The Authors of Color I am reading in 2016

The books that I have loved in my life have taught me more than any classroom ever will.

As a child growing up on the West side of Evansville, Ind. among a predominantly white, German Catholic population, books allowed me insight into cultures and struggles that looked very different from my own. I will never forget in the second grade reading Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, or its sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, two books I discovered at the Scholastic Book Sale (which I loved nearly as much as Christmas as a kid) that told of racism during the Great Depression. Race was not a topic discussed in my family, or at my school, as our privilege allowed us to relegate it to brief sections in history books written by white men about wrongs done “in the past”. The Logan family was my first look at whiteness, identity, and the crimes committed against people of color in our country.

Taylor’s books inspired me to pick up Roots by Alex Haley two years later, a book so mind-blowing as a fourth grader that even though I could not comprehend all of its subject matter, the brutality and horrors of slavery and its very recent history seared into my brain the awfulness humans could do to one another. There were other books I remember reading and loving at that time as well — The Secret Garden, Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars about the Nazi Holocaust, Matilda by Roald Dahl, and anything written by young adult horror writer Christopher Pike — my eager young mind so easily shaped by the tales I devoured from my family’s car, my bed, and anywhere else I could find the quiet space to read.

College taught me a deep and profound love of non-fiction that stuck with me through most of my 20s and my early 30s. From Mary Karr’s Liar’s Club to How I Became Hettie Jones, the authors I loved most told heartbreaking true tales of life and love. I grew especially fond of storytellers like Karr who could make me laugh while they shared their tragedy. I spent much of my 20s seeking humorous non-fiction authors and reading every funny memoir I could get my hands on.

But at some point a few years ago, I realized my shelves were predominantly lined with men. David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, Dave Eggers and Nick Horby — all funny white guys. In 2014, with the help of Facebook crowd sourcing, I took on the task of reading only women non-fiction authors. The books were spectacular: Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World, Mary Roach’s Gulp, Elizabeth Warren’s A Fighting Chance, Azedah Moaveni’s Honeymoon in Tehran, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and more (Cheryl Strayed, Nora Ephron, Chelsea Handler, etc). It was such a great year of reading, I realized I should take on the task of crowd sourcing outside my usual realm every year.

Though 2015 began with an awful break up that threw me into a cloud of escapist fiction, I am back in 2016 with another list of crowd-sourced books, this time only including authors of color and Native authors. At a time when the #BlackLivesMatter movement has brought the issues of race, police brutality, white supremacy, and the urgency of dismantling institutional racism in everything from housing to health care to education to most certainly our criminal justice system, here is the list of books I am currently reading or planning to read:

  1. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden
  2. Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle (and re-read Between the World and Me)
  3. Sherman Alexie, Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  4. Edward P Jones, The Known World
  5. Jamie Ford, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
  6. Octavia Butler, Dawn
  7. Junot Diaz, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  8. Mia McKenzie, Black Girl Dangerous: On Race, Queerness, Class, and Gender
  9. Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic
  10. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Colored People
  11. Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
  12. Salvador Plascencia, The People of Paper
  13. Malcolm X

Have another recommendation? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @sarakseattle.

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