15 Coffee Table Books That Celebrate Black Women
Dressing your home in fabulous Black and African Art is not just relegated to walls. They are hardbound, soft bound and even silk covered books that live on your coffee table, ottoman, on your desk, bedside or as a pleasant welcome in your guest room.
As we continue our celebration of [Black] Women’s History Month, Reflektion Design has curated a list of 15 coffee table books that celebrate everything from the crown to the soul of a Black Woman.
Let me know in the comments which one(s) speak to you. I’ve got my eyes on 2, 4 & 9!
15 Coffee Table Books That Celebrate Black Women
15. Afros: A Celebration of Natural Beauty by Michael July
You don’t have to travel too far down memory lane to reminisce how you, family or friends rocked an afro, bell bottoms and African dashikis. Michael July makes it easy to revisit those times with what he calls an “Afro Renaissance' in his coffee table book Afros: A Celebration of Natural Beauty.
Crossing continents from Ethiopia & East Africa to Atlanta & East Oakland the Afro still continues to fascinate and arouse awe. The oversized encyclopedia features beautiful images and essays from those who rock a fro and how they feel about their hair.
14. Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham
Photographer Michael Cunningham’s Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats speaks a universal truth about black women when we get dressed - we want to be seen. We grew up on the front row of a weekly fashion show without knowing but it's embedded in us. Those church ladies would strut with extra pep in their step, led by their crowns, down the church aisles, ascending onto the pulpit or exiting the sanctuary and spilling onto a busy sidewalk.
As you turn the pages, you will be reminded of your mother, grandmothers, aunties and the church ladies dressed in their millinery finest. Striking colors, neutral tones, gemstones, flowers and feathers adorn hats of all shapes and sizes.
13. Dark Girls by Bill Duke, Sheila P. Moses
Actor, director, producer and writer Bill Duke’s NAACP Award–nominated documentary Dark Girls has a show stopping coffee table book of the same name. This hardbound melanin masterpiece features over 75 photographs of stunning black women from various walks of life.
Imagine the reaction of your guests (of all ages) when they see their favorite gorgeously photographed celebrities give their testimonies about their chocolate skin? Oscar Award winning actress Lupita Nyong'o sets the tone with its spirited, inviting cover. This is an inspiring and beautiful expression in photography, words, and black girl magic one page after another.
12. I Dream A World by Brian Lanker
First published in 1989, this Brian Lanker account of Black women history makers in black and white photography is like turning the pages of history, one era after another.
These brilliant Black Women, the lesser known and internationally famed, left indelible marks in such arenas as social activism, literacy, politics, media, business, culinary arts, visual arts, and higher education. Image black female icons like the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Queen of TV (now TV Mogul) Oprah, the late Olympian Wilma Rudolph and a young California state political powerhouse Maxine Walters on your tabletop? This is an heirloom piece for sure.
11. Muse: Mickalene Thomas: Photographs by Mickalene Thomas
Artist extraordinaire Mickalene Thomas out does herself with Muse. Known for her large-scale, multi textured and rhinestone-encrusted paintings Thomas' portraits draw equally from memories of her mother, 1970s black-is-beautiful images of women such as supermodel Beverly Johnson and actress Vonetta McGee.
The backdrops are colorful and full of patterns, animal prints, wood paneling, and fur. This is a 70's glamor eye candy that would add a groovy touch to you coffee table or book shelf.
10. Vintage Black Glamour by Nichelle Gainer
If Mickalene Thomas Muse isn’t enough black glamour for you, Nichelle Gainer's book Vintage Black Glamour adds to the list beautifully. This book contains the most striking photography of black women (such as cover model Eartha Kitt and Aretha Franklin) and those who have gone in obscurity from the 20th century (the gifted late actress Diana Sands who is best remembered as Sidney Poitier’s sister Beneatha in A Raisin In The Sun).
This silk, yes silk, bound collection of rarely seen photographs is a true keepsake, a family heirloom that your friends will be asking to borrow. Surprise your bestie or mother with a copy of Vintage Black Glamour.
9. Black Girls Rock! Owning Our Magic by Beverly Bond
[Black] Women’s History Month has a new official, unofficial name: Black Girls Rock! (Owning Our Magic) thanks to Beverly Bond. The annual award show of the same name has awarded "The 'Rock Star' Award," "Social Humanitarian," "Who Got Next?," "Living Legend," "Shot Caller," "Trailblazer," "Motivator," "Young, Gifted & Black," "Star Power," and "Visionary" since 2006.
Created by former DJ and model, Beverly Bond presents a dynamic gumbo of Black Women from music, medicine, entertainment, visionary pursuits, and entrepreneurship. She seamlessly brings the award show to you via this magical coffee table book.
8. Michelle Obama A Photographic Journey by Antonia Felix
Always our forever First Lady, Antonia Felix has assembled 140 photographs, inspiring words and speech excerpts of Michelle Obama. Not just a fashion icon (which she is) Mrs. Obama represented the country and her role well when co-hosting world leaders at the White House and while leading her own initiatives.
Importantly, she has been an incredible advocate for projects pertaining to health, social activism and educational endeavors. It would be a sin not to invite Michelle Obama in your home, rest her on your coffee table, open to your favorite page and be inspired by her presence.
7. The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, by Deborah Willis and Carla Williams
Any books authored singularly or jointly by Deborah Willis (Chair, Department of Photography and Imaging, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University) and Carla Williams (writer and photographer) is a must for your home.
Owning this book is necessary for the sake of having a historical record about us. The Black Female Body is 300 years of respectful documentation of Black female bodies from South Africa to the United States Civil Rights era. Let this tabletop book rest and abide in your home. Amen, amen, amen.
6. Little Leaders Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Not to be left out of the [Black] Women’s History Month celebration, artist Vashti Harrison has created the most adorable tabletop book of Little Leaders Bold Women In Black History for the children in your household (or the young at heart).
The New York Times Bestseller introduces 40 trailblazers who broke race and gender barriers. This book is waiting for a spot in your home’s living room or most definitely on the bookshelves or desks in your children’s bedrooms. It is a great example of artistry and words, and makes the prefect gift too, recommended for ages 8 - 11 years.
5. Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi
Visual activist Zanele Muholi is Every Woman. In her masterpiece, Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, Muholi transforms herself into over 90 images that symbolize race, identity and resistance.
Yrsa Daley-Ward’s New York Times Book Review reflects how Muholi is transformed page after page. She’s a “mother, a domestic worker, an Afrofuturist, an oracle. It’s fiction and it is not.”
A South African native, Zanele Muholi says this photographic document was produced “...to teach people about our history, to rethink what history is all about, to reclaim it for ourselves—to encourage people to use artistic tools such as cameras as weapons to fight back.”
Our diaspora sister speaks for us all and is a needed addition to your tabletop book collection.
4. Queens: Portraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair by Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham just can’t help herself. She loves to document what she is, a Black Women. Thankfully for us, the woman that gave us Crowns has birthed Queens: Portraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair.
Where else does a Black woman feel as beautiful, pampered and at home than at the beauty salon? Fifty magnificent photographs and personal conversations record all types of hairstyles, hair days, and hair types. This [Black] Women’s History Month cannot pass you by without this tabletop book, to give or receive, that showcases the black hair experience.
3. I Refuse to be Invisible by Njideka Akunyili Crosby
As you know, we're are renaming March [Black] Women’s History Month, along with that new name is a new mantra I Refuse to be Invisible. This powerful mantra is the title of the first publication focused on Nigerian-born, L.A. based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby.
It also references her 2016 exhibit at the West Palm Beach Norton Museum of Art. Crosby’s signature artistic imprint embodies classic African print fabric and motifs, blue-black skin tones with the occasional lone pale hue (her husband), collages of black and white photography that reference her family, staged photo sessions, Nigerian street-style, African dictators and American pop among the layers.
What an amazing work of art to own as it takes its rightful place on your tabletop. It is indeed a pillar of the next phase of Diaspora artistic expression.
2. Jewels: 50 Phenomenal Black Women Over 50 by Michael Cunningham
She’s handing you another gift: in Jewels Michael Cunningham is celebrating 50 Black Phenomenal Woman over the age of 50. The late actress Ruby Dee is the cover girl, welcoming you turn the pages to delight in her and fellow Queens of our community.
An original Nikki Giovanni poem is included in honor of these jewels. What an honor it is to age. And why not show off the best of our Black Women over 50 who come from accomplished lives, locally and globally? This coffee table book is a must for your home and as a gift giving idea as we celebrate this year and every year, Black Girls [Who] Rock Over 50!
1. Look See by Kerry James Marshall
Who paints us, so black, opaquely black, with strength in each stroke? Kerry James Marshall. His Look See tabletop book is entitled after his 2014 exhibit. Marshall has been recording the black body for over three decades consistently, intentionally and beautifully. The book’s title and cover art are so striking and invite you to look … see.
Marshall portrays youth, interiors, nudes, estate gardens, land and seascapes that feature the significant representation of the Black female (and male) body like no one before or probably after. Add this vibrant masterpiece of black art to your coffee table collection.
Now is the time to unapologetically celebrate [Black] Women’s History Month this March and beyond by bringing images of you into your home. Each book represented in this list is a visual sermon on how utterly phenomenal the Black Woman has, is and always will be.
Can I get a consensus from the congregation which book(s) will liven up your coffee table? Thinking of gifting them to someone? Let me know in the comments!
Complement your coffee table books with African print fabric decor at Reflektion Design.