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Women Writing About Global Poverty
Due to an array of causes, including unpaid maternity leave and lower wages, women are statistically more likely to struggle with poverty than men. This imbalance has driven many female authors to speak up about the issue through writing. The publication of material to inform readers of the realities of poverty is extremely beneficial to the cause. Fiction or nonfiction books can play a major hand in urging the world to take action against this social injustice. Here are five women writing about global poverty.

5 Women Writing About Global Poverty

  1. Katherine Boo is an American journalist, whose reports on disadvantaged populations earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. People know her best for her book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” a compilation of interviews and observations from Boo’s time in India. The book follows the stories of several different residents of Annawadi, a slum dwelling in close proximity to Mumbai. The village is home to roughly 3,000 people who experience a life of scavenging through airport waste and residing next to a sewage lake. Boo’s accounts of Annawadi provide a jarringly honest look at life inside of a community struggling to battle poverty within a developing nation. She believes that shedding light on underlying issues is imperative to initiate real change in impoverished communities, like Annawadi.
  2. Shobha Rao was merely 7-years-old when she moved to the United States from India. Her novel, “Girls Burn Brighter,” and her short story collection, titled “An Unrestored Woman,” have received critical acknowledgment for the representation of varying social issues, including poverty. “Girls Burn Brighter” centers on two young Indian women who attempt to escape slavery, sex trafficking and prostitution. The novel distinctly describes various aspects of poverty in Poornima and Savitha’s intertwined tales. Both girls’ families are extremely poor, forcing them to scavenge junkyards; the family sends the children to work the spinning wheel, where the two characters meet. As one of many women writing about global poverty, Rao’s writings demonstrate the dark and brutal effects poverty places on those who endure it.
  3. NoViolet Bulawayo is a native of Zimbabwe, now living in the United States, who uses childhood experiences as inspiration for her writings. The Man Booker Prize shortlisted her literary debut, “We Need New Names;” Bulawayo was the first black African woman and Zimbabwean to receive this award. “We Need New Names” follows a 10-year-old Zimbabwean girl on her journey to escape the impoverished, corrupt conditions of her homeland and seek refuge in America, which does not end up offering any solace to the young immigrant. Bulawayo’s compassion for human rights, particularly of her fellow Zimbabweans, has driven her to become one of the most prominent women writing about global poverty today.
  4. Tsitsi Dangarembga is also a native to Zimbabwe; born and raised in the nation, her creative voice has traveled across oceans to reach the hearts of people everywhere. One of her books, “Nervous Conditions,” earned a place on BBC’s list of 100 Stories that Shaped the World in 2018. Further, the novel’s debut was the first time that a book that a black Zimbabwean woman wrote received publication in English. This story follows a young Zimbabwe girl’s struggle for a better education after her brother’s death. In addition to the other women writing about global poverty, Dangarembga also utilizes this theme as a primary element throughout the novel. Dangarembga’s writing captures an authentic view of the life that impoverished Zimbabweans lead, resulting in a raw story that emphasizes the struggles that millions of women in developing nations face.
  5. Anne C. Bromley is an American poet and children’s book author. In 2010, she published “The Lunch Thief,” a children’s book about poverty. The story focuses on Rafael, a boy who plots revenge against the bully who has been stealing his lunch. Rafael soon discovers that local wildfires had recently impacted the thief and the thief’s family, pushing the family into poverty thus fueling the boy’s theft. In the end, Rafael and the thief become friends through him sharing his lunch. Bromley is one of the few women writing about global poverty in children’s books, which is an engaging and efficient way to introduce children to such issues and how to properly react to them.

Books have the ability to spread information, teach children literacy skills and send hope to a person dealing with social, physical or other circumstances. Further, one could argue that books are one of the world’s ultimate weapons against poverty. These five women writing about global poverty have proven that adversity can give rise to a powerful voice. In a world where women are statistically more impoverished than men, such a voice is essential to starting a movement for change.

– Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr

Books on Poverty

Listed below are four fiction and non-fiction books on poverty. The novels not only share interesting stories and plots, but they also demonstrate the injustice of poverty and remind the readers of the importance of fighting back and helping people overcome these odds.

4 Books on Poverty

  1. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers
    Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a non-fiction novel by Katherine Boo — Pulitzer Prize winner and staff writer for The New Yorker. Her novel sheds light on families trying to better their lives in a makeshift settlement in Annawadi, while the rest of India begins to flourish. Boo spent three years in India personally gathering stories about the struggles these families faced. The novel begins by revealing the harsh truth of living in slum life; families make money by selling rich people’s garbage while facing adversity like wrongful imprisonment. Boo also shows how corruption in institutions like hospitals, charities and the education system threatens poor communities. Behind the Beautiful Forevers won the National Book award in 2012. The novel has been added to the common core and the teachings continue to be shared in high schools everywhere.

  2. NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names
    We Need New Names
    is a fictional novel written by Zimbabwean author, NoViolet Bulawayo. Bulawayo’s novel is about a young girl’s journey out of Zimbabwe and into the United States. The book focuses on life in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s. At that time, the country was in a political upheaval; the young girl and her family were forced to move to a new village after their home was bulldozed by the government. The book tells of the obstacles of living in a poverty-stricken country, and the family’s need to get out and start a new life.

  3. Robert D. Kaplan’s Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea
    Kaplan’s Surrender or Starve: Travels in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea is a non-fiction novel that explores the ethnic, religious and class conflicts of people in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea in the 1980s. Kaplan studies the reasons for famine in the region and offers both a forward and afterward, which explains how the region has developed since the famine in the 80s.

  4. Nicholas D. Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
    Half the Sky is a non-fiction novel about the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. The novel introduces struggling women throughout Africa and Asia, some of which share their tragic experiences of being sold into sex slavery and suffering dangerous injuries during childbirth. The novel also gives hope to the audience by sharing how these women overcame the obstacles of living as a woman in poverty to lead fulfilled, successful lives.

Not only do these four books on poverty entertain their readers with interesting stories, but they also emphasize the importance of fighting back and helping to end poverty by sharing the harsh reality of living in a poverty-stricken community.

– Juliette Lopez
Photo: Flickr

Behind_Beautiful_Forver_Katherine_Boo_books_read
Some stories are just too big to tackle in the newspaper – and global poverty is one of them. The past few years have seen an incredible amount of literature from authors who are experienced in the deeply embedded issue of poverty and are now putting their storytelling skills towards the fight against it. These three recently published texts provide a knowledgeable glimpse into the problems of the world today, and are perfect for a reader with a humanitarian mind.

1. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

A love story is not the traditional plot line for a novel delving into issues of corruption, violence, poverty and racism. Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz, however, expertly intertwines these in his account of failed and messy romance, set against the backdrop of an immigrant neighborhood in New Jersey. The novel follows the narrator, Yunior, across various stages of his adult life, as he struggles to navigate the difficulties of human relationships, further complicated by his racial, economic, and gender identity.

Through Yunior, Diaz challenges what it means to be a young Latino man from the Dominican Republic now living in the United States. This means breaking down a range of stereotyped assumptions, as well as internalized insecurities. Additionally, Diaz sheds light on the depth of poverty in both of the narrator’s home countries, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. Global poverty is a powerfully destructive force, which alters the characters’ lives in unexpected ways.  Still, though, it cannot destroy Yunior’s strong emotional attachment to his Dominican heritage.

2. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Images of Haiti, the western hemispheres poorest nation, have flooded the media in recent years, showing a nation struggling with natural disaster, political turmoil, and horrible living conditions. In her new novel, Danticat presents an alternate and more insightful image of family, love and community.

Danticat’s characters are certainly not immune to the structural problems of poverty and corruption. The novel focuses on the heart-wrenching decision of one fisherman to give up his daughter, Claire, so as to provide her with a better life. However, it also portrays individuals eager to fight back against the outside injustices that have augmented their situation, through political activism. Overall, Danticat presents a beautiful story illuminating the humanity and agency of the Haitian community.

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Poverty is often hidden in plain sight, as this non-fiction Pulitzer Prize nominee seeks to describe. Boo, a former journalist, gives a touching and tragic account of her time in Mumbai, where the poorest of the community live in direct contact with the most affluent, although their neighborhoods remain socially isolated.

The story is one of upward mobility, highlighting the unique hardships of a family from the Mumbai slums of Annawadi hindering their success. Boo describes individuals who have aspirations shared by many universally, such as finding a better job, wanting security for their loved ones and renovating the kitchen.  However, the starkly divided social dynamic accompanying poverty in India is distinctively interpreted.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: New York Times, The Guardian, NPR
Photo: Extraordinary Experiences

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Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo spent years in Annawadi, a slum outside the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, India. With most people living without electricity or stable income in makeshift shelters, the slum stands in stark contrast to the bustling airport and luxury hotels a few miles away.  Over the course of her stay, Boo followed the lives of the people that call Annawadi home. She describes the stories she heard and the events she saw in her book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

Boo introduces us to many residents such as Asha, who uses the corrupt political climate to gain influence and prestige. Her daughter, Maniu, studies education and rejects many of the gender norms of her society.

Young children in the village compete for short-term jobs at the Mumbai hotels. These children are easily exploited and often work for next-to-nothing in stressful conditions before collecting garbage to sell as scraps and recyclables.

Corrupt police and vague laws govern the people of Annawadi. Mysterious deaths are not investigated, false accusations fly around without evidence and gangs run the streets. Religious tension is obvious as Muslim families are singled out in the predominately-Hindu village.

Though Boo paints a dark picture of poverty in India, there is still hope. International organizations are moving in to help the people in India, especially since the slums of the region are in dire need of schools, permanent housing and job opportunities. The children of the region believe that one day they will have permanent jobs in Mumbai, own a house and send their own children to school.  The young girls in the village also believe that the time has come to stand up for their rights and make a living for themselves.  Furthermore, children are becoming motivated to stay in school while families plan to move on to permanent housing projects.

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, New York Times
Photo: Vintage 3D

books_on_poverty
Books are very powerful tools that can get people thinking about issues happening around the world today. Books can inspire change by encouraging their readers to step outside of their comfort zones, and books can help us empathize with the struggles of people we might never know. Below are five must-read books on poverty that will leave readers stunned, motivated, and ready to act.

1. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Olivier Relin

This book details the expedition of homeless mountaineer, Greg Mortenson, through the rural communities of Pakistan. After being cared for by impoverished Pakistani villagers, Mortenson promises to build a school in the region. The book follows his journey as he builds 55 schools throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan.

2.  The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier

Author Paul Collier dives into “the fifty failed states” that house the poorest billion people on the planet. He explores why these countries are so impoverished,  and how their poverty inhibits forward progression in the developing world. Collier also discusses why some strategies to help these countries have failed, and introduces plans that are better suited to raise the “failed states” above the poverty line.

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Set in the impoverished neighborhood of Annawadi, this book describes the lives of several families and various individuals living in the overcrowded slum. Bordered by the luxurious buildings of Mumbai, Annawadi is the exact antithesis of the opulence showcased beyond the walls of the city. Boo follows families living in Annawadi, and describes the politics of slum-life, along with the hidden treasures that arrive in the form of trash. This book echoes the real lives of people living in Annawadi, their struggles, their happiness and their losses.

4. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz

In this autobiographical account, Novogratz describes her incredible story as a woman who quits her corporate banking job to pursue an expedition through the heart of Africa in order to better understand global poverty. A journey that starts with a simple blue sweater leads her to invest in people living throughout the impoverished regions of Africa. The book describes some of Novogratz’s vivid and poignant encounters with people living in poverty, and explains how she tries to help African communities.

5. The End of Poverty by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Author and renowned economist, Jeffrey Sachs, draws an economic map of the world, dividing countries into rich and poor sections. He goes on to explain why wealth has taken the route it has across the world, and why poverty has settled into certain areas and cultivated there.  Sachs allows readers to follow along as he journeys through poor countries, trying to better understand the issues those nations face. Sach’s approach equips his readers with the knowledge and the awareness needed to go out into the world and solve its problems.

– Chante Owens

Sources: Good Reads, Amazon
Photo: 123 RF