When opening my copy of “A Black Woman Did That” by Malaika Adero, I wanted to see if there were names of famous Black women I had not heard about before.
Out of the 42 featured women, there were six names that were new to me: Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist who researched new laser eye procedures; Bethann Hardison, a fashion model and advocate for Black female models; Jesmyn Ward, an author who received two National Book Awards in 2017; Hadiyah-Nicole Green, a pioneering cancer researcher; Mary Fields, a mail carrier in the late 1800s; and Glory Edim, founder of the “Well-Read Black Girl Book Club,” which had 350,000 followers by the end of 2019.
For Adero to take on the journey of writing “A Back Woman Did That” makes sense, since she has enjoyed a successful career as a literary agent, book editor and curator of writers. Her first literary acquisition was “Miles: The Autobiography,” one of her biggest career successes.
Adero has worked within the corporate publishing environment at Simon and Schuster, Atria, and Amistad Press. Since 2014, she has been an independent literary agent, editor, and author with her company Adero’s Literary Tribe. Throughout her career, she has worked on books with many noted authors including Spike Lee, T.D. Jakes, George Clinton, Walter Mosely, Zane, Pearl Cleage and Blair Underwood.
After years of wearing hats as an agent, editor and co-author, what prompted Adero to step to the front with “A Back Woman Did That”?
“The publisher Julie Merberg came to me with the title and it took me about two minutes to say, ‘Yeah,’” Adero said. “I had to write a proposal to flesh out the concept which was accepted in 2017.”
A collection of short stories is how to best describe “A Back Woman Did That.” At first glance, because of the colorful illustrations, one may think this is a book for children, but it is clearly written for readers of any age. Each woman is profiled in two to three pages.
The women spotlighted include some well-known history-makers such as Harriet Tubman, Bessie Coleman, Shirley Chisholm and Ida B. Wells. Stacey Abrams, Whoopi Goldberg, Simone Biles, and Serena Williams are a few of the contemporary “sheroes” readers can rediscover through new insights. Some of the cultural artists that are profiled are Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Amy Sherald, Alice Coltrane and Faith Ringgold.
Illustrator Chanté Timothy created drawings that allow each biography to pop with a fresh perspective on each woman. Timothy was chosen after Adero reviewed portfolios presented by the publishing team headed by Merberg at Downtown Bookworks. The book’s designer created sidebar bubbles with interesting details about each woman’s life.
“What I like about Chanté’s work is that it is a little edgy, it’s not classical,” Adero said of the illustrator.
Of the women featured, how did Adero decide to cap the number at 42?
“I started making a list of women I knew who did amazing, barrier-breaking things,” she said. “I love biographies. I keep an eye out for Black people doing things we don’t know about.”
Adero was intentional in assembling an inspirational, multigenerational group of African American women representing a range of careers. She also did not want a group of women who are “firsts” in their achievements.
“I wanted women who were unexpected doing unexpected things,” she said.
Adero also has been thinking up a wish list of additional women who should be considered for their accomplishments, including Toni Morrison, Rihanna, Maxine Waters, Winnie Mandela, and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Family, whether by blood or otherwise, was a common thread throughout all the stories in “A Back Woman Did That.”
“I did notice that in my research,” Adero said. “Nobody had an easy time, but everyone had the love of good people.”
“A Black Woman Did That” is now available in stores and online. For more information, go to dtbwpub.com.