When I was looking back on the books that I had read in 2014, I realized that, despite the fact that according to lots of people’s standards I read very ‘diverse’ books, I had read more than twice the amount of white authors compared to authors of colour. I was pretty disappointed in myself, so I decided that to ‘catch up,’ the next year (2015) I would try to read only books by queer and trans people of colour (QTPOC). How did this go? Well, it was disrupted by me going back to school and being forced to read a ton by straight white dudes (erg) but I still made an effort to choose POC authors for my reading-for-fun books—when I had the time to read for fun, that is. I didn’t particularly try for any mix of different ethnicities, although I had a vague idea of mixing it up, so it was pretty interesting when I tallied the books up in this pie chart:
I’ve never made a pie chart before—that was fun and easy! Anyway, not included here are some books by white people I had to read for school, and a few cheats when I just had to find out what happened in Saga and when I re-read Anne of Green Gables to comfort myself when I was super sick. It’s interesting that I didn’t read many books by Latin@ or Middle Eastern authors. I think cause I’m Canadian and the Latin American population here is so small compared to the US, books by Latin@ authors are harder to get here, and I just plain don’t hear of them. Although I was totally blown away by a few that I did read. But I have no theories about why I couldn’t find more Arab or Persian authors to read. As it was, I ended up reading a few books (one in French!) by the amazing graphic memoirist Marjane Satrapi, who isn’t actually queer. If you want to have a look at everything I read, look here.
I discovered a ton of awesome new (to me) authors last year that I’m excited to read more from: in particular, Anchee Min, Daisy Hernández, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Charles M. Blow, and Deborah Miranda. All of those are writers I only discovered through consciously searching for QTPOC writers. I pride myself on being kind of a queer book expert, so if I hadn’t heard of some of these authors, that must be really annoying for new QTPOC readers looking for books to reflect their experiences! Of course, my cultural/racial background is a factor here, so maybe if I wasn’t white, I would be more likely to have heard of some of these great authors. Other authors I really enjoyed that I had heard of before but just hadn’t got around to reading yet: Daniel Heath Justice, Helen Oyeyemi, Vikram Seth, Ryka Aoki, Trish Salah, and Mia McKenzie. Google them and check them out! There’s a big variety of genre and style represented by that list (YA, fantasy, memoir, poetry, magical realism, fairy tale, and more!).
I guess the biggest thing I took away from this reading project is that a lot of these books are hard to track down, even more so than LGBTQ+ books in general—which is pretty difficult at times, from my experience. Sometimes, I found books I wanted to read, but then found out that I couldn’t get them in Canada—at least not without buying them through Amazon. I can’t afford to buy most of the books that I read, and I don’t usually take a chance on buying a book by an author I’ve never read unless something has been personally recommended. Also, my preference is not to buy things from Amazon unless I have to. Sometimes, though, when I was trying to track down authors, Amazon wasn’t even an option to get their book! Especially when I looked for books written by trans women of colour. I went to the trouble of ordering a book by Dane Figueroa Edidi, which looked so awesome, off her website, but then discovered she doesn’t ship to Canada (or rather, anywhere outside the US). And, I only managed to read Ryka Aoki’s awesome novel He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song) by requesting it through inter-library loans at the Vancouver Public Library. Lots of people probably don’t even know about that option, and I bet other libraries might not be able to get it. If a book isn’t available at the public library, or even in Canada through other means, that’s a pretty limiting economic factor, one that’s especially crucial for trans women of colour readers.
I noticed as the year went on that I was reading books that felt pretty different from what I was used to reading. For one, I had to read less Canadian authors than I normally do. When you added both POC and LGBTQ+ to the deciding factors, there just weren’t a lot of Canadian options (although I did read some books by old favourites of mine Dionne Brand and Shani Mootoo, both of whom fit the bill there). I also found myself reading a lot more non-fiction than I normally do. I’ve always considered myself a fiction person, but I read a ton of memoirs last year. Standouts were definitely Charles M. Blow and Daisy Hernández, who wrote amazing memoirs about growing up black and Latina—respectively—and bisexuality (among lots of other issues). Gorgeous writing in both of those books. I loved them. I wonder, though, is this a pattern where QTPOC are not encouraged to tell fictional stories, that it’s assumed the only stories they have to tell are ‘real-life’? I know this is definitely a problem with trans writers and the transition memoir format; Janet Mock’s memoir, which I read last year, definitely falls into that category. Cat Fitzpatrick explains more about that trend here (in relation to white writer Juliet Jacques’s Trans).
I also ended up reading a lot more men than I usually do: I read eight books by queer men of colour last year. I think that number of men is probably up from, uh, zero in past years. I even read a couple books by straight men of colour, Thomas King and Ta-Nehisi Coates, since everyone was talking about their books. King’s—The Inconvenient Indian—mostly reminded me about how lovely his fiction is and how I would have rather been reading that instead of his non-fiction. Like everyone else, I thought Coates’s was gorgeously written and powerful; the audiobook (read by the author) is great and I highly recommend it. But why did I end up reading books by men when I had set out to read books by queer women of colour? I don’t know, sexism. When you’re busy and you don’t have a lot of time to seek out and get a copy of a book, you pick up one that’s easy to find. It’s no coincidence that both Coates and King are thought of as spokespersons for their respective communities—an idea that’s problematic in and of itself—and they’re both men. I mean, that’s why their books are everywhere. That in itself isn’t a problem, but why don’t women of colour and their books hold those positions?
I feel like I learnt a lot last year reading through the lens of writers of colour. I don’t even know if it’s anything in particular I can pinpoint; it more feels like a slow expansion of my idea of what the world is like from different perspectives and a more nuanced awareness of my position in it. I feel like I learnt at the same time how different QTPOC’s lives—real and fictional—are and can be from my own, but also a lot of ways in which they can overlap. That feels pretty cool.
I think from now on I’m going to aim for 50 / 50 white and people of colour authors in my reading. What do you all think about that? Is that enough? Has anyone else tried a reading project like this? How did it go?