If you’ve been paying attention to the bookternet recently, you’ve probably noticed a lot of discussion about the need for diversity in books. When the line-up for BookCon was announced a little over a week ago, there was a huge outcry about the lack of diversity in the authors and bookish celebrities appearing. Of the 37 BookCon guests, there is not a single person of color. (There is, however, a cat.)
I’m not going to write too much about this issue, since so many others have spoken more eloquently and knowledgeably on the subject. Book Riot has posted many articles about the controversy (see their post Diversity, Authenticity, and Literature or browse the site for ongoing commentary), and a three-pronged campaign called #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been launched. On May 1, people took to Tumblr, posting pictures of signs describing why diversity in books is important. On May 2, there was a Twitter conversation. Today, the organizers are launching the third part of the campaign, Diversify Your Shelves, calling for people to share their favorite diverse books. I’m here to do just that!
I believe it is important to read diversely, and one of my reading resolutions for this year is to consciously seek out more books by authors of color. Last year, only 10% of my reading was by authors who aren’t white, and so far this year I’ve bumped it up to 20%. I’m still not where I should be, but it’s an improvement, and I’m continually making an effort. I’d like to share my favorite diverse books, and I encourage you to buy and read them, voting with your dollars to let publishers know you want — and deserve — to read books that represent all people — not just white people.
10 Fantastic Books by Authors of Color
1. Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah. After years of scraping by in cities and refugee camps, the residents of Imperi are finally returning to their village after Sierra Leone’s civil war. Beah’s writing is stunning as he portrays life in Sierra Leone as heartbreaking and difficult but gleaming with human spirit and resilience.
2. Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole. Although he has made his home in America, a young man returns to Lagos, Nigeria, where he is at once an outsider and at home. As he wanders the city, he reflects on how things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. Watch for my review later this week!
3. The Round House by Louise Erdrich. After his mother is brutally raped on their reservation, a thirteen-year-old boy sets out to discover the identity of her attacker and get revenge. This devastating novel is an indictment of the poor legal systems native tribes are forced to operate under and the story of a young man who must grow up too fast.
4. For Today I am a Boy by Kim Fu. The only son among three sisters in a Chinese Canadian family, Peter Huang is under enormous pressure to live up to his father’s ideals of Western masculinity. However, Peter struggles with his father’s expectations, for he knows in his heart that he is really a girl.
5. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This collection of short stories portrays the tensions between Indian and American culture as characters re-visit the India of their childhood, struggle to understand American customs, and preserve their culture amid US urban and suburban settings.
6. Beloved by Toni Morrison. Written by Nobel-winning author Toni Morrison, this novel is about an escaped slave haunted by her baby that died before even being named. It’s so powerful that I could barely find the words to talk about it in my review.
7. The Returned by Jason Mott. An elderly couple are surprised when their son, who had drowned at age 8 more half a century earlier, turns up on their doorstep, looking exactly the way he had when he died. All over the world, people who had been mourned long ago return to life, forcing their loved ones to deal with complicated emotions.
8. Just about anything by Haruki Murakami. Norwegian Wood is a beautiful, sad coming of age story set in Tokyo, and Murakami’s surreal works The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore are also great reads.
9. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. A woman walking along the Canadian coast comes upon a plastic Hello Kitty lunchbox containing the diary of a young Japanese girl. As she reads the diary, we learn the story of the writer, Nao, a very bright but lonely teenager. This novel is absolutely brilliant, and my review will be up soon!
10. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. In the span of four years, Ward lost five young men she cared about. In this memoir, she tries to come to term with their deaths and explores the factors that link their untimely departures: namely, their being black, Southern, and male. Ward’s novel, Salvage the Bones is also a fantastic read.
I’d also recommend The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila, and The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Richard Wright are also fantastic!
Let me know your favorite diverse books in the comments, and don’t forget to tweet about them with the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks!