As a lifelong reader and white woman, I have never paid much attention to an author’s race when choosing books to read. I read books to escape my reality; to transport me to a different world where I can immerse myself in someone else’s story, either real or (usually) fiction. In the past I’ve paid attention to genre, Goodreads reviews, and a writer’s gender when selecting books to read, but never an author’s race. I’ve read what I want, when I want, and have often heavily relied on the ability to escape into a world that isn’t my own for a few hours–especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Friday morning, I took a good, hard look at my 2020 reading list thus far. I was disappointed and embarrassed by the lack of diversity of the authors I have chosen to read this year, but not at all shocked by my complete lack of awareness (until now) that racial representation in the books I read and recommend matters. As a white woman with privilege and some degree of influence over what other people choose to read, it is my responsibility to be aware of the kinds of stories and authors that I am promoting (or failing to promote). As someone who recommends books to other people on a regular basis, I need to do better. There are voices and stories that are not being widely heard due in part to people like me–unaware white people who have not considered diversity in authorship of the books they are choosing to read and recommend. Until now.
To put it simply: I need to read and recommend more books written by non-white authors, and more specifically, Black authors. Not this month, or this year, but from here on out. As I learned this week from others sharing an idea coined by political activist Angela Davis: "In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist." I apologize to the BIPOC members of our C&C community, and to all the other people who read here and would learn and benefit from more exposure to all voices, particularly Black voices. I have failed you. I am late to the party, but I’m here now, and it’s time to get started.
In 2020 and beyond, I am committed to doing better–to showing up for non-white authors and bookstagrammers, especially Black women, and doing my part to amplify their voices and stories. My work doesn’t end here, with this list. Supporting diverse authors needs to, and will, become an ongoing part of my narrative as a person who regularly reads, reviews, and recommends books on a large platform like this one. Last Friday, I scrolled through the hundreds of books on my Goodreads to-be-read list, and pulled out a list of books I want to read this year that were written by non-white authors. After posting the list on my Instagram Stories, suggestions for other books poured in, along with requests that the list I created become a post on this blog for easier and broader access.
This list is where my work starts, but not where it ends. Reading the books in this post (and those on my longer diverse and #ownvoices reading list, which can be found as a highlight on my Instagram) and liking, commenting, and sharing content from non-white bookstagrammers is the beginning of my commitment to becoming more conscious in my reading journey. I hope that many of you reading this will begin your work here as well. My journey to read more books by non-white authors will never be complete, but I hope to improve and learn with each step, and take you along with me.
Because there are many other lists out there written by more qualified people for non-fiction books that are anti-racist and more focused on history and direct education, I have chosen to focus on fiction for this list, which has always been my passion. I have also decided to include only books written by Black women for this list, and hope to write more reading lists like this one in the future for Asian and Latinx authors. Descriptions below are adapted from Goodreads, and all links are to Black-owned bookstores and Black bookstagrammers via Bookshop.org, which will give 100% of the profits from your order to that store, or 10% to affiliate accounts:
Homegoing and Transcendent Kingdom (out in September) by Yaa Gyasi: I have been waiting not-at-all-patiently for Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi to be released (expected on September 8th), and it already has an astonishing 4.5/5 rating on Goodreads. Homegoing, Gyasi’s debut novel, remains one of the most impactful books I have ever read–if you haven’t picked it up yet, start there. If you’ve read it and already know how amazing it was, join me as I freak out while waiting for Transcendent Kingdom: a “powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanian family in Alabama ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, and love.” (P.S. Homegoing is sold out on Bookshop.org, so the link is to Harriet's Bookshop in Philadelphia).
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah was the #1 book you all were excited about when I posted it on my Instagram Stories last week. Dozens of people wrote in to tell me I should prioritize reading it, so prioritize I shall! Americanah is the story of “two young Nigerians who leave their military-ruled home country and head West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads to America, while quiet, thoughtful Obinze begins a dangerous life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in Democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion for each other and their homeland.”
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: The Hate U Give is a book I’ve seen on many lists, and mine is no exception. Although it is fiction, we should continue our education by reading this book about “16 year-old Starr Carter, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer, and is the only person who knows what really happened that night."
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: If you’re a Book of The Month Club member, join me in making The Vanishing Half your June pick. From a New York Times bestselling author, this book is “an engrossing page-turner about twin sisters who run away from home as teenagers and choose to live in very different worlds: one black and one white. Ten years later, one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape, while the other secretly passes for white, and her husband knows nothing about her past.”
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: I’m embarrassed to admit I have not read anything by Toni Morrison–a legendary American novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature–so I’m starting with her first book, The Bluest Eye. It tells the story of “11 year-old Pecola Breedlove, who 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. It vividly evokes the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child’s yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.” After The Bluest Eye, I plan to read Beloved next.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler: Written by a prolific American science fiction writer, Kindred is a combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction. “Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976, Dana is suddenly wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun, and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. When these time-defying episodes begin to repeat, Dana finally realizes the challenge she’s been given.”
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: You know I love science fiction, so I couldn’t resist adding another to this list. The first book in The Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season tells the story of Essun, “a woman who lives an ordinary life in a small town, who comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. As civilization collapses and the world falls apart around her, Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land, and will do anything to save the life of her daughter.” (P.S. This link is to Harriet's Bookshop since it doesn't seem to be popular on Bookshop.org!)
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: Written by a National Book Award winning author, Sing, Unburied, Sing is “an archetypal road novel drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey, and The Old Testament–an epochal story about a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle.” I purchased this book as a Book of The Month Club add-on this month.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo: Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2019, Girl, Woman, Other “follows the lives and struggles of 12 very different characters. Mostly Black, British women, they tell the stories of their families, friends, and lovers, across the country and through the years.”
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: Finally, this book is included on this list to correct a mistake I made last fall. As a team, we reviewed several options to read for our inaugural “Of the Month” club book last August. I chose a book about magic written by a white woman instead of this one to preview, and our team ended up throwing out the entire list and reading The Testaments by Margaret Atwood as our final pick. My Sister The Serial Killer is “a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker–and more difficult to get out of the carpet–than water.”
For me, the list of books to read by Black women doesn’t end here–it continues by following and engaging with Black members of the bookstagram community. Join me in following the women below (and others you find!), and take their recommendations for new books to read just as often as you do with white influencers:
@mentallybooked: Taryn from Atlanta–A lover of chai who recently shared a list of nine books that have helped in her own education after growing up in a community where she learned covert racist ideals
@inkandfable: Patience from Kansas City–A writer who has one of the most beautiful aesthetics I’ve seen on all of bookstagram (and incredible style)
@thestackspod / @bitracial: Traci from Los Angeles–Host of ‘The Stacks’ podcast about books with a new episode every Wednesday (her mom, who recently guest-starred in the most recent episode about The Giver, is adorable)
@never_withouta_book: Anna from Dallas–A blogger and podcaster who highlights underrepresented voices in literature
@simonereadsbooks: Simone from Portland–A 24 year-old book lover who plans to read books that explore and honor the LGBTQIA community and Caribbean writers in June to celebrate Pride Month and Caribbean Heritage Month
@diversespines / @spinesvines: Jamise from Washington D.C.–An avid reader and foodie who has two accounts–one highlights Black and WOC authors, and the other pairs books with wine. Need I go on? (Okay but also, check out her Bookshop.org storefront for an incredible selection of diverse spines!)
@blackgirlthatreads: Antonia from Houston–A coffee drinker who encourages us all to follow Black bookstagrammers and support Black-owned bookstores (more on that below)
To start, I have purchased Americanah, Girl, Woman, Other, and The Fifth Season from Harriet’s Bookshop: a Black woman-owned independent bookstore in Philadelphia (thank you, Antonia). I will be reading and reviewing these books (and others) this summer on my Instagram account. I hope that many of you will read along with me.
Shopping for books in-store is still tough right now with restrictions in place due to COVID-19, but many bookstores are still operating online. A few other Black-owned bookstores to purchase from are:
Mahogany Books in Washington D.C.
Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago
The Lit. Bar in The Bronx, N.Y.C.
Underground Books in Sacramento
Frugal Bookstore in Boston
EsoWon Books in Los Angeles
Elizabeth's Bookshop & Writing Centre (online, launched this week by Rachel Cargle)
Find a list of more Black-owned bookstores and another anti-racist reading list here, and thank you to my friend and fellow book-lover Megan, who forwarded it to me, without knowing I was writing this post.
In honor of this commitment, I have donated to the Hurston/Wright Foundation: An arts non-profit devoted to increasing Black literary representation, and Well-Read Black Girl: A book club dedicated to Black women writers. If you’re as passionate about books as I am, please consider making even a small donation to these or any other foundation, charity, or Black-owned bookstore that supports Black writers or provides better access to books in Black communities. Any amount counts.
If you have suggestions for other books to read, bookstagrammers to follow, or places to donate, please leave them below!