Saturday, January 31, 2015

BEYOND FICTION: In Search of Diverse Fiction for Grown-Ups

Thanks to the return of Lisa Kenney Meserve to her blog Eudaemonia, I was inspired earlier this month to try to blog on occasion once again. And thanks to Thien-Kim at, I also learned about the 2015 Diversity Reading Challenge hosted by Pam of fame.

Like WeNeedDiverseBooks led by YA author Ellen Oh, UnconventionalLibrarian focuses on diverse children’s books. Both are spearheading notable efforts in a realm the publishing industry has long neglected, and press coverage on the dearth of diverse titles in the children’s book market has certainly been a testament to such efforts:

Another result: a plethora of book lists featuring diverse titles to share with one’s children, library patrons, students, or other youngsters. Examples include:

A quick search for mainstream (i.e., grown-up) fiction of a diverse nature, however, revealed little more than a few shallow lists. So I conducted an informal survey of my Facebook friends, many of whom recommended their own favorites or pointed me to sites highlighting diverse titles, and put together my own informal and hardly comprehensive collection of titles (or links to pages with long lists) featuring diverse fiction for grown-ups.

First, some of the heavy-hitter novelists often thought of when U.S. readers think of “diverse books”: Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Richard Wright, Laura Esquivel, Khaled Hosseini, James Baldwin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jumpa Lahiri, Toni Morrison, Sherman Alexie, Amy Tan, Zora Neale Hurston, Laila Lalami, Junot Diaz, Colson Whitehead, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Luis Alberto Urrea.

And, holy cow, this list from Navdeep Singh Dhillon recommended by the one and only Minda Honey: First Lines from 39 Novels by People of Color You Missed in 2014.

As if that weren’t enough, Navdeep also followed up with this phenomenal post: First Lines from 9 Standout Short Story Collections by Writers of Color in 2014.

Good gracious, if only I didn’t need to sleep.

I also found a few diverse fiction titles on Denver consultant Karen Ashmore’s GoodReads page, which includes a five-star review of my novel, One Sister’s Song (Thank you, Karen!) and features LOTS of amazing non-fiction. Among the novels Karen lists are these gems:

And now for some serendipity. A few years ago Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey and Children of the Waters, introduced me (in print and in person! Thank you, Carleen!) to Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky and executive producer of the amazing annual Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles.

When I spoke at the 2012 Mixed Remixed Festival, Heidi introduced me to Susan Straight, a fabulous writer whose A Million Nightingales is one of my all-time favorites. Funny thing is, wonderful Boulder author Jenny Shank (whose novel The Ringer also has a diverse cast of characters), replied to my FB inquiry with an eclectic list that included Susan Straight’s newest novel, Between Heaven and Here.  

Also in Jenny’s ist:

Thanks once again to Thien Kim (who personally recommends Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo and The Best of All Possible Worlds), a few more intriguing titles came from a Hyphen Magazine list that included the Nina McConigley book noted above as well as:

Finally, in his recently released novel Watch Me Go, Mark Wisniewski serves up an action-packed work of “literate and nuanced daylight noir” (according to a starred Publishers Weekly review) that also includes diverse characters.

Last week when I despaired that I’d never find time to finish this unwieldy but worthy blog post, my procrastination paid off once again when Lori Tharps (author of the novel Substitute Me as well as multiple works of non-fiction) over at My American Meltingpot featured Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues.

If I have to sleep, maybe a speed-reading course is finally in order. And maybe a speed-writing course while I’m at it.

Though I may not blog nearly as often as I used to, the BEYOND Understanding sidebar of resources will always feature a (growing!) number of great books for kids and adults. Here’s to broadening our minds via titles from unique voices that enlighten as well as entertain. Happy reading, kids.