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The Risk It Takes to Bloom

On Life and Liberation

Raquel Willis

St. Martin's Press

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ISBN10: 1250275687
ISBN13: 9781250275684


384 Pages



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In 2017, Raquel Willis took to the National Women’s March podium just after the presidential election of Donald Trump, primed to tell her story as a young Black transgender woman from the South. Despite having her speaking time cut short, the appearance only deepened her commitment to speaking up for communities on the margins.

Born in Augusta, Georgia, to Black Catholic parents, Raquel spent years feeling isolated, even within a loving, close-knit family. There was little access to understanding what it meant to be queer and transgender. It wasn’t until she went to the University of Georgia that she found the LGBTQ+ community, fell in love, and explored her gender for the first time. But the unexpected death of her father forced her to examine her relationship with herself and those she loved. These years of grief, misunderstanding, and hard-won epiphanies seeped into the soil of her life, serving as fertilizer for growth and allowing her to bloom within.

Upon graduation, Raquel entered a career in journalism against the backdrop of the burgeoning Movement for Black Lives, intersectional feminism going mainstream, and unprecedented visibility of the trans community. After hiding her identity as a newspaper reporter, her increasing awareness of the epidemic of violence plaguing trans women of color and the heightened suicide of trans teens inspired her to come out publicly. Within just a few short years of community organizing in Atlanta, Oakland, and New York, Raquel emerged as one of the most formidable Black trans activists in history.

In The Risk It Takes to Bloom, Raquel Willis recounts with passion and candor her experiences straddling the Obama and Trump eras, the possibility of transformation after tragedy, and how complex moments can push us all to take necessary risks and bloom toward collective liberation.


Praise for The Risk It Takes to Bloom

“Raquel Willis’s powerful new memoir shows how she became the trailblazing Black transgender activist she is today. But The Risk it Takes to Bloom isn’t just about her own transformation, it’s also a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community that inspired her fight for collective liberation.”TIME magazine

"Willis’s powerful memoir is a story of resilience, celebration and discovery."—W Magazine

“A promising debut memoir from a young activist with an already impressive career.”Kirkus Reviews

"This pleasantly conversational memoir mixes somber activism and youthful levity, combining glittering details of a buoyant social life with sorrowful reflections on violence against trans people. It’s an inspiring account."Publisher's Weekly

“There are too few works written by and for Black trans people, and with The Risk It Takes to Bloom Raquel Willis offers a moving and generous testimony that is as personal as it is political. This memoir is proof that our most ardent and committed leaders put their whole hearts on the frontlines of liberation.”—Janet Mock, New York Times bestselling author of Redefining Realness & Surpassing Certainty

“With an unmistakable Southern charm and clarity, Raquel Willis generously exalts the Black trans experience with The Risk It Takes to Bloom. She weaves a personal journey of the body and identity with that of a society reckoning with a changing world.”—Janelle Monae, entertainer and author of The Memory Librarian

“A monumental debut memoir that serves as a vital call to action for this era, and a powerful reminder of what it takes to bloom into your most authentic, vibrant self.”—Amber Tamblyn, bestselling author of Listening in the Dark: Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition

“A bold, brave, poignant story of the courage to live on one’s own terms.”—Alicia Garza, co-founder, Black Lives Matter Global Network; host, Lady Don’t Take No podcast; Principal, Black Futures Lab

“This book is essential reading. Raquel Willis uses her life story as a means to inspire and encourage us to step into our full selves. Deeply engaging with searing honesty and compassion.”—Elliot Page, actor and author of Page Boy

“Raquel’s story matters. Representation matters. This book will inspire anyone struggling to find their authentic life. I am so proud of Raquel’s continued willingness to be vulnerable and outspoken.”—Selena Gomez, entertainer and producer

“In these breathtaking pages, Raquel Willis gracefully demonstrates why she is a vital and formidable voice of our time. Her ability to weave together transcendent truth and illuminate the tender courage it takes to embrace one's authentic self is astonishing"Frederick Joseph, New York Times bestselling author of Patriarchy Blues

"Raquel is an undeniable force and one of the most profound leaders our world has seen. I suggest we hang onto every word from Raquel Willis."—Angelica Ross, actress, founder and CEO of TransTech

“Through Raquel’s courageous vulnerability, we witness the birth of a history making editor and a vigilant activist on a quest to shift consciousness while fighting for freedom and trans visibility.”—Emil Wilbekin, Former Editor-in-Chief of Vibe and Founder of Native Son

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


January 21, 2017

Nothing could settle my nerves as I stood at the national Women’s March podium just after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. This moment, at the dawn of a new era slated to be considerably more...

About the author

Raquel Willis

RAQUEL WILLIS (she/her) is an award-winning writer, activist, and media strategist dedicated to Black transgender liberation. She has been director of communications for Ms. Foundation for Women, executive editor of Out magazine, and national organizer for the Transgender Law Center. Her writing has been published in Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, and Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha Blain, among other places. She has also written for Essence, Bitch, VICE, Buzzfeed, The Cut, and Vogue. The Risk It Takes to Bloom is her first book.