One of the things I’m committed to doing in the face of white supremacy is uplifting and supporting the voices of people of colour. This includes buying, reading, and promoting books by people of colour! Three years ago, I was disappointed when I looked back at all the books I had read that year and noticed that I had read a dismal amount of books by authors of colour. Fellow white readers, I urge you to have a look at what you are reading; you may think you are “reading diversely,” like I did, when you are in fact reading a majority of books by white people. We already know that the publishing industry is racist: in the numbers and types of books that are published by authors of colour, in the lack of people of colour working in the publishing industry, and in the amount of money that is put behind books by white authors for promotion. We also already know that it’s impossible for white people not to be affected by racist ideology when they grow up in a racist society. But it’s possible to make positive changes in your reading habits; in fact, it’s pretty easy!
Here’s what I did: after one year of reading only books by QTPOC as a special project, I set a goal of having at least half of the books I read every year be ones by authors of colour. So far I have found this to be really awesome for my personal reading experiences, because a) I have discovered a ton of rad books that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t specifically sought them out, and b) I have learned so much about other races, ethnicities, cultures, and racism. Also: it’s simple but it’s the truth: buying books by authors of colour puts money in the pockets of people of colour, which is extremely important when economic disparity is a major result of systemic racism.
If you don’t have the funds to buy new books, there are also other ways to support writers of colour: namely, promote their books! There are lots of ways to promote books that don’t cost you a thing:
- Write Goodreads and Amazon reviews (Also, reading and sharing reviews by readers who share the identities with the author and/or characters is great and will help you not to talk about stuff you’re not qualified to talk about in your review!)
- Talk about and promote the books on social media; use the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag!
- Recommend the books to family and friends, and not just when the topic is race or when someone specifically asks for a book by an author of colour
- If you belong to a book club, actively choose books by authors of colour and pay attention to the ratio of white vs. authors of colour that you discuss
- Check out books by authors of colour from your library. Libraries keep stats of how often books circulate, so checking them out shows the library there is an interest in these books and encourages them to keep them (and books like them) on the shelves.
- If your local library doesn’t already own a copy of a book by a person of colour that you think they should, ask them to order it! Most libraries should have an online form on their website for this (often called a “suggest a purchase”), or you can ask someone at the library in person.
Here are my favourite books by authors of colour that I’ve read this year, in case you need some starting off suggestions. These are all over the map genre- and style-wise but they are all amazing books. Please add your favourite books by authors of colour in the comments!
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
I LOVE Eden Robinson (and wrote at length about her on Book Riot earlier this year). I was super pumped when I found out she had a new book coming out in 2017. This novel is SO worth the wait. It’s about Jared, a sixteen-year-old burnout who drinks too much and smokes too much pot and lives with his mom, who he can’t trust to not bail on him and the bills or to not beat up guys who admittedly deserve it. But Jared is not a stereotype and not what an outsider would think: he’s also an incredibly compassionate person, to the point that others take advantage of him, and a person simply in search of not wanting to hurt or be hurt. All this coming-of-age story is incredible in and of itself, but the small magical touches that Robinson has sprinkled throughout the story suddenly burst to the forefront of the narrative in a totally unexpected way at the end, making you glad this book is the first in a new trickster trilogy. Here’s an excerpt of hilarious dialogue from when Jared is still a little kid:
“Where’s Jim-Bob?” his mom said.
“Whoring,” Nana Sophia said.
“He’s a walking dick these days,” Nana Sophia said. “Thank you, Viagra. I hope his heart pops like the cancerous zit it is.”
“Jared’s right here,” his dad said.
“Fine. No cookies and no unpleasant truths. Dry toast and stern lecture for everyone.”
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
I almost hesitate to even call this novel fantasy, since it’s so leagues ahead and so much more innovative and imaginative than any other fantasy I’ve ever read that it’s hard to even compare to any run-of-the-mill medieval Europe inspired fantasy. It’s one of the few books I’ve read (Octavia Butler’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s are also among them) that makes me just marvel at the capabilities of the human imagination. The Fifth Season is set on a continent under the constant threat of apocalypse via natural disaster. Some people in this world, including the main character, have the gift or curse—depending on how you look at it—of being able to move and control the forces beneath the earth’s surface; in other words, they can stop or … cause natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, etc. The story follows one such woman as she grapples with the aftermath of the biggest apocalypse of them all. The world-building is amazingly inventive and complex, the cast is full of complex, fascinating characters (human and sort-of-human), and the plotting is deftly crafted, with a few brilliant twists. This is the first book in a trilogy, but good news is both the second book The Obelisk Gate and third book The Stone Sky are out as of August 15th, so you can binge read them all now! Bonus: there are also casually included trans, gay, and bisexual characters.
A Place Called NO HOMELAND by Kai Cheng Thom
I mean, if you read my blog and you haven’t got your hands on this book yet, I’m not sure what to say. HAVEN’T YOU BEEN PAYING ATTENTION? It is the best book of poetry I have read IN YEARS. A Place Called NO HOMELAND is a fucking phenomenal collection of poetry featuring tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. Her poems have strong roots in oral traditions and spoken word, making it so you can really hear them in your mind and heart. They’re tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love. She writes: “dear white gay men: / you are neither the face / of my oppression / nor the hands /of my salvation.” She also begins another poem with: “All i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory to my sisters”; singing glory to her sisters is exactly what Kai Cheng Thom has done in this collection, and it is beautiful. You can read my full review here.
Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang
This debut novel was one of those glorious reading experiences for me where I had no real expectations and wasn’t even sure what the book was about and I ended up loving it. Small Beauty is a quiet, meditative, introspective novel, that I read a lot of when I was in the bath, and that seemed like the perfect place. Small Beauty invites you to be in that kind of space, because that’s exactly where the main character Mei is. Mei is a young, queer, mixed-race trans woman dealing with some big stuff: her cousin—who was like her brother—recently passed away and now she has to deal with all of that aftermath of a relative’s death, including leaving the big city she lives in and going to the small town and living in the house she has now inherited. While Mei is at her cousin’s house, she is slowly unravelling some of the details of his and her aunt’s life, including unearthing some secrets that show she’s not the only queer person in the family. She especially reflects on being trans and on having Chinese and white ancestry. Flashbacks also take us to her city life. It’s a beautifully authentic, natural, own voices story about the kind of person who isn’t the protagonist of a piece of fiction nearly often enough. Read my full review here.
Rose’s Run by Dawn Dumont
I first discovered Dawn Dumont last year when I was doing a project on Indigenous women writers and was thrilled to discover this gem of a writer whose first book Nobody Cries At Bingo had me killing myself with laughter. This second novel is just as fabulous and funny as her first, but this time it comes with a magical realist twist. The main character and plot synopsis is: “Rose Okanese, a single mother with two kids, has been pushed into a corner by Rez citizens to claim some self-respect, and decides that the fastest way to do that is to run the reserve’s annual marathon. Though Rose hasn’t run in twenty years, smokes, and initially has little motivation, she announces her intention to run the race. One quality Rose doesn’t lack is spontaneity which sometimes clashes with her iron will and, though she has initial regrets about opening her mouth, her life begins to dictate that she must follow through.” At first the supernatural turn at the end of the novel surprised me—in a gloriously feminist revenge scenario, Dream Woman comes to possess the women of the reserve and make them turn on the men. But then I looked back and saw to my delight the signs all along. Above all it’s a story about a mother in her mid-thirties in a moving but hilarious struggle to re-invent herself after her dirtbag husband leaves her and she loses her job. There are some really tender moments alongside lots of laugh out loud ones. For example: “It was a bad sign when people spoke confidently of your husband’s dick size” and “His upper body was firm and muscular, and his butt was as perky as a Christian at a church picnic.” Dumont also has a brand-new book called Glass Beads out that I am super excited to read!
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
A total delight from start to finish, Ghost is a deceptively simple story about 13-year-old urban Black kid Castle Crenshaw, aka “Ghost.” One day while killing time in the park, he stumbles upon a track practice and ends up racing one of the fastest kids on the team—and winning. Impressed, the coach offers Ghost a spot on the team. Kind of against his better judgement—he’s always thought of himself as a basketball player even though he’s not on a team—Ghost joins up. He soon discovers that the other newbies on the team and his new coach are pretty cool, and that he’s actually really into running. But it’s not that simple. Ghost has a lot of other stuff going on in his life that are obstacles to his success: the reason his dad’s in jail (for shooting at him and his mom), the fact that his mom’s overworked and they’re still poor, and a whole lot of anger. It turns out his nickname is pretty apt, given how haunted by the past he is. This is a sensitive, realistic look at a young person dealing with trauma and trying to avoid the crushing effects of racism, poverty, and abuse; but the novel is never preachy or heavy. It also doesn’t provide easy answers, or present sports as a magical solution for Black teen boys, and it resists tropes associated with this kind of narrative. It shows how powerful the influence of supportive, understanding adults can have on so-called at-risk kids. The audiobook narrator Guy Lockard is superb, delivering authentic voices especially for Ghost and the coach. The sequel Patina focusing on a different character is also out now!
Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto
I finally picked up this novel as part of my project this year to read all the amazing books I already own, and I couldn’t believe I’d had this book just sitting on my bookshelf for years unread. What a beautiful novel! It’s quite amazing to know that it was Vancouver writer Goto’s debut as well. It’s a magical realist tale set in Alberta sabout family, immigration, stories, food, the land, and culture, narrated from multiple perspectives. I loved Naoe the grandmother character, who was so funny and wise and unabashedly sexual. I ask you, when was the last time you read a book from an elderly person’s perspective that talked frankly about their sexuality? Probably never. The exploration of Naoe’s relationship with her granddaughter was particularly fascinating, as the younger and older generations come together to bond over Japanese cultural traditions and language that the middle generation has been compelled to discard with the pressure of assimilation into mainstream—read: white—Canadian society. Chorus of Mushrooms is a fantastic Canadian feminist classic that should definitely be more widely read. Check out this excerpt from Naoe’s point of view:
It’s sadly unfortunate that I was too angry to enjoy sex when I had it. Too bitter, too proud to fall into my flesh. Long after the divorce, I still wouldn’t let anyone touch the surface of my skin. Not even Keiko. Now I pay, I suppose. Eighty-five years old and horny as a musk-drenched cat. The only human contact I have now is when Keiko washes my hair. When Murasaki sometimes hugs me. I love them and their touch makes my old heart almost pain with emotion, but there is nothing for this dull beating ache I find between my thighs. Most unseemly, to be this age and horny, but it is funny after all. This muttering, old, lamb-haired Obāchan wearing elastic-waisted polyester pants, brown collarless shirt with pink flowers, grey cardigan and heel imprinted slippers. Just pulling out the waistband with one quavering hand and the other just about to slip into cotton briefs, toying with the idea of—
‘Obāchan! What are you doing?!’
The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
Along with The Fifth Season and its sequel, The Conjoined is one of my most un-putdownable books of the year (although that’s really a metaphor, since I listened to the audiobook version). It’s one of those deliciously genre-defying books: part family drama and part mystery. Here’s the basic premise: “On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.” The narrative jumps back and forth in time as Jessica explores her mother’s past and that of Casey and Jamie, uncovering more and more secrets. Lee immerses you in those tough moments, never failing to envoke the hard questions, like what effects supposedly good systems social welfare systems actually have on vulnerable populations. The characters were expertly drawn, all authentic and sympathetic, all far from perfect. Lee’s writing is incisive, thoughtful, and generous. I can’t believe this is only the first book by her that I’ve read. And it’s set in Vancouver! The audiobook voice actor was pitch perfect, by the way, if you’re into that format. This would be a great book for fans of Megan Abbott, especially Dare Me.
Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson
Some books are just like a delicious treat that you want to savour for as long as possible. Love Beyond Body, Space, & Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-Fi Anthology is one of those books. It’s a slim volume of short stories that I could have powered through in a few hours, but I drew out my reading of it, reading one story at a time, managing to stretch the reading experience over three weeks. Alas, it finally had to end, but you can read it for the first you still, lucky you! This is just a great anthology of stories. I’d actually label the stories together under the bigger umbrella of speculative fiction, or at least say they’re science fiction and fantasy. Also, there is a nice variety of author backgrounds represented: Anishinaabe, Lipan Apache, Cree, Cherokee, and more. All the authors are Indigenous, and most of them identify as LGBT and/or two-spirit. Two essays introducing some two-spirit history and what these writers find powerful in speculative genres precede the stories themselves. My favourites were: a lesbian romance set in space aboard a ship full of pet dogs being transported to Mars; a tale with a powerful twist about the future of queer dating featuring a young Cree woman and VR gone wrong; a hard sci-fi story about Aanji, a “noncitizen” in the process of transforming herself, in a process that is at once a unique invention but one that has undeniable parallels to trans journeys. See my full review here.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
I cannot sell this book better than the official blurb can, which is what got me to say “Damn, I need to read this yesterday”:
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
I LOVED the character of Binti and thought the world building in this novella was so rad! I also really appreciated how there was a strong presence of the natural world, so often ignored in sci fi in favour of technology. In fact, this book made me realize how much that is missing in SF. More nature in SF, please! If you’re into audiobooks, this is narrated by Robin Miles, who is a supremely talented voice actor and one of the best audiobook narrators out there. Also, if you love Binti and want more, there are TWO sequels already!
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu
I was SUPER lucky to be offered a review copy of this book by the author and to get the chance to interview her for a piece on Autostraddle that I wrote about this debut novel. It’s a beautiful book about 20-something millennial freelancer Lakshmi, aka Lucky. Lucky is a lesbian; her husband Kris also knows he’s gay. They present their marriage of convenience to their conservative Sri Lankan families, but they each date on the side. Lucky isn’t sure how long she can hold up this façade, though; as the novel progresses, she becomes increasingly desperate to live out as a lesbian. This book is a no-holds-barred look at the supremely tough position queer women of colour like Lucky are put in: queerness is assumed to be white, so queer people of colour face racism in queer communities; but queer women of colour can also face homophobia and sexism from their racialized communities, giving them no place where they can be themselves. This is my favourite quotation from the book:
Let me tell you something about being brown like me: your story is already written for you. Your free will, your love, your failure, all of it scratched into the cosmos before you’re even born. My mother calls it fate, the story written on your head by the stars, by the gods, never by you.
(Note: All the book titles are linked to Amazon.com if that’s where you buy your books, but I encourage you to buy them at a local independent bookstore if you can!)