Good books are relatively easy to find these days – your next literary fix is only one click away. But finding good books by women of colour can be a little difficult to discover. Especially in a world where a recurring pattern of exclusion is often stretched across the literary world leaving everything for white, middle-class (and often men) to take.
Thankfully, we’re now seeing a change thanks to publishing houses like Words of Colour, diversity initiatives backed by major publishers like Penguin Random House and a plethora of diverse female writers challenging the status quo and bringing their words and experiences to the fore.
From Reni Eddo-Lodge’s honest reflection on conversations around racism in ‘Why I’m Not Talking To White People About Race’ to the boundless wit and wisdom of Zadie Smith’s ‘Feel Free’, we’ve listed some of our favourite books by WOC to add to your reading list.
1. Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture by Roxane Gay
In a post #MeToo society, this book feels particularly poignant. Peering into sexual violence and the psyche of victimhood, it features a collection of original and previously published pieces from a diverse group of women (young and old, straight, queer and transgender).
Each person tells their harrowing stories of harassment and aggression at the hands of friends, strangers, boyfriends, girlfriends, family members, while being equally 'second-guessed, blown off, discredited, belittled, patronised, mocked and shamed' for speaking out.
What Gay really does is provide a place for people to voice their experiences free of shame and belittlement in carefully constructed, first-person accounts of harassment, assault, and rape. It's also a must-see read.
2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Adeyemi’s debut novel delves into a world of dark magic (with a hint of danger) in this captivating fantasy tale, which is sure to spawn more books to come.
Influenced by the west African writer’s own heritage, the story follows Inan and Amari, children of the iron-fisted king, and Zélie and Tzain, siblings who have suffered under the king’s regime, as they find themselves on a dark, magic-filled quest for power.
In true YA fashion, expect moments of friendship, betrayal and, of course, a star-crossed love story.
Enriched with themes that resonate deeply in today’s socio-political society, Children of Blood and Bone takes on injustice, discrimination, and a struggle for change – all wrapped up in a fantasyland filled with snow leopards, standout characters and a brave, leading heroine to boot.
3. Sick by Porochista Khakpour
This is not for the faint-hearted. In this chilling memoir, the Iranian-born writer details her struggle with late-stage Lyme disease, drug addiction and mental illness.
Divided by settings, Khakpour takes you on a journey through her illness and the many locations that changed her course. From a college town in Germany to New York and LA, Khakpour remembers the many places and psychological spaces which impacted her health the most, whilst eventually accepting the diagnosis she had searched for over the course of her adult life.
Sick doesn’t make for an easy read, but it’s definitely worth delving into this beautifully complicated memoir about living life with Lyme.
4. Feel Free by Zadie Smith
Get into the razor-sharp intellect and witty mind of Zadie Smith as she presents an electrifying collection of essays, writings and columns on just about everything.
Nothing is too obscure or too mainstream for the literary powerhouse as she takes on social media and Brexit to JAY-Z and Justin Bieber, showing off her pop culture prowess and approach to social change and political debate in 31 extensive pieces.
Arranged into five sections - In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free - this new collection poses questions on culture, politics and even her own life, gathered in one comprehensive place.
Feel Free also throws ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture to the wayside, as Smith blends it all into one contemporary discussion – whether highlighting the works of Swiss novelists and ‘bad’ politics, to Brooklyn-born rappers and a former Canadian teen-bopper – further proving just why she’s a leading voice of her generation for her wry and incisive prose.
5. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
In Ijeoma Oluo's breakout book she explores the complex reality of race relations in today’s society. From police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement to white privilege and the 'N' word – Oluo offers a contemporary and accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on issues that many black people face.
6. Bury What We Cannot Take: A Novel by Kirstin Chen
As we’ve surpassed the halfway mark before Game of Thrones makes its return to our TV screens, we’re all going to need some historical fiction to pass the time – and Kirstin Chen’s novel is just the complex and rich historical tale will do the trick.
Set against the backdrop of early Maoist China, this captivating and emotional book follows a family as they grapple with their agonising decision to flee their home and find safe passage in Hong Kong – but on one condition: the mother who procures visas for the family must leave one of her children behind.
Despite the historical context, Chen brilliantly captures the complex and terrifying post-Trump world we’re living in, as families torn apart becomes more of reality than ever before.
7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
In one of the first fictional books to reflect The Black Lives Matter movement, The Hate U Give still remains poignant one year and a half after publishing.
The story follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter as she navigates her upper crust prep school with life living in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood.
Her life is thrown into turmoil when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil - an unarmed black boy. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth.
This empathetic novel is both engrossing and educational for those not privy to the African American experience as Thomas brilliantly details the struggles and the beauty of being black in America.
8. My Old Faithful by Yang Huang
Family always makes for a good starting point in any novel – and Yang Huang’s My Old Faithful evokes both the drama of familial intimacy and the ups and downs of the everyday life of a close-knit Chinese family.
Featuring ten interconnected short stories, taking place over a thirty-year period from China to the United States, Huang’s nuanced approach to tackling family life is brilliantly executed with richly textured narratives from each family member, played out against the backdrop of China's social and economic change.
With quiet humour and sharp insight, this collection - by a writer who grew up in Jiangsu province and participated in the 1989 student uprisings - paints a great picture of everyday family life.
9. Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo Lodge
Who knew a blog post could have so much impact? Well, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge certainly does.
After expressing her frustration about discussions surrounding race in Britain, Eddo-Lodge’s words went viral spanning the subsequent book, which has been a huge success for its analytical and unflinching dissection of racism in the UK.
Her debut book is a great read because it hits a nerve. There's also a clear desire for an open discourse on racism and raises issues that many don’t want to address. From whitewashed feminism to the intrinsic link between class and race, no stone is left unturned.
10. The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq by Dunya Mikhail
Hearing the stories of women being sold into slavery by Isis is both haunting and captivating - and acclaimed poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail shares their accounts in a powerful portrait of courage, humanity and savagery.
In The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq, Mikhail interviews women who’ve lost their families and loved ones, been sexually abused, psychologically tortured, and forced to manufacture chemical weapons.
As their tales unfold, an unlikely hero emerges: a beekeeper, who uses his knowledge of the local terrain to bring these women back into safety.
11. Hunger: A Memoir Of My Body by Roxane Gay
Body positivity isn’t easy to come by. The process to accepting ones physique - flaws and all - can be a long and arduous one.
In the words of Roxane Gay, living in a 'hostile, fat phobic world' can take its toll. In Hunger, she wrestles against the judgement placed upon her in a searingly honest memoir about self-image, weight, food and more.
From being sexually assaulted and gaining weight as a form of ‘protection’ to the detailed process of her laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery and her frank account of society’s attitude towards people who are overweight, the brutal honesty contained within its pages is equally uncomfortable and refreshing.
12. Slay In Your Lane by Elizabeth Uviebinene and Yomi Adegoke
Tackling everything from micro-aggressions at work to financial independence, this honest and provocative book acknowledges the many trials and tribulations black women experience whilst providing a series of useful tips to help younger women forge a better and more diverse future.
Illustrated with stories from both Uviebinene and Adegoke’s own lives, Slay In Your Lane also features interviews from dozens of successful black British women– from journalist and newsreader Charlene White to BAFTA Award-winning director Amma Asante, BBC Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo and publisher Margaret Busby.
In the words of Uviebinene and Adegoke: 'Slay In Your Lane is #BlackGirlMagic personified'” and will definitely inspire you to 'level up' this year.