I Read 50 Books By People of Color This Year.

Victoria Law
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Victoria Law is a voracious reader and freelance writer who frequently writes about gender, incarceration and resistance. She is also the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women

americanah on a dinner plate, ready to be devoured

At the start of the year, I vowed to read 50 books by people of color. The idea came from an interview with speculative fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson, who talked about how books by people of color tend to be overlooked by publishers and readers alike. If you just find books to read by browsing the most popular shelves at the bookstore, it's easy to fall into reading books primarily, if not solely, by white authors. Of all the children's and YA books that made the New York Times bestseller list last year, for example, only nine percent were by authors of color.  

After 11 months of voracious reading, I'm happy to announce that I met my goal (with a month to spare)! I have now read 54 books by people of color this year. (By the time this article is published, that number may be actually 55, depending on how quickly my library holds arrive.) Of the fifty-four, most (37) were by women of color. 

At first, it wasn't easy. I rely on my local libraries and budget cuts have left shelves looking a little threadbare. Searching for books by authors of color sometimes proved challenging. But, as the year went on, I often ducked into the library looking for ONE book by a writer of color and walked out with four. Reading all these books by people of color made the absence of people of color and/or other cultures more conspicuous in novels by white authors. I started to think more about how whiteness is often written as the norm and I noticed when physical descriptions were absent from books altogether.

I decided to compile my whole list of 50 books—hopefully it's a resource to other people seeking out writers of color.

Speculative Fiction, Sci Fi, and Fantasy

Readers who remember my Girls of Color in Dystopia series will not be surprised that science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction made up the bulk of my reading.

• Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

• The Vicious Deep and The Savage Blue by Zoraida Cordova

• The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe

• Voodoo Dreams by Jewell Parker Rhodes

• Redemption in Indigo and The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

• Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

• Who Fears Death and The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor (Confusingly, they have similar-looking covers. It took me most of 2014 before I realized they actually were not the same novel.)

• The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino

• Prophecy and Warrior by Ellen Oh

• The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Speculative fiction made up the majority of books authored by men of color that I read. At the start of the year, my friend and fellow freelancer Allison Brown introduced me to Daniel Jose Older's Salsa Nocturna, urban fantasy set in modern-day Brooklyn. I read Walter Mosley for the first time, starting with his The Gift of Fire, which speculates what would happen if Prometheus broke his chains and ended up in modern-day Los Angeles, and moving on to Futureland, a collection of interconnecting short stories about a very dystopian future. I also tore through Cixin Liu's very physics-heavy The Three-Body Problem, which starts during China's Cultural Revolution and continues to the present. Other speculative fiction included:

• Long Division by Kiese Laymon

• The Executioness by Tobias Buckell

• On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

• Babel-17 by Samuel Delany

Mysteries 

I devoured the first three books in Y.S. Lee's The Agency series about a women's spy agency in Victorian England. I also picked up Isabel Allende's Ripper. My exploration of mysteries written by men of color also led me to Hong Kong writer Nury Vittachi's The Feng Shui Detective, a collection of short stories about a cantankerous feng shui master in Singapore. I enjoyed it so much that I picked up his novel-length sequels The Feng Shui Detective Goes West and The Shanghai Union of Industrial Mystics, although neither were as good. This past month, I started reading Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series about a Black private investigator in 1960s California. I started with his latest, Rose Gold, loosely based on the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and recently finished its prequel Little Green. I'm hooked but, since I started at the end, I plan to continue reading the series backwards.

Memoirs

I didn't manage to read as many memoirs as I had originally set out to do, but the ones I read were compelling and often heartbreaking.

• Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

 Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

• The Cooked Seed by Anchee Min

High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society by Dr. Carl Hart (The sole memoir by a man of color came recommended to me by Truthout editor Maya Schenwar. Read this book. It will indeed challenge everything you think you know about drugs, crime and society.)

Political Theory

I didn't read as many political theory books by women of color as I'd originally planned, but the ones I did get to this year were thought-provoking:

• Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts

• Compelled to Crime: The Gender Entrapment of Battered Black Women and Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence and America's Prison Nation by Beth Richie

• Inner Lives: Voices of African American Women in Prison by Paula C. Johnson

It's not theory (nor is it by a woman of color), but Charles Cobb's This Non-Violent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible  is the fascinating and underreported history of the role of guns in the Black community during the Civil Rights era. Given the recent calls for non-violence in response to Michael Brown's killing and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, we should all know this hidden history behind the non-violent Civil Rights movement.

Other Novels

My conscious efforts to seek out writers of color introduced me to writers whose works I'd never known before. Bitch online editor Sarah Mirk recommended Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah. I had to wait until the 107 library patrons before me read and returned the book before I was able to dive in. But when I finally read the book, I loved it so much that I promptly borrowed her two other novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, both of which take place at different times during Nigeria's military tumult. I can't wait to read her next book.

Adichie's wasn't the only historic fiction I read. Challenging myself to read more by authors of color forced me to seek out titles that might have never been brought to my attention otherwise. Shirley Williams rewrites a historic slave uprising led by a pregnant slave in Dessa Rose while Jacinda Townsend's Saint Monkey follows the lives of two Black girls in Kentucky during the Jazz Era. Yiyun Li's The Vagrants depicts 1970s Communist China in brutally harsh terms while Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement shows the limited opportunities for women in the era before. Skipping across the Pacific, I also dove into Lisa See's China Dolls, which follows the lives and fortunes of three women—two Chinese and one Japanese woman passing as Chinese—before, during and after World War II.  I also found Margarita Engle's The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist, her fictional biography of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, a nineteenth-century Cuban writer, feminist and abolitionist. Her bio-in-verse prompted me to visit the research library to read Avellaneda's most famous work, Sab, a novel about a slave in Cuba during the nineteenth century.  The only historic fiction authored by a man of color was Jamie Ford's Songs of Willow Frost about a Chinese boy seeking his mother during the Depression.

Cayden Mak at 18MillionRising recommended Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. As with Adichie, I liked Ozeki so much that, upon closing her book, I leapt to my laptop and reserved her All Over Creation from the library. Then I found her My Year of Meats, which toggles between a Japanese tv producer in the United States and the abused wife of the producer's overbearing boss in Tokyo. I am eagerly awaiting what Ozeki writes next. I also devoured Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Jacqueline Woodson's Hush.

I plan to continue the challenge to read 50 books by people of color in 2015. What would you recommend I put on next year's To-Read list?

Related Reading: Five Black Sci-Fi Writers You Should Know.

Victoria Law is a voracious reader and freelance writer who frequently writes about gender, incarceration and resistance. She is also the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Photo by Sarah Mirk. 

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48 Comments Have Been Posted

I second this. 2012's Saul

I second this. 2012's Saul Williams-edited poetry anthology, Chorus, is excellent and includes work by many people of color, and of course Williams himself is a Black American of Haitian descent. He is a freakin' fantastic performer, too.

thanks for the poet suggestions

Will definitely put both on next year's To-Read list.

Thanks for sharing this list!

Thanks for sharing this list! I recommend Bone by Fae Mynenne Ng and Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by women in SNCC - this is an anthology that has writings by women of color and white women.

put Bone on my to-read list

and thank you for nudging me towards Hands on the Freedom Plow. I actually *have* a copy of the book, so thank you for the nudge to actually pick it up and read it!

Baby No-Eyes by Patricia

Baby No-Eyes by Patricia Grace is one of my all time favourite books. Anything by her would be worthwhile reading. Also anything by Albert Wendt - he is one of the most intelligent writers I've come across.

thanks for introducing me to both

I put Baby No-Eyes on my to-read list. For Albert Wendt, is there a book that you'd recommend I should definitely start with? (Or perhaps definitely NOT start with? Kind of like not starting to read Samuel Delany by picking up Dhalgren & not starting Joyce by picking up Finnegan's Wake)

yay, books by POC!

Hey Vikki! Thank you so much for sharing your list with us. I've read 105 books this year and try to avoid reading any books by white men, but I still end up with a lot of white women. I'm thinking about trying to set a goal to *only* read books by POC next year. here are some of my favorite books by POC that I've read this year!

Poetry:
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
Walking With Ghosts by Qwo-Li Driskill
The Heart's Traffic by Ching-In Chen

Non-fiction:
Undoing Border Imperialism by Harsha Walia
Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, and Scott Lauria Morgensen
Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti
The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
Queer and Trans Artists of Color: Stories of Some of Our Lives edited by Nia King, Jessica Glennon-Zukoff, and Terra Mikalson

Memoir:
Red Dirt: Growing up Okie by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda
Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther by Marshall "Eddie" Conway
Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog
100 Crushes by Elisha Lim

those were all great!! :)

Two quick additions! Meaty by

Two quick additions!

Meaty by Samantha Irby is one of my favorites, I love non fiction essays and she does it in a way that's not boring, predictable or self indulgent.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay-she can do no wrong.

Meaty! A million times yes.

Meaty! A million times yes. Samantha Irby is incredible.

both added!

Thanks for the nudge to push Roxane Gay further up my to-read list and thanks for introducing me to Samantha Irby!

a few

Julie Otsuka--When the Emperor was Divine and Buddha in the Attic
Indigenous American Women by Devon Abbott Mihesuah
I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim edited by Maria M. Ebrahimji & Zahra T. Suratwala
Nalo Hopkinson (you mention she got you started, but I don't see any of her books on your list)--The Chaos and Brown Girl in the Ring
Color of Violence by Incite!
anything by Thomas King
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry

my to-read list for 2015 keeps getting longer

Sadly, my local library system seems to have gotten rid of some of Hopkinson's older novels. I read The Chaos, Sister Mine and The New Moon's Arm for *last* year's 50 Books by POC reading challenge, but then couldn't get any more from NYPL.

The Color of Violence is a fantastic read too!

Putting everything else on my to-read list.

Arab literature is also

Arab literature is also excellent:

The Map of Love- Ahdaf Soueif

In The Country of Men OR An Anatomy Of A Disappearance- Hisham Matar

Anything by Hanan Al Sheikh, but I particularly love the memoir written in the perspective of her mother, The Locust and the Bird

Cities of Salt- Abdulrahman Munif

Of course, the Cairo Trilogy- Naguib Mahfouz

I Saw Ramallah- Mourid Barghouti

Lyrics Alley- Leila Abulela

Some suggestions

Thanks for this! I just added a bunch of your suggestions to my Goodreads list.

Here are a some novels I'd recommend:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (on the off-chance you haven't read it already)
Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga
When Elephants Dance, Tess Uriza Holthe
Perfect Peace, Daniel Black
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie (YA but not really. Excellent read.)

I enjoyed Sonya Sotomayor's memoir, if you haven't read it yet.

Let's keep this going! Personally I'd love to discover some fantasy authors of color who write about POC.

-MF

Fantasy suggestion

For those looking for fantasy books try N. K. Jemisin. I'm in the middle of reading The Broken Kingdoms, second book in a trilogy. I'm enjoying it even more than the first book of this series.

Here's a link to the author's blog - http://nkjemisin.com/

Thanks! My list continues to grow

It's dystopia and not fantasy, but I did a blog series on Girls of Color in Dystopia for Bitch last year:

http://bitchmagazine.org/blogs/girls-of-color-in-dystopia

I've added all your recommendations to my to-read list! (Except for Sonia Sotomayor's, which I can't seem to locate.)

Great List!

Thanks for this list! On the off-chance you haven't read James McBride, I read both of his novels this year--both historical fiction and well worth the time. I read his memoir in one late night gulp a couple of years ago and was enthralled--The Color of Water. But I will definitely be branching out to some books on your list.

never read James McBride

although, when I did Books Through Bars, we continually sent out copies of his memoir to people in prison.

Putting him on my to-read list now too.

I think Salvage the Bones by

I think Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is an important read! Protagonist is a young black girl from an extremely poor family in Mississipi during Hurricane Katrina. The girl's coming of age story intersects with the devastation of the hurricane in a profound way. One of my favourites!

Thanks! I read Men We Reaped

and so will add Salvage the Bones for my 2015 book list.

For Harriet List

<p>Thanks for an excellent article, and thanks to everyone who has commented with additional suggestions.

My own reading project this year was to tackle For Harriet's list of 100 books by women of color they feel everyone must read:</p><p>

http://www.forharriet.com/2013/02/100-books-by-black-women-everyone-must... under my belt, and I feel it's the most worthwhile reading I've ever done. I fully intend to read all 100.</p>

I hadn't heard about that list

so thank you for letting me (and others) know about it! Adding even more books to my to-read list now.

Her Goodreads To-Read list grew two sizes that day.

Thanks for all the fabulous reading suggestions! A few that I've really enjoyed this year in case you haven't read them yet...

Ngugi wa Thiong’ o -- Wizard of the Crow
Haruki Murakami -- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Jung Chang -- Wild Swans (it's a memoir that's both heart-wrenching and uplifting at the same time)
Kim Thuy -- Ru

And I second Junot Diaz, Oscar Wao.

all added!

The only one I've read is Jung Chang's Wild Swans, which I passed onto my mother. My mother has read and reread it multiple times since then.

Yes to Wizard of the Crow

I second Wizard of the Crow - a novel that takes on whiteness, patriarchy, and colonialism with absurd humor. Ngugi wa Thiog'o's writing has landed him in prison, where he proceeded to write a novel on toilet paper.

I'm assuming Octavia Butler is not on your list because you've already read all her books! :)

Another favorite of mine is Chickasaw novelist and poet Linda Hogan. I most enjoyed her novel Power.

You are awesome

I did a 50 book Goodreads challenge this year cause I've never read 50 in one year. I'm five away from finishing. I have a stack of Poc poetry and one LGBT poetry book I picked up from the library. Now I know I can do 50 books in one year, I'm doing 50 Poc next year. I got a lot in by Poc this year, but I also read a lot of white authors. Congrats on your goal!

Amazing reads: The Pagoda,

Amazing reads:
The Pagoda, Patricia Powell
Free Enterprise, Michelle Cliff
The Book of Salt, Monique Truong
The Farming of Bones, Edwidge Danticat
The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai
Small Island, Andrea Levy
Brick Lane, Monica Ali
Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi
Crossing the River, Caryl Phillips
Gifts, Nuruddin Farah
The Emperor's Babe, Bernadine Evaristo
The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam

Fiddlesticks

Well, fiddlesticks. And I thought Go Tell It on the Mountain and A Tempest were enough.

and my list keeps getting longer!

Sadly, however, my library system does not have circulating copies of Powell's The Pagoda or Cliff's Free Enterprise. (Abeng is available, however, so I put that on hold instead.)

Abeng is solid, and Cliff's

Abeng is solid, and Cliff's writing is always amazing. Enterprise is greater; it takes on much of the world.
And when you find a copy of The Pagoda it will blow you away!

MORE GOOD STUFF

Zadie Smith is great. THE AUTOGRAPH MAN and NW are also amazing. NEXUS by Ramez Naam is a different take on cyberpunk, and HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon is a timely young adult title.

Thanks for recommending THE SUMMER PRINCE. It was fantastic.

wow, How it Went Down *is* timely

and has been put on my to-read list along with Nexus, Autograph Man & Smith.

This now brings the # of books on my to-read list to 271.

Thank you, thank you, thank

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your list! I am always trying to read more books by people of color (especially women) and I love speculative fiction. I am really excited to dive into many of these.

N. K. Jemisen's books are really interesting, if you haven't read them yet.

Do you have a Goodreads

Do you have a Goodreads account? Would love to follow you!
I'm so glad you liked Ozeki's writings. She's my favourite!

The Other Side of Paradise by

The Other Side of Paradise by Stacyann Chin
Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of of the War Years 1960-1975 by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Obasan by Joy Kagawa (This is about the interment of Japanese Canadians in World War II, a MUST READ)
The Slave Girl by Buchi Emecheta

Great idea!

This is now one of my new year's resolutions! Thanks for all the great recommendations, I have a really long list too. If I may add a couple--I love Jhumpa Lahiri, especially the short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. I also really enjoyed the scifi novel The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, although I think he's Italian--does that count as white? You have plenty of books regardless!

Add to list

I recommend reading The Prisoners Wife by Asha Bandele. Beautifully written and a fast read, it's one of my favorite books and one that I believe is worth giving a shot

Book Suggestion

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani is a good one to add to your list.

Sounds great!

<p>The list is really great, good collection :D Thanks for the recommendation!</p>

Nice! Appreciate the book

Nice! Appreciate the book list. I decided a few years ago to do a slightly different challenge, which failed because I wasn't really reading much, and then restarted it last year. My own idea was fueled by similar concerns: I was just sick of the default white lens, what Adichie calls the "danger of a single story." My challenge is to read 50 books by POC, at my own pace, before reading any white folk (exception only for book reviews that I need to do). I'm about 23 in and while I've had some difficulty finding the titles by radical WOC and QPOC I most want to read, I'm really glad I'm doing it.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett!
Thanks for your list!:

Book by a woman of color

The distance between us by Reyna grande. This was a fascinating book about a girl brought the to the US for Mexico in elementary school. She and her sister and brother are brought here by their alcoholic and abusive father. It really made me ponder how people can be both positive influences in our lives and very damaging at the same time. I used to think that there were actions that regardless of anything made people bad and easy to dismiss but this book challenged my thinking.

Your list

This list was amazing! Thank you for sharing. And as someone else pointed, I was surprised that Octavia Butler wasn't on the list. What about Tananarive Due? She also writes speculative/science fiction. Anyway, thank you for this! I've been on this journey myself, as a person of color, when I realized the majority of books on my shelves were both 1) non-ethnic and 2) mostly written by white men.

Thank you so very much!

Cheers,
Rose

Try some Latinx authors! From

Try some Latinx authors! From Brazil: Carolina Maria de Jesus. She writes touchingly about motherhood and poverty.

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