Four books celebrate our friends who fight for justice, the right to love, the power to tell their own stories and the possibility of a better future. They’re also the perfect gift for a budding ally who wishes to learn more.
Activist by KK Ottesen
One can’t help but feel inspired by the over 40 interviews and black-and-white portraits compiled in Activist: Portraits of Courage, written and photographed by KK Ottesen, a Washington Post contributor and author of a similarly styled book, Great Americans. Ottesen’s powerful photographs immediately draw readers in, adding to the intimacy of these highly readable first-person interviews, all introduced by a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
In content, layout and style, this is an engrossing, inviting volume, one that spotlights a wide range of figures, from age 21 to 94. There are well-known personalities like John Lewis, Ralph Nader, Angela Davis, Billie Jean King, Bernie Sanders and Marian Wright Edelman. Then there are relative newcomers to the scene, such as Jayna Zweiman, co-founder of the 2016 Pussycat Project; Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian American co-chair of the 2017 Women's March; and transgender actor Nicole Maines, the anonymous plaintiff in a Maine Supreme Judicial Court regarding gender identity and bathroom use in schools. Maines speaks of knowing from an early age, “I didn’t feel the need to hide who I was. Nobody else had to, so why should I?”
Seeing Gender by Iris Gottlieb
After reading last year’s Seeing Science and now Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression, I’ve become an incurable Iris Gottlieb fan. No matter what the topic, this graphic artist has a singular knack for presenting an imaginative array of art and text in an informative, exciting way.
Early on, this new book features a helpful spread of 24 gender terms, including agender, cisgender, gender dysphoria and intersex. “All of us are shapeshifters,” Gottlieb explains. In straightforward, vibrantly illustrated prose that is neither politicized nor reactionary, Gottlieb further explores these terms, while also discussing such varied topics as gender etiquette, gender biology, sex verification in sports, Frida Kahlo, Laverne Cox, Prince, gender violence, Stonewall, #MeToo and much, much more. Gottleib also includes her own story, noting that “she” is her pronoun of choice for the time being, that she identifies as a boy (“for now”), is asexual, has struggled with anorexia and in 2018 had both breasts removed, a surgical transformation she bravely describes with a series of “after” photos.
No matter your age or inclination, Seeing Gender presents an extraordinarily helpful discussion in a way that’s both personal and powerful. As Gottlieb concludes, “The process of learning about gender is never finished.”
Drawing Power edited by Diane Noomin
Many books have been born from the #MeToo movement, but perhaps none so comprehensively resonant as Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival. In vastly divergent styles, 63 female cartoonists—of different races, ages, nationalities and sexual orientations—tell their immensely varied, poignant stories here, demonstrating the power of their medium.
Emil Ferris (My Favorite Thing Is Monsters) describes how she found her way back to cartoons decades after being sexually brutalized by a relative while watching a Mr. Magoo special on TV. As a result, her beloved cartoons felt suddenly poisoned, and for years she turned instead to fine art and illustrating. Finally, while working on the aforementioned graphic novel, Ferris noticed that she “found herself using a cartoonier style when I needed to talk about difficult things . . . especially those revelatory moments when a character confronts abuse, fear and shame.”
As Drawing Power so strikingly proves, cartoons do indeed provide the perfect forum for sharing these intensely intimate, painful stories. And editor Diane Noomin offers an important distinction, noting, “The artists in this collection present themselves not as victims but rather as truth tellers, shining light on the dirty secrets of abusers.”
How to Cure a Ghost by Fariha Róisín
As an Australian Canadian based in Brooklyn, Fariha Róisín knows all too well how tricky it is trying to navigate the world as a queer Muslim femme. “i was born to this sticky mess, this stark confusion.” she writes in How to Cure a Ghost, her powerful biographical collection of 50 poems, beautifully complemented by abstract illustrations from Monica Ramos.
In a sensual, evocative style reminiscent of Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, Róisín acknowledges, “i am tied to this skin, although I may not always understand it.” She chronicles her father’s challenges as an immigrant and her mother’s struggles as a Muslim woman with mental illness. Róisín remembers being 7 and briefly taking a “white name”—Felicity Hanson—to try to gain acceptance from a neighbor. She describes watching 9/11 unfold on television from her home in Sydney, Australia, saying that as a Muslim, “this world was not built for us.” Her virginity was stolen by a man who got her pregnant, telling her “it’s not a big deal.”
Despite everything, Róisín writes of hope, boldly declaring, “i am better now. i gave birth to myself, a new beginning, a robust cycle. i rewrote the scriptures of my mother’s pasts, and her mother’s pasts. i am in the throes of survival, i am lived. i am living. it’s astonishing.”