Earlier this month, I discussed the importance of representation in media with a friend. We spoke about how Women and People of Color are so often overlooked to write, direct, and star in movies and TV (2018’s release of two major blockbusters by Directors of Color, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, is revolutionary and far from the norm.).
I love to read. Fiction, non-fiction, essays, you name it — and shortly after having that conversation, I realized the same can be said for books. The last five books I’ve personally read (Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Shrill by Lindy West, Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood) were all written by and about white people. It was far from a conscious decision on my part; I’d picked the books based on recommendations from friends and their relevance to various pop-culture events. But that, in itself, is telling of the ways Writers of Color are often ignored.
So in an effort to elevate those voices and introduce you to some truly kickass books, here are 20 books by Women of Color you should read in 2018.
The House of the Spirits
Often used as the poster child for Magical Realism, this multi-generational epic is Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende’s most famous work. It’s set in a politically-fraught country believed to be modeled after Allende’s own Chile, following an affluent family as the world around them is changed by dictatorship, war, and poverty.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Angelou is one of 20th-century America’s most famous poets and writers, her first memoir an undeniable classic. She writes about growing up in the segregated south with her brother and grandmother, exploring the effects of racism, rape, identity, literacy, and power.
The House On Mango Street
This semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel uses sharp, descriptive vignettes — not quite story, not quite essay, not quite poem — to tell the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago.
The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s novel, which follows several African American women in the rural 1930s south, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983. Exploring class, violence, and poverty, this hugely-important novel was later adapted into a musical and movie of the same name.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Though originally poorly received when published in 1937, the book is now hailed as a classic and a seminal piece of American and feminist literature, following an African American woman’s complex life, her three marriages, and her enduring sense of self.
Non-fiction and Memoir
The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq
Dunya Mikhail, a journalist and poet who herself immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq, tells the true story of women kidnapped by Daesh (ISIS) and how a beekeeper helped them escape.
In her first memoir, Porochista Khakpour explores illness, wellness, and healing as she writes about being chronically ill with late-stage lyme disease, and how life — love, sex, friendships, work — don’t and can’t just stop when you’re sick.
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women In America
In this book, Melissa Harris-Perry dives into and dismantles some of the most pervasive stereotypes about Black women, and how said stereotypes affect modern Black women’s understanding of themselves.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
This #1 New York Times Bestseller tells the story of the two women who founded #BlackLivesMatter, and how each of their unique upbringings brought them together to start a movement.
Activist Janet Mock uses her memoir to write about her experience as a Black, trans woman and how those identities intersect. Throughout the book, she explores and asks what “real” even means — and who gets to decide.
I first fell in love with Jhumpa Lahiri’s work after reading Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of award-winning short stories. In The Namesake she expands on the same poignant themes from her short stories — the immigrant experience, the pain of assimilation, and the connection between country and identity.
Still one of my all-time favorite books, Americanah explores a woman’s perception of race, and how it changed after immigrating from Nigeria to America. Bonus: Lupita Nyong’o will be starring in the TV adaptation of the book.
Children of Blood & Bone
A 20-foot billboard for the soon-to-be-released Children of Blood and Bone currently stands on Hollywood Boulevard. The book is described as an Epic West African Fantasy novel and is the literary debut for Tomi Adeyemi, who is just 24 years old.
For Today I am a Boy
This critically-acclaimed coming-of-age-story follows the life of Peter Huang, a Chinese-Canadian, transgender child who, despite being born a boy, is certain she is a girl.
Sharp and completely original, Freshwater is told from the perspective of a Nigerian woman with multiple personality disorder, with perspectives alternating between her many selves.
A poetic memoir and collection of essays, Heart Berries tells the story of growing up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation, and how a dark and dysfunctional upbringing did (and didn’t) affect Mailhot’s diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Bipolar II disorder.
British Writer Zadie Smith’s work has appeared everywhere from The New Yorker to The Atlantic. Now, she’s compiled a book of essays with her insightful musings on politics, culture, technology, and love.
Roxane Gay has skyrocketed to literary stardom in recent years, and Bad Feminist is by far one of her most popular works. The collection of essays combines stories of her upbringing and experiences with analysis of race, fatness, pop-culture, and — yes — feminism.
All You Can Ever Know
Though it won’t be released until October, I’m already so excited to read talented essayist Nicole Chung’s personal account of searching for her Korean birth parents. Celeste Ng, author of last year’s runaway hit, Little Fires Everywhere, says, “This book should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family ― which is to say, everyone.”
This Bridge Called My Back
Considered one of the backbones of intersectional feminist literature, this collection of poetic essays from Black, Asian, Latina, and Native American writers explores the way Women of Color are often left behind in a feminist movement that too often pretends to be colorblind.