Growing up, the books I read in school were all written by white authors - Roald Dahl, Jane Austen, Jack London, Agatha Christie, Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis. Maya Angelou might get a mention in a textbook, but in general no one thought about providing us with a more diverse or challenging reading list in the 90s.
With a renewed discussion around racism, I was forced to take a look at my bookshelf and conclude that out of the last 20 books I read, only 2 were written by Black or minority writers (Everyone's a Aliebn by Jonny Sun and Becoming by Michelle Obama). It wasn't a conscious decision - I just stuck to old habits and never thought of looking for more diverse authors. There is no good excuse for this. I read books on how to invest, be more mindful, succeed in business, de-clutter my house - but somehow, it never crossed my mind to educate myself on racism or actively seek out minority authors.
Why does this matter? By constantly reaching for the same kind of books, we are signalling to publishing houses and agents that there is no demand for stories by black and minority people. Cultural references are stamped as "not relatable" and removed or toned down in an effort to appeal to the broader market. But isn't literature, after all, a chance for us to access lives and perspectives different than our own?
Black and minority authors have been underrepresented in the literary world for a long time, but, just as when it comes to environmental issues, we as consumers have the power to do something about it. Read, listen, review, request, borrow - allow these authors to have a voice! Below is a selection of that I intend to read in the near future. I've chosen to focus on fiction, but for those who prefer nonfiction check out this Goodreads list featuring black authors. Feel free to comment below if you have a recommendation of your own.
Fiction Books By Black Authors
Kindred, Octavia Butler
"The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun."
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland."
Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
"Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood. Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters."
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
"A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. "
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
"A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence."
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
"The Bluest Eye is heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author's girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America."
The Deep, Rivers Solomon
"The water-breathing descendants of African slave women tossed overboard have built their own underwater society—and must reclaim the memories of their past to shape their future."
The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin
"Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze -- the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization's bedrock for a thousand years -- collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman's vengeance."
The Rage of Dragons, Evan Winter
"Game of Thrones meets Gladiator in this debut epic fantasy about a world caught in an eternal war, and the young man who will become his people's only hope for survival."
Riot Baby, Tochi Onyebuchi
"Rooted in foundational loss and the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is both a global dystopian narrative an intimate family story with quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience."
The Blacker The Berry, Wallace Thurman
"Emma Lou Brown's dark complexion is a source of sorrow and humiliation -- not only to herself, but to her lighter-skinned family and friends and to the white community of her home-town. One of the most widely read and controversial works of the Harlem Renaissance, The Blacker the Berry was the first novel to openly explore prejudice within the Black community."
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed."
The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead
"A story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in 1960s Florida. Based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped and destroyed the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative by a great American novelist whose work is essential to understanding the current reality of the United States."
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle
"Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping."
Red At The Bone, Jaqueline Woodson
"As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives--even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be."
Copper Sun, Sharon M. Draper
"Amari's life was once perfect. Engaged to the handsomest man in her tribe, adored by her family, and living in a beautiful village, she could not have imagined everything could be taken away from her in an instant. But when slave traders invade her village and brutally murder her entire family, Amari finds herself dragged away to a slave ship headed to the Carolinas, where she is bought by a plantation owner and given to his son as a birthday present."
Fiction Books By Minority Authors
Dominicana, Angie Cruz
"Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. "
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
"In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant--and that her lover is married--she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. "
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón
"Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer's son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author's other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written."
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Julie C. Dao
"An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress--and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny."
Flame in the Mist, Renée Ahdie
"The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath."
A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi
"It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin."
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, Nadia Hashimi
"In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters."
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
"A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic."
Secret Daughter, Shilpi Somaya Gowda
"Somer's life is everything she imagined it would be — she's newly married and has started her career as a physician in San Francisco — until she makes the devastating discovery she never will be able to have children. The same year in India, a poor mother makes the heartbreaking choice to save her newborn daughter's life by giving her away."
The House of The Spirits, Isabel Allende
"In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate. "
Persepolis, The Story of a Childhood, Marjane Satrapi
"Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq."
Front Desk, Kelly Yang
"Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. She lives in a motel, not a big house. Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they've been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?"
Battle Royale, Koushun Takami
"Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing."
This is not meant as a reading list to educate on anti-racism. Some of these books centre around racism, social injustice, and the alienation that are felt by immigrants and ethnic minorities, but others do not. They are simply a selection of great novels by diverse authors which will hopefully entertain, move, and surprise you. And just maybe, they might offer you a different way to view the world.
- Questioning the purpose of an anti-reading list
- Inside the publishing industry: Diversity is not enough
June 7, 2020: Someone pointed out that Lauren Beukes (Zoo City) is not a black person (although she does come from South Africa). While the book is worth checking out, I have replaced it on this list with Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle.