Patrisse Cullors loves To Kill a Mockingbird and thinks everyone should read Octavia E. Butler
Patrisse Cullors has the resumé to beat all resumés: a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, she was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2020 (along with her fellow co-founders), has launched her own news show (Daily Digest), is a best-selling author and an artist, and recently released the YA edition of her book When They Call You a Terrorist: A Story of Black Lives Matter and the Power to Change the World. In addition to all that, she's also an avid reader — and she's sharing her favorite tomes with EW. The average person may pale in comparison to Cullor's contributions to the betterment of society, but at least we can read like her.
Below, Cullors tells EW about the books of her life.
My favorite book as a child
The Giver by Lois Lowry was probably my favorite book. And I also loved The Gold Cadillac by Mildred Taylor — I talk about that in my memoir, how important her discussion of racism and segregation was for young children. My fourth grade teacher, Ms. Goldberg, introduced me not just to reading but the joy of reading. I was a very outgoing child [laughs] and she really taught us how to be leaders. She had us read The Gold Cadillac and do a book report in front of the class, and I loved presenting so much that I asked her if I could read more books and present those to the class. I would write questions for people and then give out candy to the kids who got them right.
My favorite book as a young adult
In high school, I read pretty much anything Bell Hooks wrote, and Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde. I went to a social justice high school so we were introduced to those authors in class and once I discovered them I just became rabid. I was like, I need to read everything by these folks.
The book I read in secret as a kid
There was a book called The Spirit of Africa. My mom was a Jehovah's Witness, so anything outside of the religion was off-limits, even other Christian topics. I pretty much hid anything that was related to African or indigenous spirituality. I had a bunk bed as a kid, so I would go in the bottom bunk and cover up my books with the blankets and read in there.
The last book that made me laugh out loud
I don't read books that make me laugh [laughs]. I can't even... Seriously, I don't think I can think of one. I need to find a good laugh-out-loud book.
The last book that made me cry
It's not a novel, but I'm reading Pushout [by Monique W. Morris], which is about the criminalization of young Black girls. When I was a child, I was really smart and I knew it, and once I got to junior high, the way I was criminalized and treated in school didn't match with who I knew I was. When I read this book it was so moving because I realized how many Black girls are punished for just being who they are. Remembering what happened to me and the other girls around me, and how that can set you on a different path in life, was really painful.
An author that changed my life
Octavia Butler. She took the world we're living in, with its racism, homophobia, sexism, capitalism, and authoritarianism, and uses it as source material, and turns it into genre fantasy. For me, reading it, it was just, like, a mind-blown emoji. I'm not sure how to translate that another way [laughs]. All of her books have done that for me, but Fledgling, which is the last book she authored before she passed, did it for me the most. It was about vampires — racism and authoritarianism, and power and control, in the vampire world.
A book that should be required reading
Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower should definitely be required reading. It covers the relationship to the self, the universal relationship to power, through the lens of a young Black girl — and there's a dystopian element, too. It's really compelling, and if everyone read it we could be having a much deeper conversation about all the -isms we face in the world.
A classic novel I really love
To Kill a Mockingbird was a really powerful book for me as a young person. The high school I went to had its required readings but not a framework for discussing those readings. The racism in the story really impacted me, but I didn't have anyone to talk to about it.
A book that I read as a guilty pleasure
I don't have any good guilty pleasures right now, but I really want to start reading romance novels. One of my girlfriends is reading romance novels because of how terrible the country is and she told me, it's the best balm.