Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History
By Blair Imani; illustrations by Monique Le
Foreword by Tegan and Sara
When I cofounded Tiny Satchel Press in 2010, I was doing acquisitions for a publisher who did not see what I saw — a deep need for diverse books for middle-grade kids. I wanted books that told stories for girls, LGBT youth, kids of color and ethnic minorities. I wanted books for disabled kids and kids on the fringes of poverty. I wanted stories that had yet to be told widely.
Blair Imani’s Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History is just that kind of book. Marketed to 12-18-year-olds but both readable for and necessary to adults, it could not be a more critical addition to the literary and historical canon for LGBT History Month.
Comprised of 70 one-page biographical essays, with corresponding illustrations by Monique Le, “Modern HERstory” will resonate easily and readily with the age group it targets as well as with adults who will, as I did, wish they’d had books like this when they were growing up.
Black, LGBT, feminist and other activists will recognize many of the names included in Imani’s book. But most readers will recognize only the most famous: Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Rihanna and Beyoncé’s sister, Solange Knowles — which is why this book is so vital.
We need to know our collective history and we need to know our current history. The majority of the people featured in this book are making history now, like Black Lives Matter cofounders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi; trans activist and producer/director Janet Mock and Latinx trans activist Jennicet Gutiérrez; journalist and designer Eman Idil Bare; youth activists Mari Copeny (Little Miss Flint) and trans activist Jazz Jennings; and actress/activist Yara Shahidi.
The inclusion of disability activists such as Keah Brown and Vilissa Thompson shines a light on a movement often dismissed and/or ignored, yet which remains at the forefront of recent battles against the Trump administration’s draconian healthcare policies.
Predominantly focused on women of color who appear painfully infrequently in school texts and other histories, “Modern HERstory” introduces women we all should have been taught about in school, but weren’t.
The book’s first section highlights several of these women: NASA scientists Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan; Stonewall icons Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera; Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first non-white woman elected to Congress; and Lorraine Hansberry, author of “A Raisin in the Sun,” which we were taught in school while the black lesbian playwright who wrote it was erased.
Imani herself is a creator and pathbreaker who describes herself as “living at the intersection of black, queer and Muslim identity.” The activist founder and executive director of equality for HER, a nonprofit educational platform for women and nonbinary people, Imani has a strong presence on social media, where anyone who follows her sees her promoting the work of other women of color and LGBTQ activists.
“Modern HERstory” so clearly reflects that passionate engagement.
The book is also wide-ranging. While there is a plethora of serious activists, such as “Take Your Wallet” founder Shannon Coulter, and academics including the Cherokee Nation’s Dr. Adrienne Keene, there are also playful entries that have another side — influencers teaching young women how to make money and build a brand, including Michelle Phan and Taye Hansberry.
There is much to be said about “Modern HERstory,” but it would be much easier to buy it, read it and donate a copy to a school or library near you. There is no greater inspiration than reading about what people like ourselves have done to change the world and make it more comfortable for all of us.
“Modern HERstory” is available for around $12 online and in bookstores.