An academic and activist by day, bestselling author Brittney Cooper wanted to write a book for Black girls that would remind them that history is not only made by Black men, that they also have a role to play. In Stand Up! 10 Mighty Women Who Made a Change (Orchard, Aug.), the cover of which is revealed here, Cooper highlights the contributions of 10 Black women and girls who were instrumental in influencing the world we live in.
“I’m a scholar in my everyday life, of Black women—politicos, intellectuals, activists. I always try to amplify these stories of Black women who have made a change in their historical eras,” she told PW. These are the people who inspire Cooper in her teaching and writing pursuits. “We’re in a moment of political upheaval that feels unprecedented, where we’re all trying to figure out how we get to the other side of this intact, as a country, as a people without tearing each other apart. I think Black women are always the beacons of hope in a project like that.”
Cooper is not interested in keeping these vital conversations siloed within the isolated halls of academia, or only between adults. A blogger and commentator in addition to being an author, she emphasizes the importance of writing for an audience outside academia, of being in conversation with the community. “I am not a cynic, I am very much an optimist,” she says. “The way I maintain a sense of hope is by being reminded that in every era where we have had massive struggles—and if we’re Black, we’ve never had an era without massive struggles—we have always had folks to stand up and say another world was possible.”
Cooper attributes her interest in historical Black women to reading a biography of Rosa Parks, whose contribution is noted in Stand Up! As a child she even convinced her teacher to organize a class play about Parks. “I played Rosa Parks. I was the star of the show and also the producer,” she recalls. “It was really important. It felt like coming full circle to be able to write these kinds of stories for girls.”
She credits the Black girls in her own life for pushing her towards children’s storytelling: “I love them and want to be in conversation with them about stuff that matters.” Stand Up! follows years of requests from adult readers for children” s literature addressing questions about gender empowerment and feminism at an early age. “In my work, I’ve been moving toward trying to reach Black women and girls at all stages of the life span. Generally, this becomes a way to look out for the adult readers in my life who have young readers in their lives.”
Cooper emphasizes the importance of Black girls to the struggle for a better world, naming Mari Copeny, the young activist better known as Miss Flint; and Claudette Colvin, whose own refusal to surrender her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., preceded Rosa Parks’s by nine months. “I also want Black girls to see themselves as being in a trajectory of freedom fighters, so that all little girls can have a multiracial band of heroes, or ‘sheroes.’ ”
An avid intersectional feminist, Cooper casts this book as a chance to place the spotlight on the women who are often overlooked when it comes time to tell the story of Black history. “When we think of intersectionality, one of its political goals is to say, ‘Who can’t we see in the current frames we have?'’ This becomes an opportunity to say to all of the readers that there are these Black women and girls who keep on showing up and making a difference at really critical moments.” Moreover, Cooper wants readers of all backgrounds to see with new eyes the Black girls and girls of color around them that they may take for granted. “Appreciate them as complex, as passionate, and as people who are inherently valuable.”
Illustrator Cathy Ann Johnson devised the cover for Stand Up! based on Cooper’s preference for a vibrant illustrative style and rich color palette. “I wanted this book to feel not too heavy or somber or serious,” Cooper said. “I wanted a bit of lift and lightness. Cathy has an amazing eye and I think she got the vision for this book.”
Cooper has plans to release several more projects through Orchard, including the first entry in a middle grade series called The B’s, set to launch in 2023.
Stand Up!: 10 Mighty Women Who Made a Change by Brittney Cooper. Orchard, $18.99 Aug. 2 ISBN 978-1-338-76385-0