This summer, I am on a mission to diversify my reading list and bookshelves. It’s important to actively pick up books by non-white authors, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. If, like me, you are also trying to add some diversity to your bookshelves, here are 7 amazing books by women of color to read this summer.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston ($9.99)
So much of the classic literature written by old white men that high school English teachers fall all over themselves for, quite frankly, sucks. Not all of it, of course, but some of it. As a result, I went through a phase where I had an aversion to anything written before my mother was born. Obviously, that was ridiculous, and the book that made me realize I was wrong was Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie Crawford is such a dynamic character, and her story is so real and yet so enthralling. The story follows Janie as she grows up and navigates through marriages, tragedies, and town judgment. It’s one of those books that if you haven’t yet read, its just time to read. This book is paperback proof that women of color have been absolutely killing the literature game long before mainstream canon acknowledged it.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ($10.20)
This novel is probably one of my favorite books to come out in recent memory. It’s usually the first book I recommend to people when they ask what they should read next. That’s because I find it hard to believe that anyone could ever dislike this book. It follows Mia and Pearl Warren as they move to a new town and encounter the overly normal Richardson family. There are complex explorations of parenthood, family, love, and race as the story goes on. I tore through this book so fast because it was just impossible to put down. As well as being beautifully well-written, there’s a certain mystery to it. The book explores the secrets of suburbia and the consequences of those secrets, and it will keep you hooked to the very last page. Little Fires Everywhere is also now a TV show starring Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel ($9.99)
Like Water for Chocolate is one of the best examples of the magical realism genre out there. Everything about this book is special. Esquivel tells the story through recipes, one for each month of the year, but stretched over a twenty-year period. This novel is all at once hopelessly romantic and desperately sad. Something about the mix of love and romance and food and cooking blends so seamlessly into the story. It makes this novel such a comforting and unique read. It follows the story of Tita, 15 when the novel opens, and her journey through love and family obligations in Revolutionary-era Mexico. This is the perfect book to read at the beach this summer, or outside on a towel in the back yard. Or pretty much anywhere because it’s a good book. There is no wrong place to read a good book.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander ($14.22)
This is the only non-fiction book on this list. I was going to make this list only fiction books written by women of color, but The New Jim Crow is too good and too important to exclude from this list. This book is an incredibly well-researched and well-reasoned exploration of the prison-industrial complex and the racist foundations that mass-incarceration is built upon. This may not be the most page-turning beach read you’ll come across this summer. However, it is an absolutely essential piece of literature for anyone trying to educate themselves. The New Jim Crow is part of the anti-racist literary canon, and it should be required reading for any high school history class, and for every adult who cares about the future of the Black community and ending systemic racism.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessamyn Ward ($9.19)
If you’re looking for a page-turning book that will capture your attention so completely that it’s impossible to put down, Sing, Unburied, Sing is that book. It’s a story about a Black family living in a fictional Mississipi town grappling with the realities of addiction, racism, and loss. Ward writes an incredibly powerful story in a way that is readable, engaging, and accessible. It is impossible not to become emotionally involved with this family and their incredibly powerful and deeply layered story. Ward crafts complex characters that feel so real and the tale is deeply reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
I’m frankly surprised that this book doesn’t show up on more high school and college reading lists, as with many of the books on this list. Because of the themes that Ward explores as well as the wonderful characters and the lyrical yet honest writing style, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a must-read when it comes to contemporary literature.
Beloved by Toni Morrison ($9.31)
Speaking of Toni Morrison, this list would be woefully incomplete without her on it. I read Beloved for a class I took dedicated entirely to Morrison’s work. Beloved moved me deeply, and has stuck with me years later as one of my favorite books of all time. Set shortly after the end of the Civil War, the novel follows protagonist Sethe, born a slave, in her journey through motherhood as she struggles with the decisions she’s made and atrocities she’s suffered. Morrison’s writing is thoughtful, powerful, and always engaging. This book is not exactly a light beach read. It deals with intense themes like slavery, guilt, trauma, and love. But it still belongs on every summer reading list, because it’s just that good.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones ($7.89)
This is a pick that was on my reading list forever. When I finally picked it up, Jones hooked me within the first few pages. This book is truly a work of art. Jones tells a gritty, real, and heartbreaking story in a way that is so incredibly beautiful, even when she’s describing tragedy. An American Marriage is told partially through letters written to and from prison, as a family manages an innocent man’s incarceration. Jones’ writing style is frank and honest. Her descriptions are so vivid and bring the world of this Atlanta couple to life. Within just a few chapters I was so invested in their pain and in their story. I’m one of those people that believes a book doesn’t have to be perfectly well written to be worth reading, but this one belongs on every English professor’s reading list for next semester.
Women of color are responsible for some of the greatest literature that the last hundred years has to offer. If you are not reading books by women of color, you are missing out on some truly remarkable literature and important perspectives that belong on every bookshelf.
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