Since I started a journey of writing a memoir several years ago it has become clearer to me why we need to support books written by women of color. Its harder for women of color to build a large national author platform, get a literary agent, get a book deal, or even have a national bestseller. I’ve had one literary agent say to me that she didn’t know how she would “break me out”. She mentioned that the content is great and the raw talent was there but it just wasn’t enough. I still appreciate that she told me that my material was great and that I had the talent and that I should never give up. Some literary agents just flat out reject you. I am still on my journey to find a literary agent. Most women of color are rejected by the publishing industry so often they end up self-publishing.
People of Color are also overlooked to write, direct, and star in movies and TV (2018’s release of two major blockbusters by Directors of Color, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, is not typical and can be considered outliers).
The last three books I’ve personally read (The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, and Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue) were all written by women of color. The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander had such a profound impact on me that I mentioned it recently in an article I wrote for the New York Observer.
It was far from a conscious decision on my part to choose these books. I’d picked these books based on their themes and relative closeness to my memoir and childhood upbringing. So you can imagine that if we are all sub-consciously picking books based on our unique experiences, that the writers in the minority would often get overlooked as their experiences aren’t seen as “mainstream culture” and suited for academy award-winning Oscars. But that, in itself, is telling of the ways Writers of Color are often overlooked by the publishing industry.
Here are 23 books by Women of Color you should read in 2018.
Tony Morrison Beloved
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
The House of the Spirits
Often used as the poster child for Magical Realism, this multi-generational epic is Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende’s most famous work. It’s set in a politically-fraught country believed to be modeled after Allende’s own Chile, following an affluent family as the world around them is changed by dictatorship, war, and poverty.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Angelou is one of 20th-century America’s most famous poets and writers, her first memoir an undeniable classic. She writes about growing up in the segregated south with her brother and grandmother, exploring the effects of racism, rape, identity, literacy, and power.
The House On Mango Street
This semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel uses sharp, descriptive vignettes — not quite story, not quite essay, not quite poem — to tell the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago.
The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s novel, which follows several African American women in the rural 1930s south, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983. Exploring class, violence, and poverty, this hugely-important novel was later adapted into a musical and movie of the same name.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Though originally poorly received when published in 1937, the book is now hailed as a classic and a seminal piece of American and feminist literature, following an African American woman’s complex life, her three marriages, and her enduring sense of self.
Non-fiction and Memoir
The Light of the World
In Light of the world, Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an essential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid prose, Alexander presents us with the heartrending story of a soul mate found and lost.
The Year of Yes
In this poignant, hilarious and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywoods most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Greys Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder, reveals how saying YES changed her life – and how it can change your life too.
The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq
Dunya Mikhail, a journalist and poet who herself immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq, tells the true story of women kidnapped by Daesh (ISIS) and how a beekeeper helped them escape.
In her first memoir, Porochista Khakpour explores illness, wellness, and healing as she writes about being chronically ill with late-stage lyme disease, and how life — love, sex, friendships, work — don’t and can’t just stop when you’re sick.
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women In America
In this book, Melissa Harris-Perry dives into and dismantles some of the most pervasive stereotypes about Black women, and how said stereotypes affect modern Black women’s understanding of themselves.
PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS AND ASHA BANDELE
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
This #1 New York Times Bestseller tells the story of the two women who founded #BlackLivesMatter, and how each of their unique upbringings brought them together to start a movement.
Activist Janet Mock uses her memoir to write about her experience as a Black, trans woman and how those identities intersect. Throughout the book, she explores and asks what “real” even means — and who gets to decide.
BEHOLD THE DREAMERS
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six year old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clarke’s wife, Cindy even offers Neni temporary work at their home in the Hamptons. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
Americanah explores a woman’s perception of race, and how it changed after immigrating from Nigeria to America. Bonus: Lupita Nyong’o will be starring in the TV adaptation of the book.
Children of Blood & Bone
A 20-foot billboard for the soon-to-be-released Children of Blood and Bone currently stands on Hollywood Boulevard. The book is described as an Epic West African Fantasy novel and is the literary debut for Tomi Adeyemi, who is just 24 years old.
For Today I am a Boy
This critically-acclaimed coming-of-age-story follows the life of Peter Huang, a Chinese-Canadian, transgender child who, despite being born a boy, is certain she is a girl.
Sharp and completely original, Freshwater is told from the perspective of a Nigerian woman with multiple personality disorder, with perspectives alternating between her many selves.
A poetic memoir and collection of essays, Heart Berries tells the story of growing up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation, and how a dark and dysfunctional upbringing did (and didn’t) affect Mailhot’s diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II disorder.
British Writer Zadie Smith’s work has appeared everywhere from The New Yorker to The Atlantic. Now, she’s compiled a book of essays with her insightful musings on politics, culture, technology, and love.
Roxane Gay has skyrocketed to literary stardom in recent years, and Bad Feminist is by far one of her most popular works. The collection of essays combines stories of her upbringing and experiences with analysis of race, fatness, pop-culture, and — yes — feminism.
All You Can Ever Know
Though it won’t be released until October 2018, Nicole Chung’s personal account of searching for her Korean birth parents. Celeste Ng, author of last year’s runaway hit, Little Fires Everywhere, says, “This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family ― which is to say, everyone.”
CHERRÍE MORAGA AND GLORIA ANZALDÚA
This Bridge Called My Back
This collection of poetic essays from Black, Asian, Latina, and Native American writers explores the way Women of Color are often left behind in a feminist movement that too often pretends to be colorblind.
What books by women of color have you read and loved lately? I wanna know, tell me below!