I’m white. Most of you reading this are white. How many of you read books by black writers? If the thought is a new one, but you’re intrigued, visit White Readers Meet Black Writers (via Follow The Reader–thanks, Charlotte).
I’ve never really paid much attention to the colour of the writer of the books I read–which means, of course, that I don’t read much fiction by people of colour. Like ‘lesbian novels’, fiction by POC is usually stuck in its own tiny section at the back of the
bus store. Unless it’s a huge hit (Tipping the Velvet, Middle Passage), no one from Straight White World sees it.
So what good books–let’s stick to fiction for now, any genre–by writers of colour would you (and I mean all of you, of every colour, sexuality, sex and gender) like to recommend to other readers of this blog? I can definitely recommend The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, the story of blacks owning blacks in the antebellum south. Ash by Malinda Lo (coming in September), a retelling of Cinderella. Just about everything by Octavia Butler.
How about you?
31 thoughts on “white readers”
Just about anything by Samuel R. Delany.
Ditto Nalo Hopkinson.
Last book by a person of colour– Dexter Palmer's “Dream of Perpetual Motion” (http://mordicai.livejournal.com/1692585.html) or well…some of the contributors to a non-fiction book I read after that on the indigenous Tibetan religion of Bon (http://mordicai.livejournal.com/1693337.html) were non-white, at least judging by names, which is hardly a perfect rubric.
Anyhow, a blog on integrating it into my reading habits is appreciated!
Though in defense of the “African American” genre-nook; same as with any other genre nook– in my experience, if you remove it, you end up alienating buyers. If you (the buyer) shelve all the books you would put in an “African American” section in the plain fiction/nonfiction section, people who come in looking for an “African American” book– whether it is Noire's urban fiction or Maya Angelou poems or Octavia Butler sci-fi– end up walking out, assuming your shelves are just filled with dead white dudes. At some point, genre sections serve the reader, you know?
Though soon enough I think you are right– “tags” will replace genre.
David Anthony Durham – the new Acacia novels (fantasy series). He also does some historical fiction, but haven't read that yet.
I honestly love literature from all across the globe (regardless of skin color). With that said,some of my favorite black (african-american and african) literature include:
– Sula – Toni Morrison
– The Women of Brewster Place – Gloria Naylor
– Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
– I know why the Caged Bird Sings – Toni Morrison
– Roots – Alex Haley
– Their Eyes were watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
This is very timely since (as your link points out) we just lost a great storyteller, E. Lynn Harris.
Walter Mosley is a mystery and general fiction writer. His Easy Rawlins series starts with Devil in a Blue Dress. The SF of his that I like best is “Futureland,” but it's pretty bitter. I've read just about everything I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, he's prolific, and I've fallen behind. Alas!
cheryl, chadao, what do you like about Chip and Nalo's work?
rebecca, I just couldn't get on with Acacia. Too verbose. What did you like about it?
rachel, I don't really get on with Toni Morrison (I've struggled through Jazz, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye) but I think you might mean Maya Angelou.
je.e. knowles, yes, that was a shock. Have you read his work?
Well I'm latino, where does that left me? And I've read Octavia Butler and Chip Delany and I've delighted enormously what they've written. Not to mention I think there are white writers who through their vast knowledge of the modern world can assume any possible pov (like Bruce Sterling in 'Holy Fire' or Neil Gaiman in 'Anansi Boys' [ok, I'm not being kosher, he's jew, but then again, ethnics should be an oximoron when reading a good book]. Look I'm not saying afro-americans are inferior: damn! One of my favorite writers is Dwayne McDuffie, but we cannot settle this as the good old 'white vs. black' issue :(
The databases we started with at Storycasting – authors and actors – were seriously white, and I've been asking members to recommend non-white authors and actors. The posts here constitute a small but good resource; we'll be putting all of these on the site, thanks.
luke, I liked Devil in a Blue Dress quite a bit, but found my enjoyment diminishing as I read into the series. And his SF is incoherent (at least I can't make head nor tail of it).
daniel, well, I probably expressed myself badly. The question is open to everyone who reads this blog. I just wanted to acknowledge the fact that the majority of my readers are white. I think what makes a book worth reading is how good the writer is, not the colour of her skin, or who he has sex with, or whether s/he stands or sits to pee. I don't think those identifiers make it impossible to write well from other perspectives, either. They can make it difficult, but, eh, then the writer just has to step up her game.
I don't race check, but I sex check. I am not reading books by male writers most of the time.
Octavia Butler is one of my all time favourite authors, and every few years I go through and reread them all again.
Toni Morrison's Beloved just blew me away. I didn't get on with all of Alice Walker's novels, but The Color Purple is a classic. An author I read at university was Buchi Emecheta – a Nigerian author wrote books about the role of women in African society – I particularly rated The Bride Price.
“I just wanted to acknowledge the fact that the majority of my readers are white.”
Not to further sidetrack your point, Nicola, but still – it's interesting to note. How do you know that? I'm guessing it's probably so, but aren't you just assuming that as well?
In LA whites are the minority.
I'm biased, but I'd add some West Indian authors to the suggestions above.
Lonely Londoners – Samuel Selvon
Miguel Street – V.S Naipaul
In the Castle of My Skin – George Lamming
Anything at all by Derek Walcott and Staceyann Chin
I'm black and as most of the world, I read a lot of white authors. Octavia Butler is indeed one of my all time favorite black authors. I have all her books and am sad because there won't be any more. I'll get back to you on more fiction titles as my library is mostly non-fiction.
Nicola, I do apologize for becoming this an issue of so-called 'race' since 'race' is actually a non-extant issue accoding to modern biology (which can inspire some weird ideas for modern SF). I merely (and foolishly) asumed this was an issue of ethnic nationality (*sigh* that backward am I) and misinterpreted so I hope after our exchanges of messages in facebook there is no grude.
And to show my good faith think of this: how would fare well the idea of mixing up Nanny Fine with Frank Black of 'Milennium' fame? 'Fran Black'? :)
Otherwise than that shed light over a whole new branch of literature I didn't knew even a bit it's a great job. Keep doing so much good Nicola.
There was a brief vogue for commonwealth writers in the UK in the early 80s–which is when I read people like Buchi Emecheta and Jamaica Kincaid (which led me to novels like Sula and The Bluest Eye; at the same time I was following the dyke track to Alice Walker's Meridian, Audre Lorde's Zami and Angelou's memoirs, then in the US to Shay Youngblood).
steadycat, what's your favourite Butler? I think Kindred is awesome, Parable of the Sower illuminating, and the Xenogenesis trilogy creepy but interesting.
natasha, I've heard great things about Stacyann Chin's new memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, though I got so overdosed on dyke bio/memoir last year that I haven't been able to bring myself to read it. Anyone out there read it?
jennifer, yep, it's as assumption, based on random sets of data e.g. more white people than POC in most of the countries where my readers live; what I know of those readers I've actually met or corresponded with offline; and other stuff. My guess is that most of my readers are straight, too, though I don't have data.
daniel, grudge? Nah. Not even close. We're just talking…
Oh I've heard of Octavia Butler, always in glowing terms! I have to look her stuff up!
Kai, I think that's intriguing, because I think I tend to gravitate toward male writers and characters, both in reading and in writing. I'm trying to round myself out, but the inclination is still there. I just find myself sinking more deeply into books written by males about males. I wonder why that is, or if it's even really true or just some weird perception I have about myself?
He doesn't write fiction (per se), but I can heartily recommend Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Blink! I'm also interested in reading Outliers…
oops yep i meant Maya Angelou…. thanks for the catch!
Natasha – I have a question about West Indian culture / writers… I live in a NYC neighborhood where many of my neighbors are West Indian. They do not consider themselves black or African-American. (I have been corrected on this point.) They consider themselves West Indian Americans. If a culture does not perceive themselves a certain way should we as outsiders classify them otherwise? I personally do not know the answer to this question as I also am an outsider. If there is a West Indian following this comment board I would also be interested in your input.
yes, that was a shock. Have you read his work?
I've read everything E. Lynn Harris ever wrote. I am sorry not to have any future novels to look forward to. He was always self-deprecating about not being literary “like James Baldwin,” but at his best, his stories showed me the lives of characters I could never be in real life. Not just black, but male. Bisexual. To me, one of the great gifts of fiction is to take me, the reader, inside the minds of impossibly different people and make me feel what they feel.
People here have named a good many of the writers I would mention — Hopkinson, Delany, Butler, Mosley, Achebe, Emecheta, Lorde; I'd add James Baldwin (the essays, not the fiction for the most part), Paule Marshall, Pearl Cleage, James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, John Williams's The Man Who Cried I Am, and the gay black anthologies In The Life and Brother to Brother.
I was brought up short by E. Lynn Harris's death, partly because it was sudden and partly because every time someone younger than I am dies, I feel mortality's winged chariot drawing near. I've read several of his books, and while they're juicy romances, quite entertaining, I've never taken them seriously as depictions of black male bisexual life, any more than I'd take, say, Jennifer Blake as a window on white heterosexual women. Their fantasy lives, maybe. I once reviewed Harris's “I Say a Little Prayer” at my blog, and one of the things I noticed about it and his other books was that everybody is physically perfect — no little dicks or men with more than about 5% body fat. Queens are allowed as comic relief. The depiction of women also leaves something to be desired: they're either gold-digging bitches (as in Basketball Jones) who try to break up the perfect love between the male leads, or best-buddy types. There's nothing wrong with writing romance fantasies, but they don't give me much insight into real people's lives. And I agree, Nicola, such insight is one of the major things I want from fiction.
Never heard of James Weldon Johnson–so thanks for that.
I know what you mean about that winged chariot. I'll be 50 next year and the very notion sort of does my head in. I like being older and wiser, but I already miss not being under 40 and therefore still eligible for all those Young Author With Potential lists. Sigh.
As for Harris… Well, sadly, often writers who are popular are popular because they don't challenge too many stereotypes at once. (Not a hard and fast rule but it happens often enough for me to take note.)
It's promising to know that so many people like Octavia Butler, since I bought one of her books yesterday.
I also love Toni Morrison, I was really happy when she won the Nobel prize.
@Rachel- The Bohemian. We are not African-American, and we're not homogeneous. We can be of African, European, Indian, Amerindian, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent. We are West Indian. There's really no other way to describe it. Unless… you're willing to sit through a history lesson.
There's a generally annoying habit of lumping us together as being from “the islands”. However, English speaking West Indians, are not the same as French speaking West Indians, who are not the same as Dutch speaking West Indians, who are in no way similar to those from the Spanish speaking islands.
Although, if you live in Flatbush most of the people you know are from the English speaking islands. Even then the differences (culturally, ethnically, linguistically) between the islands are stark.
I'll use my family as an example. If you look at a bunch of us all together you can see that our ancestors were varied. Some of my aunts look white, and other family members look Chinese. My Dad's youngest brother keeps his head shaved because his hair is mixture of textures – long straight red hair interspersed with curly African type hair. I heard it was impossible to manage.
Our heritage, ethnic or otherwise, is an amalgam of every group of people who wandered through the region. We are not any one thing.
Speaking for myself, I am proud of my heritage. I'm proud to be the child of slaves, slave owners, indentured servants, horse thieves and traveling merchants. I don't want any of my heritage belittled, dismissed or left out. Therefore, I am not African-American. I am not Black. I am West Indian.
I try not to recommend (or review) fiction in a public forum, because taste is so personal. For example, I have found many books and movies laugh-out-loud hilarious, even though someone dies or there is other tragedy in the story. I have often been looked at incredulously for finding comedy in tragedy.
For me, it's a given that fiction is not going to show me the facts about a group of people–even fiction that is not classified as genre or romance. My admiration for E. Lynn Harris is not for that, but for his rise from self-publishing to bestsellerdom (publishing “wisdom” was that no one wanted to read about black gay men–fantasy or not). The part of his characters' lives that I do find realistic is their struggle with faith and family issues. For me, personally, this strikes closer to home than almost any white and/or lesbian characters I can think of.
Thanks to you all for this great list of authors, some of whom I had forgotten about!
Yes, it is a great though far from complete list. But to leave out Ralph Ellison just proves and reproves the point of The Invisible Man. And contemporaneously, Susan Straight is on my current I can't wait to read her/his next list.
James Baldwin, James Baldwin, James Baldwin! Also Ralph Ellison. The reasonn is that both were aware, intelligent tortured sentient persons in a childish and destructive world called the dominant culture.
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