Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. Lori is an executive editor at Feministing as well as an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.
Photography by: Laurel Golio
GAL: Why do you read?
LA: I've been reading since as long as I can remember; it's always brought me great pleasure. Some of my first memories are of reading, or more accurately, of feelings that were brought on by books (The Giving Tree; The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Where The Wild Things Are). Nowadays, I read during my subway commute and sometimes, when I'm lucky, on lunch breaks, and it's a great way to steal a little bit of time for myself in the midst of a busy work week.
GAL: Is there a book, or books, that turned you into a lifelong reader?
LA: When I was younger, I would devour Roald Dahl books. There was a delicious feeling of getting away with something, because I was pretty sure the grownups in my life didn't realize how macabre and strange and escapist some of his stories really were. I still associate that feeling with reading, which is a very lucky thing.
GAL: How would you define the power of narrative and story line in your life?
LA: I work in communications, so I have a great deal of respect for those who can cultivate a narrative that really draws people in. That takes skill. I tend to react best to stories that take existing social and cultural narrative tropes and somehow subvert or play off of them, and make people question the value of the original.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
LA: It's a delicate balancing act of wanting to be able to be in conversation with the people I respect from the literary community who all tend to get very excited about some new writer or novel all at the same time, and not wanting to follow a trend just to say I did. For every Ferrante or Yanagihara, I try to revisit or discover for the first time an older classic. Thank God for the Internet; I don't know how people got book recommendations before it existed. Well Read Black Girl's monthly picks are usually clutch. My favorite Instagram accounts to follow are those of women who post all the normal things about their life, avocado toast and such, and also the books they are reading, which is basically all I ever want to know about anyone! Sometimes I will see an interesting looking person reading on the subway and try to eye whatever title they have; I am highly suggestible in that way.
GAL: Do you have a favorite genre? Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
LA: I do love fiction. If I had to nail down my fiction preferences in Netflix speak, it would probably go something like "quirky post-postmodernist drama with a strong, independent female lead" (there is a freedom to embracing the stereotype lol). But for me, the truly life-changing works have been of the non-fiction variety.
GAL: Is there a subset of non-fiction you're drawn to, such as feminism, journalism, memoir, politics/history?
LA: Feminist essays. The subset being, perhaps, "intellectualizing the female experience". Think hooks, Sontag, Scarry, Nin, Didion, Solnit, Gay.
GAL: As a dedicated feminist, did you read some of the "classics" of the movement, such as Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, or Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful?
LA: The Second Sex laid a theoretical base for my future feminist literary consumption, as it did for so many college-aged women. I definitely count myself among the many who are indebted to de Beauvoir for that. But I think also, like many women of color, there was a sense of a missing piece, or at the very least that there was more to the story.
GAL: What were your guidebooks into the feminist movement?
LA: I didn't major in gender studies in college so truthfully, feminist blogs had a huge hand in introducing me to the movement. A lot of my favorite feminist "books" are actually blog posts, or were recommended to me by women online. That said, Sister Outsider was absolutely vital. Aint I A Woman by Bell Hooks. Autobiography of Malcolm X was very influential to my politics. Dorothy Roberts' The Killing of the Black Body.
GAL: Two books GAL loves are Zora Neale Hurston's, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Ntozake Shange's play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough. How would you define the place of these works in terms of the development of feminism for women of color?
LA: Hurston and Shange are part of a vibrant, underrated and critically important black female literary tradition that not only narrates the pain black women have endured over the past century but does so in a way that is so radical and mind-bogglingly beautiful. That is why they have reached so many black girls and women everywhere and been of great comfort to us even as they give voice in public to our suffering.
GAL: How do best selling and prize winning novels such as "The Color Purple" and "Song of Solomon", or the more recent memoir "Negroland" by Margo Jefferson fit into the literary tradition of black women authors and feminism?
LA: Ugh, Toni Morrison, one of if not the most talented writer ever to have lived. In many ways these books are about respect and dignity. Finding respect and dignity in the face of unimaginable hardship. In the case of Margo Jefferson's book, it's about the politics of respectability, and how that's been cultivated in ways that even pit black people and women against each other. Which I think is very much a question at the heart of today's black feminist movement as well.
GAL: What are you reading right now?
LA: I recently finished Miranda July's The First Bad Man which was extremely weird, sexual and enjoyable. A coworker recently gave me her copy of The Black Woman which is an anthology I'm really enjoying perusing. And I'm reviewing the forthcoming Crunk Feminist Collection (January 2017) which is based on a series of blog posts from the website of the same name, so another book that straddles my beloved Internet and literary worlds. Once I'm done with those, I'm excited about Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad and Jesmyn Ward's The Fire This Time.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
LA: Toni Morrison - Beloved
Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man
Octavia Butler - Kindred
James Baldwin - Notes of a Native Son
Zadie Smith - NW
GAL: As a committed feminist and dedicated member of the global Planned Parenthood family, what are the five most crucial books you would recommend to inform and impact readers about the causes so important to you?
LA: Michelle Goldberg's The Means of Reproduction is a great book to better understand the global forces that have controlled our bodies for so long. So is Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. Mychal Denzel Smith is one of the best and brightest new feminist voices, and his debut novel Invisible Man, Got The Whole World Watching is worth a studious read. I contributed to an anthology called The Feminist Utopia Project which has a lot of smart people imagining a better future, and will leave you feeling very hopeful about things. And Yes Means Yes anthology co-edited by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman remains incredibly relevant, with the current national conversation that's happening around sexual assault.