February is Black History Month, and to celebrate, we invited Doret Canton from the Happy Nappy Bookseller to write a guest post, and to suggest a few books written by African American authors. Thank you for contributing, Doret!
First I want to say thank you to Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon for allowing to come visit in their new wonderful space. When Malinda asked if I would do a guest post for Black History Month, my first thought was yes. Now all I needed was a topic. After thinking about it for a few days, I finally settled on a universal one that would fit in perfectly at Diversity YA.
I think it’s essential not only to read books with Black characters, but to seek out Black authors as well. Writing is a very powerful art and form of expression. To read novels written primarily by outsiders is to disregard the voices of a whole people. Yes, there are a lot of great YA novels written by outsiders, and I’ve reviewed many, though books written from an outsider’s perspective would never and should never replace authentic voices.
One of the first novels I remember reading by a Black author is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I was around 12 years old. At the time YA literature wasn’t that big, though I do remember reading Stranger With My Face by Lois Duncan.
Morrison’s writing felt familiar and comfortable to me. It felt right. I loved losing myself in her language. As much as I love Black authors, I would never limit myself to only books by Black authors.
I don’t know why anyone would want to miss out on the beautifully diverse rhythms and styles of the many authors in the world. Yet, it happens more then it should. Last year, Zetta Elliott, author of A Wish After Midnight, compiled a list of middle grade and young adult novels published by Black authors in the U.S. in 2010. There were 58. Sadly, that’s more then I thought it would be.
The only way this is going to change if people actively seek out Black YA authors. Should you not read a book with a Black protagonist because the author is White? No, that’s absurd. Should you try a little harder to find and read books written by Black authors? Absolutely.
Does the race of the author really matter if the characters are Black? YES. There’s nothing wrong about noticing race or gender, or anything else that sets us apart. It’s what you do after noticing that matters, but please know who you are reading. Don’t read blindly.
Seeking out and reading authors different from ourselves is a very good thing. It makes our differences seem that much smaller, bringing us closer together.
I urge you to read author Mayra Lazara Dole’s Authentic Latino Voices article at Hunger Mountain and blogger Ah Yuan’s guest post, Let Us Write Our History, at Ari’s. I hope there will come a time when authors and readers of color will no longer need to convince the world at large that our stories, told by us, are as good, universal and important to the literary landscape.
Hopefully you feel inspired to discover and read a few new Black authors. If you’re looking for a place to begin, here are 10 suggestions.
8th Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich — A great contemporary novel with a male lead of color. I loved Reggie.
Little Divas by Philana Marie Boles — Very good and a whole lot of fun. It’s à la Judy Blume, who blurbed it.
Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis — As good as the author’s historical fiction.
Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu — A wonderful and visually beautiful fantasy novel.
A la Carte by Tanita Davis — Very good and beyond the limited choices deemed okay for Black authors. A must for foodies.
Chameleon by Charles R. Smith Jr. — One of the best YA coming-of-age stories I’ve read.
First Part Last by Angela Johnson — Warning: This book will grab your heart and make you cry.
Hush by Jacqueline Woodson — Years ago the cover stopped me cold. First YA novel by a Black author I ever read. Loved it.
Perfect Shot by Debbie Rigaud — Read this if you’re looking for a fun read that will make you laugh a lot.
Pull by B.A. Binns — This great story is perfect for fans of realistic fiction. Bonus points for the gay couple that kisses.
For even more books by Black authors, check out this list.