In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at the greatest city in the world through the lens of contemporary women authors. These novels, nonfiction books and collaborative works highlight a diverse range of woman-focused stories, including a behind-the-scenes look at one of the City’s most beloved restaurants, an in-depth exploration of the Palestinian immigrant experience and a beautiful monograph by artist Kara Walker. Read on to explore NYC through the perspectives of these rising and established literary stars.
When Katie Met Cassidy (2018), by Camille Perri
Camille Perri is New York City’s queer literary “It” girl. Based in Brooklyn, Peri had editorial stints at Cosmopolitan and Esquire, and When Katie Met Cassidy is her second novel. An elevated beach read, this queer rom-com takes readers on a designer-clad romp through New York City. Katie and Cassidy’s courtship includes stops at real-life places like The Metropolitan Opera and Salinas, a picturesque date-night restaurant in Chelsea. Though the bar that serves as the backdrop to their flirtation only exists in the pages of the book, it’s reminiscent of real-life bars: Cubbyhole in the West Village and Metropolitan Bar in Williamsburg.
Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas (2016), by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Writer, cultural critic and feminist Rebecca Solnit partnered with geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro to create a book of maps that highlight untold stories of New York City. Twenty-six maps and essays explore all five boroughs through topics including climate change, racial inequality and religion. “City of Women,” one of the best-known maps in the book (also available as a standalone print), reimagines the New York City subway map with stations named for distinguished women who live or lived near them, including Beyoncé, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Ella Fitzgerald.
Behold the Dreamers (2016), by Imbolo Mbue
Behold the Dreamers is the unputdownable story of Jende and Neni, two immigrants from Cameroon who move to New York City with their 6-year-old son. As the great recession takes hold, Jende’s job is in jeopardy, having dire effects on his chance at achieving the American dream. Mbue, who received her master’s from Columbia, is a Cameroonian immigrant herself. This book is a deep and moving examination of the African immigrant experience in New York, winning Mbue both the PEN/Faulkner Award and a slot on Oprah’s Book Club in 2017.
Red at the Bone (2019), by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson, author of National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming, begins her newest novel at 16-year-old Melody’s birthday party in a Brooklyn brownstone. From there, Woodson weaves in the history of Melody’s mother and grandmother, portraying three generations of women and their discoveries of love, sexuality and heartbreak. Woodson, based in Brooklyn, has incorporated her personal experiences into stories and narratives throughout her prolific career. Her books explore themes of race and gender for middle grade and young adult readers.
Sour Heart (2017), by Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang’s collection of short stories highlights the Chinese immigrant experience in America. These seven tales give an intimate look at what it means to grow up as a young woman in New York City while bridging the gap between two distinct cultures. Zhang was born in Shanghai, where she lived until the age of 5 before joining her mother and father in Flushing, Queens—home to one of the City’s largest Chinatowns and a setting in the book. Moving, horrifying and sometimes disgusting, Zhang’s stories are a testament to the resilience of New Yorkers.
Kara Walker: A Black Hole Is Everything a Star Longs to Be (2021), by Kara Walker
This lovely clothbound monograph from Kara Walker showcases the artist’s multimedia works in evocative photographs. Best known for her paper silhouettes and massive site-specific installations, Walker explores themes of race, class, sexuality and history in her art. But this is more than just a book of pretty pictures—nearly 700 works appear alongside Walker’s typewritten notes and a dream diary. Born in California, Walker now calls New York City her home. Her works have appeared in the City’s most respected art institutions, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. From now until June 6, 2021, Walker’s art can be seen as part of Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, an exhibition at the New Museum curated by the late Okwui Enwezor in response to outbursts of racially motivated violence.
A Woman Is No Man (2019), by Etaf Rum
Three generations of Palestinian women come to life in this debut novel by Etaf Rum. The book begins with Isra, a Palestinian-born woman who immigrates to New York City with her husband. The story delves into the realities of what it’s like to live, love and suffer in a tight-knit community in Brooklyn—a community that Rum was once a part of herself. Rum’s novel is fiction, but the themes of abuse, shame and oppression are emotional hurdles that she was forced to overcome during her upbringing. Rum’s book examines the inner lives of these communities of women, both in Palestine and New York City.
Halsey Street (2018), by Naima Coster
This debut novel by Afro-Dominican American writer Naima Coster draws on firsthand experiences to give readers an intimate look into gentrification in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, where white transplants have ousted generations of Black families. In Halsey Street, Penelope Grand returns to Brooklyn after years spent in Pittsburgh as an artist. The neighborhood around her has changed as hipsters have descended, leaving Penelope feeling disoriented. As she tries to piece her family, her history and her life back together, she reconnects with her family and her home. Discover Bed-Stuy for yourself with this itinerary that focuses on Black-owned businesses.
Black Futures (2020), by Jenna Wortham and Kimberly Drew
Jenna Wortham, a New York Times culture writer and cohost of the podcast Still Processing, has teamed up with curator and writer Kimberly Drew to create a book that illuminates our current state of affairs. Through poetry, photographs, art, interviews and essays, Black Futures asks, “What does it mean to be Black and alive right now?” NYC’s influence can be found throughout, including in a recipe from Bronx chef collective Ghetto Gastro, a feature on Brooklyn fashion label Pyer Moss and song lyrics by New York City–based rapper Junglepussy.
Blood, Bones & Butter (2011), by Gabrielle Hamilton
Restaurants are the lifeblood of the City. In chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, readers get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the drama, passion and heartbreak that goes hand in hand with owning a restaurant in New York. Hamilton’s engaging prose makes readers feel like they’re sitting at a table at her revered Prune in the East Village, savoring a glass of wine with a dish of braised lamb or steamed mussels. It’s an honest look into the world of a chef, artist and New Yorker.
Where to Buy: Women-Owned Bookstores
Co-proprietors Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo are the masterminds behind this soon-to-open Fort Greene bookshop—founded after Stockton Bagnulo won the $15,000 grand prize for her business plan from the Brooklyn Public Library.