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Featured Books and DVDs: Women’s History Month

Books and DVDs are stacked in front of a window looking at the Penn campus. Book titles at left include Seeing Sideways, Being Seen, Confident Culture, and Marian Anderson. DVDs at right include More Than a Face in the Crowd, Not Done, Yours in Sisterhood, Pioneers, and Miss Representation. Standing behind the DVDs are more books: I Know What's Best for You, Fafafafangirls, Burning My roti, summonings, and Upon Her Shoulders.

Dive into Women’s History Month this March with books and DVDs that highlight Philadelphia icons and explore many different expressions of womanhood.  

As always, you can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books. Additionally, some of our selections are available to view in our special collections: Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey and Women Poets of the Renaissance are collected in special editions in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Women in Prehistory: North America and Mesoamerica is also part of the Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. You can request to view any of these items in their special collections form by visiting the catalog record (linked below), selecting the Kislak Center version, and clicking “request to view.” 

Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.  


  • Marian Anderson: A Singer's Journey by Allan Keiler
    Marian Anderson was a woman with two disparate voices. The first — a powerful, majestic contralto spanning four octaves — catapulted her from Philadelphia poverty to international fame. A second, softer voice emanated from her mere presence: an unwavering refrain of opportunity and accomplishment in the face of racial prejudice.

    Allan Keiler chronicles the life of the legendary singer and activist from the childhood manifestation of her musical genius to her worldwide celebrity. The book reveals a woman more comfortable as artist than activist. But if Anderson's intense privacy and devotion to her work distanced her from a direct role in the civil rights movement, she remained a powerful symbol of possibility. 

  • Women Poets of the Renaissance selected and edited by Marion Wynne-Davies
    Although women of the Renaissance were expected to be "chaste, silent and obedient," many women poets risked the disapproval of their own society and transcended the strictures of contemporary female behavior in words that still resonate today. Their meditations on the danger and sufferings of motherhood and their descriptions of the vagaries of love, while couched in the formal style of Renaissance poetry, often appear startlingly close to modern experience.

    As a consequence, the range of poetry produced by Renaissance women is remarkably broad. Here the poetry of these women is collected for the first time in an anthology that offers a fresh and unique approach to literature of the period. 

  • Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman's Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson
    As a Deafblind woman with partial vision in one eye and bilateral hearing aids, Elsa Sjunneson lives at the crossroads of blindness and sight, hearing and deafness—much to the confusion of the world around her. While she cannot see well enough to operate without a guide dog or cane, she can see enough to know when someone is reacting to the visible signs of her blindness and can hear when they’re whispering behind her back. And she certainly knows how wrong our one-size-fits-all definitions of disability can be.

    As a media studies professor, she has also examined the full range of blind and deaf portrayals on film, and here she deconstructs their impact, following common tropes in film genres like horror, romance, and everything in between. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, part history of the Deafblind experience, Being Seen explores how our cultural concept of disability is more myth than fact, and the damage it does to us all. 

  • Women in Prehistory: North America and Mesoamerica edited by Cheryl Claassen and Rosemary A. Joyce
    During the 1960s, scholars constructed a model of cultural evolution in which men were characterized as "cooperative hunters of big game," while women were depicted as gatherers of plant food. This model came to dominate archaeological interpretation of the economic roles of men and women.

    Women in Prehistory challenges this model and undertakes an examination of the archaeological record informed by insights into the cultural construction of gender that have emerged from scholarship in history, anthropology, biology, and related disciplines. Along with analysis of burial assemblages and of representations of gendered individuals, contributors study bone chemistry, assessment of skeletal pathologies, and micro- and macro-scale distributional evidence, as well as analogical arguments from ethnoarchaeology and ethnohistory to discuss pottery, shell matrix sites, skeletal material, the domestic setting, and spinning. 

  • I Know What's Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom edited by Shelly Oria
    This explosive, intersectional collection of essays, fiction, poems, plays, and more, explores the universality of human reproductive experiences, as well as their distinct individuality.

    An enlisted sailor must choose between her military career and keeping an unexpected pregnancy. A mother of three decides to become a surrogate, but is unprepared for everything that happens next. A trans man’s pregnancy forces them to approach their key relationships in a new way. A woman’s choice to live a child-free life is put to the test when her husband’s dying wish is for them to become parents. Forced sterilization camps line the borders of America in a dystopian future.

    In their own unique and unforgettable way, each storyteller examines a crisis of access to care in ways that are at turns haunting, heartbreaking, and outright funny. 


Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers 

In the early decades of cinema, some of the most innovative and celebrated filmmakers in America were women. Alice Guy-Blaché helped establish the basics of cinematic language, while others boldly continued its development: slapstick queen Mabel Normand (who taught Charlie Chaplin the craft of directing), action star Grace Cunard, and LGBTQ icon Alla Nazimova. Unafraid of controversy, filmmakers such as Lois Weber and Dorothy Davenport Reid tackled explosive issues such as birth control, abortion, and sex work. This crucial chapter of film history comes alive through the presentation of a wide assortment of films, carefully curated, meticulously restored from archival sources, and presented with new musical scores. 

The Grace Lee Project 

When award-winning Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee was growing up in Missouri, she was the only Grace Lee she knew. As an adult, however, she moved to New York and then California, where everyone she met seemed to know "another Grace Lee." But why did they assume that all Grace Lees were nice, dutiful, piano-playing bookworms? Pursuing the moving target of Asian American female identity, the filmmaker plunges into a clever, highly unscientific investigation of all those Grace Lees who break the mold, including the fiery social activist Grace Lee Boggs, the rebel Grace Lee who tried to burn down her high school, and the Silicon Valley teenager Grace Lee who spends evenings doing homework, playing piano, and painting graphic pictures of death and destruction. 

Scene Not Heard: Women in Philadelphia Hip Hop 

Philadelphia is often referred to as the mecca for American soul music; however, its contributions to hip-hop have been overlooked despite its mass proliferation of artists, many of whom have made landmark contributions as emcees, graffiti artists, dancers, and most notably as deejays. Despite this, the City of Brotherly Love has continued to churn out some of the most innovative hip-hop artists of the current generation. 

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects to the scene is the abundance of powerful female voices that it has produced as artists, promoters and writers. This 2005 film seeks to tell the story of these women—the legends, the famed, and the ingénues—as they struggle to succeed in a male-dominated industry in a city that has been left behind in the national consciousness. 

Served Like a Girl 

This documentary follows several American women who were wounded in action and are now transitioning from soldier to civilian after serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Struggling with PTSD, homelessness, broken families, divorce, serious illness, and military sexual abuse, these remarkable women harness humor to adapt to the emotional, social, and economic challenges they face, through the Ms. Veteran America competition. Balancing beauty and brawn, they are guided by event founder and veteran Major Jas Boothe, using the competition to regain their identities and way of life that they sacrificed in foreign wars. It is an engaging and honest look at an often-unseen veteran reality. 

Nice Chinese Girls Don’t 

This film tells the story of poet, artist, activist, writer, and bodybuilder Kitty Tsui in her own words. Tsui narrates her experience of arriving to the States as an immigrant from Hong Kong by way of her own original poetry and stories. Tsui wrote the groundbreaking Words of a Woman Who Breathes Fire, the first book written by an Asian American lesbian. She is considered by many to be one of the foremothers of the API, Asian Pacific Islander, lesbian feminist movement. 

Note: This film is also available to stream through the Libraries’ subscription to Kanopy.