what they fought for, the intersectionality of feminism, the LGBTQ+ community and so much more. The book also touches on topics of how white women’s feminist movements and liberation depended on the work of black women.

I didn’t have much knowledge on black writers in America, especially black woman writers and this helped me learn so much more.

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The Sisterhood tells the story of how some of the best Black Women writers got together in 1977 to talk about writing and life and how together they made an impact on our culture and on publishing. The group includes Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and eventually includes Audre Lorde--some of the leading voices of their time. This book is well-sourced, very credible and interesting. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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This book explores how a group of trailblazing Black feminist writers—including Toni Morrison and Alice Walker—transformed American culture. Together they pushed trade publishers, magazines, and universities to overcome racism, sexism, and homophobia. Highlighting more than just their literary triumphs, the book shows how The Sisterhood integrated Black feminism into academia, inspired emerging writers, and created an ongoing model for Black feminist solidarity.

Academic in nature, the book conveys a wealth of facts without employing engaging storytelling techniques.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.

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The Sisterhood is a title that focuses on a gathering of Black female writers, namely Vertamae Grosvenor, Alice Walker, Lori Sharpe, Toni Morrison, June Jordan, Nana Maynard, Ntozake Shange, and Audreen Ballard Box. The author acknowledges in her introduction that this photo from 1977 has a life of its own and is legendary. The book is about as much of archives as living memory as it is of how this image has circulated on social media and made such an empowering impression on Black viewers who are themselves scholars, activists, readers, and more.

People have always wondered well, what went on in the context of that photo? What happened at that get together? How did the women know one another? These questions are what the book attempts to tackle. She talks of meetings that these women had, and of the threats of heightened violence they faced meeting in city apartments. “Outside the group, they faced daily encounters with racism, misogyny, and homophobia.” And despite their unity and friendships, the women also navigated ‘dissent’ among members from time to time, which eventually led to the breakup of the Sisterhood after 2 years. “In those two years, however,” as the author is quick to point out, “theese women made Black feminist writing central to magazines and trade publishing and they laid the foundation for Black feminism in the academy.”

The author does a very comprehensive job of chronicling the social context of what was happening at the time the Sisterhood was forming. There’s also a discussion of writers Audre Lorde and Alexis De Veaux who were part of a community of women writers in Brooklyn who publicly identified as out lesbians. The homophobic backlash to their work was nastier than what other Black women writers faced.

Overall, the book is an essential window into the works and lives of these Black female writers and the impact they’ve had culturally as well as the problems they faced.

Also notable is the collection of photographs that the volume contains, which will also be of great interest to readers.

In terms of scope, the book is definitely very academic. The language is straightforward and doesn’t go into long descriptions of things that would bore or confuse lay readers who are not academics. However, the most appropriate context for the book is in academic circles with issues of scope that it covers and who it will appeal most to.

I'm not sure how I feel about a white woman (or someone who appears to be a white woman) of Western European descent writing a book like this and specializing in Black American literature. The author's bio states that she uses "Black feminist methods." I think about other cases of white women taking up positions and mantles that Black scholars are not even considered for in many cases, and I don't want to lob unjust accusations here or to insult the author in any way. She clearly has done a great job and is a subject expert. Just something that occurred to me as I was reading. And to be very clear, I'm not arguing that only Black women or Black scholars are "allowed" to write about Black literature. It's just one of those times where I was surprised or expected a co-author or something else given the literary titans, this legendary group of Black women.

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The Sisterhood re-introduces Black women writers whose role and work are not as well-known as it should be and provides a fuller understanding of some many of us assume we know well, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker in particular. The affiliation of the women in the “the Sisterhood,” a group of Black women writers and intellectuals who gathered in NYC in the 1970s—a short-lived collective in the formal sense, an enduring one in its influence—is the starting point of the book, but the account is wide-ranging, engaging, and informative. Some of the women—most notably Morrison and Walker—are assumed today to be part of the pantheon; this book illuminates their path to that status, how the women in the Sisterhood stepped in to help one another and promote one another, and how they also reached back to recover the displaced work of those who had gone before, such as Zora Neal Hurston. We take for granted today access to the work of Hurston and that her work is important. It is hard to appreciate both the fact that it had to be recovered and how difficult and labor-intensive the recovery was—from locating physical copies of long out-of-print books pre-internet, to standing at the copier to reproduce the books so students could read them for class, to facing questions about the work as part of a course syllabus. The book highlights the deeply uncomfortable, if not hostile, environment many of the women experienced in the academy—as the only Black faculty member in their department or one of very few at their institutions. The atmosphere was not much better in white-dominated feminist organizations, such as Ms. Magazine, or in the Civil Rights movement, where important women were relegated to behind-the-scenes roles or simply not recognized for their leadership. In that context, the community of the Sisterhood was essential. Thorsson’s admiration for three women is evident, as is her gratitude that several of them saved their papers and deposited them in accessible archives that she mined for this book. In doing so, she has performed a great service.

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This was such a unique nonfiction book, it had everything that I was looking for when reading the description. I enjoyed getting to know the women in this book. Courtney Thorsson does a great job in writing this and making this come alive.

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