Activism is a huge topic that could be easily targeted in many different directions. You could read a book for kids or books for teens, books about antiracism or books about the environment, or any number of works of fiction that explore the lives of activists.
For this post we wanted to focus on works of nonfiction about activism by choosing books that can offer examples, books that can inspire action, or books that allow activists to tell stories in their own words. Here are four works of nonfiction about activism and four memoirs by contemporary activists.
As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
The Indigenous community in the United States has a long and rich history of activism related to the environment. In this book, researcher and activist Dina Gilio-Whitaker chronicles Indigenous resistance to government and corporate intervention via treaty violations, threats to food and water, and more. These different threads all came together throughout 2016 when the protest at Standing Rock brought national attention to Indigenous activists and highlighted how much modern environmentalists have to learn from their history.
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
While it seems funny to include a book about “doing nothing” on a list about activism, this one really does fit well. Artist and activist Jenny Odell argues that attention is our most important (and exploited) asset that we need to take control of in order to succeed at political action like saving the environment. She pushes back against capitalist narratives about productivity and technology, to argue that being in nature and away from screens can help us rethink our place in the world.
All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World, edited by Deborah Santana
This book is an anthology “documenting the experiences of women of color at the dawn of the twenty-first century.” Through poetry and prose, it captures the experiences of women across careers, economic status, sexuality, and cultures as they “exercise autonomy, creativity, and dignity.” It includes pieces by actresses, activists, journalists, executives, authors, and more. It’s especially cool that the book was entirely produced by women of color, in addition to featuring their voices.
Memes To Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media Is Changing Social Protest and Power by An Xiao Mina
This book takes a global look at the impact of memes as pieces of “pop culture, politics, protest, and propaganda” both on and offline. An Xiao Mina is a digital media scholar and technologist interested in understanding how memes work and how they “reinforce, amplify, and shape” politics and culture. She argues that the silliness of meme culture is directly tied to the way memes can also direct attention to important social issues, poking at those in power in ways that aren’t always possible directly.
Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life by Alice Wong
Alice Wong is a disabled activist, writer, and director of the Disability Visibility Project. The title of this memoir comes from Chinese culture, where the tiger is “deeply revered for its confidence, passion, ambition, and ferocity” — qualities Wong embodies each day. This memoir combines essays, previously published work, graphics, photos, and art from other disabled and Asian American artists. Through this “impressionistic scrapbook,” she shares a look at her life as an activist, writer, and community organizer. This memoir is innovative, moving, and readable.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ was raised by a single mother in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood where she experienced the prejudice Black Americans experience at the hands of the police. Thanks to her mother and teachers, she was able to attend a well-supported charter school in an adjacent neighborhood. This book is the story of her childhood, her early work as an activist, the people she has loved and who have loved her, and more. Khan-Cullors gets into the details of founding the Black Lives Matters movement with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in the last part of the book, sharing how it went from a hashtag to a full movement around accountability from law enforcement.
We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love and Resistance by Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour is a Palestinian Muslim American activist who was a co-organizer of the Women’s March. In this memoir she writes about growing up in Brooklyn, attending protests in Washington D.C. and discovering her “innate sense of justice” in the wake of the September 11 attacks. She also writes about learning how to be a community organizer and shares her experiences fighting for “racial, economic, gender, and social justice” throughout her career. Inspiring!
Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe Moraga
This book is a dual memoir of a daughter and her mother, queer Latina feminist Cherríe Moraga and her mother, Elvira, who grew up picking cotton in California. In the 1920s, Elvira left California to work as a cigarette girl in Tijuana, a choice that allowed her to learn lessons about “power, sex, and opportunity” from the wealthy men she met. Moraga parallels that story with her own journey of self-discovery, passion for activism, and history of her community. As Elvira slips into the grips of Alzheimer’s disease, Moraga digs deeper into stories of the Mexican American diaspora.
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If none of those books feel like the right fit, we have even more Book Riot posts you can peruse including middle grade books on activism, books for baby activists, and books about digital activism. Grab a book, get inspired, and then get out there and change the world for the better!