Writing for Liberation

Liberation is the process of attaining freedom and autonomy from systemic oppression, inequality, and unjust limitations. It involves the empowerment of individuals and communities to reclaim their rights, dignity, and capacity to self-determine their future. Liberation seeks to dismantle structures of exploitation and discrimination, fostering a society where all individuals can thrive without fear of marginalization or coercion.  In the context of writing and social justice, liberation can encompass:

- Freeing oneself from internalized oppression, fear, or self-doubt.
- Advocating for and achieving systemic changes that dismantle oppressive structures within society.
- Preserving and celebrating cultural identities and traditions that have been marginalized or suppressed.
- Addressing economic disparities and ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities.

Liberation is both an individual and collective journey that involves continuous action and reflection to create a more just and equitable world.

Liberation writing is a genre we define as one that embodies a long-standing practice of using the written word to challenge oppression, advocate for social justice, and envision transformative futures. While it may not be formally categorized under one specific term in the publishing industry to market books, BWPSJ recognizes the work of authors falling in this category of Liberation Writing when their work has significant themes that challenge oppressive structures, amplify marginalized voices, emphasizes social and political liberation, advocates for equality and agency through an intersectional lens, considers the interconnectedness of race, gender, class and other identitites in the fight for liberation, seeks to disconnect Black and Indigenous identities from stereotypes, system racism, and historical erasure, challenges historical narratives and advocates for reclaiming identity and autonomy.


Here are a few contexts where writing for liberation prominently appears:

1. Social Justice and Activist Essays and Nonfiction Work

2. Liberation Theology and Movement Doctrines

3. Postcolonial Literature

4. Feminist and Intersectional Writing

5. Black Arts Movement Poetry and Creative Works

6. Afrofuturist Science Fiction Literature

7.  Memoir and Creative Nonfiction

Authors and Theorists

Derrick Bell

“Racism is permanent, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can devise strategies to diminish its impact on our lives.”

Derrick Bell, a pioneering figure in critical race theory, has authored several works that exemplify Liberation Writing. His writings challenge systemic racism, advocate for social justice, and provide critical insights into the legal and societal structures that perpetuate inequality. 

Recommended books that illustrate the Liberation Writing genre can be found here.

bell hooks

"Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books."
bell hooks emphasized writing as a revolutionary act. In her various works, she discusses how writing can reclaim space for marginalized voices and challenge dominant power structures.

Recommended books that illustrate the Liberation Writing genre can be found here.

Paulo Freire
"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed emphasizes the role of education and literacy in social liberation, advocating for a pedagogy that empowers learners to challenge and change oppressive conditions.

Recommended books that illustrate the Liberation Writing genre can be found here.

Audre Lorde
"I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't."

Audre Lorde’s works often merge personal narrative with political activism, emphasizing the importance of using one's voice to combat silence and oppression.

Recommended books that illustrate the Liberation Writing genre can be found here.

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler's works often exemplify Liberation Writing through their exploration of themes such as social justice, power dynamics, and the struggle against oppressive structures. 

Recommended books that illustrate this can be found here.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

 "The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions."
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist and author known for his works on African American history and contemporary issues. His book Between the World and Me is a powerful exploration of race in America.
Coates often draws on historical research and personal reflection. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the historical context of modern injustices.

Roxane Gay

 "I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m not trying to say I have all the answers. I’m just trying — trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself."
Roxane Gay is an essayist, novelist, and commentator known for her works on feminism, race, and body image. Her collections Bad Feminist and Hunger have gained widespread acclaim.
Gay’s writing blends personal anecdotes with broader cultural critique. She writes with raw honesty and vulnerability, inviting readers to engage deeply with her experiences.

Claudia Rankine

 "Because white men can’t police their imagination, black men are dying."
Claudia Rankine is a poet, essayist, and playwright whose work frequently addresses issues of race and contemporary social justice. Her book Citizen: An American Lyric is a groundbreaking exploration of race and identity in America.
Rankine uses a multimedia approach, combining poetry, essay, and visual art to create a powerful narrative. Her work often includes real-life experiences and dialogues about race.
Jesmyn Ward
"My writing process is to start somewhere and let the story tell itself to me. I let my characters lead the way around."
Jesmyn Ward is a novelist and memoirist whose work provides a vivid portrayal of African American life in the rural South. Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing have received critical acclaim.
Ward’s writing is deeply influenced by her own experiences and the lives of those in her community. Her process involves immersing herself in the environment and history of her characters.
Randall Robinson

“No nation can enslave a race of people for hundreds of years, set them free bedraggled and penniless, pit them, without assistance, in a hostile environment against privileged victimizers, and then reasonably expect the gap between the heirs of the two groups to narrow.”

Randall Robinson is a prominent author and activist whose works exemplify Liberation Writing. His books address issues of racial justice, reparations, and the impact of systemic oppression on Black communities.

Recommend writings by Randall Robinson can be found here.

Ijeoma Oluo

"The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward."

Ijeoma Oluo is a writer and speaker known for her works on race and social justice, particularly her bestselling book So You Want to Talk About Race.

Oluo’s process is conversational and direct. She aims to make complex and often uncomfortable subjects accessible and understandable through clear and candid dialogue.