Over at xoJane this week, author K.T. Bradford posted about her efforts to read only works written by women or people of color or LGBTQ authors and challenged her readers to take up a similar goal for year. As this is the internet, it was not terribly surprising that the comment section of the post was filled with scathing rebuttals to Bradford’s suggestion ranging from the relatively mild, “eh, I don’t get the point” to the kneejerk claims of reverse racism.
Reading challenges are nothing novel — I participate in one every year, our own Karo read only female authors in 2014, you can find challenge suggestions all over Tumblr and Pinterest and Goodreads. What’s unique about Bradford’s is that it calls for others to break out of the comfort zone of the mainstream literary community, which is often dominated by the works of straight, white, cis men in both the classical Western canon and contemporary best seller lists. The point, which so many commenters seemed so determined to miss, is not that there are no books of merit being written by straight white dudes, but that there are also tons of works by women, LGBTQ, and non-Western authors that we miss because they’re harder to find, get less coverage, and aren’t publicized or reviewed in mainstream media. Our lives — both literary and otherwise — are enhanced when we broaden our horizons beyond what we’ve always been exposed to. If you’re an American reader, especially one educated in the public school system here, you’ve already spent a good chunk of your life marinating in the White Dude genre. A year isn’t really that much time in your reading life to look beyond those authors and themes — I swear that the canon will still be waiting for you at the end of it.
If you’re interested in participating in Bradford’s challenge or just adding some more diverse authors to your to-read pile, I gathered some suggestions to get your started. In addition to the author’s below, don’t forget to check out P-Mag’s books category to see reviews and recommendations we’ve made over the years.
- Sheri S. Tepper — The Gate to Women’s Country, Beauty, After a Long Silence
- Helen Oyeyemi — Boy Snow Bird, White is for Witching, The Icarus Girl
- James St. James — Freak Show and Disco Bloodbath (retitled Party Monster after the movie adaptation came out).
- Francesca Lia Block — After a long career spent writing lyrical young adult fiction with strong gay themes, Block has too many titles to choose from. Try Dangerous Angels, Wasteland, or Baby Be-Bop.
- Octavia Butler — A name that should be familiar to sci-fi or speculative fiction fans, start with the fantastic Kindred and move on to her Earthseed series.
- Paula Gunn Allen — Spider Woman’s Granddaughters, The Sacred Hoop, Life is a Fatal Disease
- N.K. Jemisin — Her book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was P-Mag’s first book club selection. The Inheritance Trilogy wrapped up in the years since and she’s currently publishing her Dreamblood series.
- Jeet Thayil — Narcopolis
- Diane Glancy — Primer of the Obsolete, Claiming Breath, Iron Woman
- Roberto Bolaño — 2666, Distant Star, The Savage Detectives
- Emma Donoghue — Kissing the Witch, Slammerkin, Room
- Marlon James — A Brief History of Seven Killings, The Book of Night Women
- Audre Lorde — Sister Outsider, Zami, A Burst of Light
- Manil Suri — The City of Devi, Death of Vishnu
- César Aira — How I Became a Nun, The Hare, The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aria
- Tananarive Due — The Good House, The Living Blood, My Soul to Take, The Black Rose
- Olga Broumas — Beginning with O
- Samuel R. Delaney — Another author with too many fantastic books to suggest, start with Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Dhalgren, Aye, and Gomorrah.
- Sarah Waters — Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith
- Colson Whitehead — Zone One, John Henry Days, The Nobel Hustle