Shelf Life: Anita Hill –

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The professor, women’s rights and social justice advocate, and author of Believing takes our literary survey.

Welcome to Shelf Life,’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.

Since being thrust into the national spotlight in 1991, Anita Hill has spent the last three decades advocating for women’s rights, social justice, and racial and gender equality. Her third book, Believing (Viking), on the roots of gender-based violence and the way forward in making urgent change, is out today, marking the 30th anniversary of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.
At 35, Hill, a tenured professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, opened a national dialogue on sexual harassment when she testified at the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Thomas, her supervisor at two federal agencies, the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opporunity Commission. Thomas, as we know, was confirmed, but the hearings, conducted by the all-white-male Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by then Senator Joe Biden, would lead to a spike in complaints about sexual harassment and more women running for office.
The youngest of 13 children from an Oklahoma farming family that mainly raised peanuts and cotton, Hill attended Yale Law School and started her legal career in contract and commercial law. She participated in the 2014 documentary Anita: Speaking Truth to Power by Oscar-winning director Frieda Mock and the 2016 HBO movie Confirmation, starring and executive produced by Kerry Washington. (Hill watched Scandal to see Washington’s work.) She also chairs the Hollywood Commission, established after the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In 2018, when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleged Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, Hill wrote a NYT op-ed calling for senators to do better this time. (Hill and Blasey Ford will soon be featured in conversation in a new four-part podcast called Because of Anita.)
Hill is currently professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s and Gender Studies at Brandeis University. Though the Smithsonian Museum requested it for their collection, she kept the blue suit she wore when giving her testimony.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold S. Kushner.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson.
Blindness by José Saramago.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama.
The Agitators by Dorothy Wickenden.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o. I’ve given this book as a gift to both adults and children. The story is inspiring, and the illustration [by Vashti Harrison] is magnificent.
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln: A Novel by Stephen L. Carter.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris.
Song Yet Sung by James McBride and Flat-Footed Truths: Telling Black Women’s Lives, Patricia Bell-Scott and Juanita Johnson-Bailey.
“When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows….and you fall back into that which gets reconstructed as a metaphor.”
From Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende.
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker.
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. The coolest and most beautiful jacket.
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. Read it because it’s a moving story about sisterhood (I have 5 sisters, and, in addition, was a sister to 7 brothers) and friendship (I have friendships in profusion). I treasure both relationships. And read it because it’s beautifully written.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
Any book by Toni Morrison.
If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be: Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.