2017 was a watershed year for writers of color: four out of the five finalists for the 2017 National Book Award were writers of color and Colson Whitehead was the recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for The Underground Railroad. Yet, people of color still face significant adversity in the realm of publishing, where many remain unrepresented on bestsellers lists, receive minimal, if any, publicity, and more often times, little support for their work. 2018 is diversifying the publishing world even further with forthcoming essay and short fiction collections edited by Roxane Gay and Jennifer Baker, including novel debuts by Sayaka Murata, Vanessa Hua, among many others. Here are five essential books by authors of color you should read to start your 2018 off right:
Tayari Jones- An American Marriage: A Novel
Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage: A Novel was released in January to critical acclaim: within less a month since its release, it has since gone on to #2 spot on the New York Times Bestseller List and a 2018 Oprah’s Book Club Selection. This story follows newlyweds Celestial and Roy against the backdrop of the New South. When Roy is convicted for a crime he did not commit, Celestial finds herself taking comfort in Andre, her childhood best friend. From there springs forth a tale of redemption and love, and Jones’s novel is a strong follow-up after her 2012 publication of her bestseller, Silver Sparrow.
Helen Oyeyemi- Boy, Snow, Bird
Helen Oyeyemi’s work often defies definition: her work is partly a fairy tale, partly speculative, and wholly engrossing. In particular, Boy, Snow, Bird is a compelling retelling of Snow White against the backdrop of the virulent racism and violence of the 1960s and 70s. It follows Boy, a white, blonde-haired woman who falls for an African-American man who, completely unknown to Boy, passes for white. From there the story unravels, and what takes shape is a narrative that maps the history of the Whitman family fraught with secrets and lies. (I also highly recommend Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, which is an interesting, refreshing take of Perrault’s Bluebeard, and her recent short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours).
Ocean Vuong- Night Sky with Exit Wounds
Ocean Vuong is a formidable talent whose work earned him a slew of awards: the Whiting Award, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, the Pushcart Prize, among others. Unsurprisingly, his debut poetry collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, is a force to be reckoned with. The writing is dreamlike and poignant and perhaps everything anyone could ask for in a poetry collection—and is held together by Vuong’s meditative lyricism and grace.
Jesmyn Ward- Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing follows Jojo, a mixed thirteen-year-old and his tumultuous relationship with his drug-addicted mother. Ward’s tend to carefully journey across Mississippi, their families, and the stories which bind them—and Sing, Unburied Sing, Ward’s novel since her 2011 National Book Award win for Salvage the Bones, is no exception. Her writing is a much-needed voice for American storytelling, and it comes as no surprise her latest novel was the recipient of the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction.
Carmen Maria Machado- Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado’s work, like Oyeyemi, escapes truly remaining in a single genre: at times, her work seems like general fiction only to reveal its oddities ranging from horror, fairy tales, ghost stories, love stories, and more. Her work is reminiscent of Aimee Bender and Kelly Link, yet Machado’s work is both comic, violent, restless, and above all else, strange. Her debut collection, Her Body and Other Parties—she has since published her work in well-known science-fiction and horror outlets in Lightspeed and Nightmare Magazine—epitomizes the best of Machado’s writing.