recs for expanding and diversifying your reading list

As a library employee, friends and strangers alike are always asking me for book recommendations. I used to give the same tired old list of white, male authors that everyone’s heard of: “Have you read Slaughterhouse Five?”. I was a failure.

In the last couple of years, though, I’ve challenged myself to read books that are specifically not by white, male authors- there’s nothing wrong with being a white, male author, but their work certainly shouldn’t be the only thing one reads, and certainly not all the same guys!

I firmly believe in the capability of reading to expand our minds and place us in the shoes of others in a more genuine way than anything else. With that in mind, I have lists of fiction and nonfiction that I think is incredibly valuable from both a social justice perspective as well as a tool for exercising our imaginations. I promise to do a post that focuses more on why I think particular kinds of fiction are so very important (which was the foundation of my undergraduate research), but for now, here are a few favorites of mine.

Fiction

  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Gutshot by Amelia Gray (this is a weird-as-hell short story collection)
  • On Strike Against God by Joanna Russ
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf (a choreopoem) by Ntozake Shange
  • Beyond the Pale by Elena Dykewomon
  • Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
  • Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
  • Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
  • Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
  • Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements (a fantastic anthology of speculative fiction upon which I based my undergrad capstone- special thanks to its amazing editors Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Them by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Kabu-Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor (another favorite collection of shorts)
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  • Adrift in a Vanishing City by Vincent Czyz
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Nonfiction

  • Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War On Drugs by Johann Hari
  • Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua
  • The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  • Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton
  • Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis
  • How To Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ
  • This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color
  • Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks
  • Sister Outsider (essays and speeches) by Audre Lorde
  • Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
  • Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance by Leonard Peltier
  • Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing

Note: I’ll probably continue adding to and editing these lists- so don’t forget to check back!

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