Reading Beyond the Canon

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 OyeyemiBoy Snow Bird, White is for Witching, The Icarus Girl
  • James St. JamesFreak 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 AngelsWasteland, 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 Bolaño2666, Distant Star, The Savage Detectives
  • Emma Donoghue — Kissing the Witch, Slammerkin, Room
  • Marlon JamesA Brief History of Seven Killings, The Book of Night Women
  • Audre LordeSister Outsider, Zami, A Burst of Light
  • Manil SuriThe City of Devi, Death of Vishnu
  • César AiraHow I Became a Nun, The Hare, The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aria
  • Tananarive DueThe Good House, The Living Blood, My Soul to Take, The Black Rose
  • Olga BroumasBeginning 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 WhiteheadZone One, John Henry Days, The Nobel Hustle

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[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

2 thoughts on “Reading Beyond the Canon”

  1. This is one proper list!

    I feel like that my library visits take a little bit care of adding diversity, but through the years I’ve been adding a bit more time on looking for female and/or poc authors. Liking stories outside western society/countries helps as well.

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