In August 2020, I committed to spending an entire year reading books written by authors of colors. I would read nothing by a white author, with two exceptions: one book by one of my favorite authors that I had been waiting a while for, and any educational/historical books on racism that were part of work efforts (which ended up being only White Fragility). I had long ago recognized that “classic” books were male dominated – in middle school and high school, most of our reading lists are books by men or male-identifying people. I felt this lack of diversity, especially when writing essays or preparing for the AP English test, but I easily balanced it by filling my for-enjoyment reading lists with anything my heart desired. In fact, I probably skipped a lot of classics simply because they were written by men and instead read Jane Eyre, Little Women, and all of Jane Austen’s books early (and often!). And though we read a few books by authors of color throughout my school years, I, like many white people, had a blind spot into how white my reading list became.
So, last summer when I committed my year to the theme of “Educate and Expand”, I decided that one way I needed to expand my knowledge was by examining the books I read and actively diversifying my reading list.
My Early Expectations
I am not ashamed to admit that when I first started this goal, I expected it to be difficult to find books I found interesting and expected that most would be serious in nature. We were at a moment of reckoning in our country after yet another black person killed at the hands of cops and the violent reaction of cops everywhere to protests. The US has a problem with systemic racism, and I honestly believed that most of the books I was going to read of the next year would be dealing with history. I figured most of them would address racism and how to be anti-racists. I prepared for even when fictional to tell the harsh realities of living in the States and being black.
And while some of the books I read certainly did fall within these expectations, I found it easier to find a variety of books than I expected.
What I Learned
First, the best thing I learned: black contemporary romance books are booming! I hate calling these books chick-lit because that feel derogatory, so if you’re following along on my Good Reads, I’ve tagged them as “Easy Romantic Fiction“. These are not quite romance novels (aka, not quite as explicit), but they are fun, light-hearted, read-in-a-weekend, romantic stories. I love how many options there are, and they were perfect for when I needed a little break from the seriousness of the world.
Second, it is very, very difficult to find fantasy books written by nonwhite authors. I always knew it was difficult to find female authors in this genre. It’s even harder to find authors of color. I did, towards the end, find a bookstore that sells exclusively female authors of color in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. It was a game changer, and I was finally able to add a bunch to my reading list that will keep me occupied for months to come. The bookstore is Sistah Sifi, if you’re interested.
Third, that race in literature can be addressed in a variety of ways and not always by focusing on the extreme negatives. Actually, what was most impactful about reading from diverse authors, was the subtly authors included racism in the books. It made me, as the reader, feel what is a normal, everyday occurrence for the characters, which of course represents real experiences of people in life. Just like soft news has a better educational impact on folk who would otherwise not be exposed to news at all, these books could show privilege to white readers who refuse to read anti-racism educational books.
The Books I Read
I didn’t quite get through as many books as I wanted, but I do feel like I ended up with a great year of books. And I have more to continue reading!
Want to know my thoughts about them? Check out my reviews on Goodreads.
This list is a mix of fiction and non-fiction books where the main purpose was to address racism (mostly against black people). I thought it deserved it’s own category.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
Easy Romantic Fiction
- The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
- The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
- The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang – shoutout for having a neurodiverse main character and author!
- The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon
- The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
- The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
- A Lowcountry Bride by Preslaysa Williams
These were nonfiction books where the central theme wasn’t addressing racism, though in some of the autobiographies being a person of color played an important role in how the author developed his/her/their sense of self.
- Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui
- More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are by Elaine Welteroth
- Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
- The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala
- Severance by Ling Ma
- The Deep by Rivers Solomon
- Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
There were two books I started and, despite giving them multiple tries, I could not finish.
- I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillian
- I tried to read this on three separate occasions. I dislike it and will not try again. Ever.
- Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
- I hope I’ll be able to finish this one day because it’s an interesting topic. I just find Giridharadas’s writting very dry.