Ever notice how the classic books that you read all throughout high school and college are almost entirely written by white men, while literature by women or people of color is relegated to elective courses that hardly anyone takes?
Inspired by K.T. Bradford’s challenge to readers to stop reading books by straight white men for a year, I compiled a list of my ten favorite books by women of color that aren’t usually taught in schools. Of course, this is only a small introduction to the vast breadth of literature out there, but these books are must-reads for everybody, especially those who consider themselves feminists.
1. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
There’s no way I couldn’t put this book at number one on my list, given how much it impacted me. First published in 1981, this anthology includes powerful poems, stories and essays by Black, Latina, Native American and Asian American women. This Bridge Called My Back touches on many topics, including intersectional feminism, queerness and womanhood.
2. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua
This book explores the author’s struggles with her Chicana and lesbian identity through a mixture of prose and poetry as well as English and Spanish. The concept of borderlands that Anzaldua presents is especially poignant as it pertains to being caught between two cultures or identities that establish an invisible border within oneself.
3. The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan
Although this novel never achieved the soaring popularity of The Joy Luck Club, it has a depth and lyricism that ranks it as my favorite novel of all time. At the core of this expansive work is the relationship between a mother and a daughter that is broken by generational and cultural barriers, but healed by unconditional love.
4. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
Assata Shakur is one of the most legendary activists and revolutionaries of our time and her autobiography is a tour de force. A former Black Panther, Shakur was arrested in 1973 for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, along with several other crimes. She escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, becoming the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List in 2013. Her autobiography is an intensely political work that explores the government’s persecution of revolutionary groups and the experience of growing up Black in America.
5. Are Prisons Obsolete? By Angela Davis
This short but powerful read makes a compelling case for prison abolition and draws parallels between American slavery and the carceral state. Are Prisons Obsolete? is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about the current state of our criminal justice system.
6. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Where would this list be without the formidable Audre Lorde? Sister Outsider is a collection of fifteen essays and speeches about being a black woman, a lesbian, a poet and a feminist. Her essays include such iconic passages as this: “Survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” How could you not feel empowered?
7. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is probably my favorite contemporary fiction writer and this collection of short stories proves why. Each story centers on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans who are navigating the tension between Indian and American culture. Lahiri is somehow able to make the reader fall in love with each of her beautiful and deeply flawed characters in just a few pages.
8. Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People by Helen Zia
This book is one of the few that explores the history of Asian Americans as a political and cultural group. In Asian American Dreams, Helen Zia describes how an Asian American identity was formed from many different ethnic groups with very little in common and discusses the rich legacy of activism and social change enacted by Asian Americans.
9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
If you haven’t read Americanah by now, what are you waiting for? This book combines a brilliant political voice with a satisfyingly heartbreaking love story to produce a compelling account of what it means to be African in America.
10. Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
What would a world without prisons look like? For people who are interested in prison abolition or criminal justice reform, this anthology by women and gender non-conforming people of color discusses alternative ways of addressing violence in our communities that do not rely upon the state and includes resources for aspiring abolitionists.