Quotas can work if you set them yourself
February 23, 2015 1:17 AM   Subscribe

I wanted to do the same for people of colour. I feel as if my decision brought home just how white my reading world was. For whatever the reason and context, it took me until I was 30 years old to learn that Octavia E. Butler existed – how embarrassing! I’m not blaming anyone or anything for this travesty, and we all know late is better than never … but I think we can do better. I shouldn’t have needed to undertake a 12-month project to discover world class authors.
In 2014 Sunili Govinnage set herself the challenge to read only authors of colour for a year.
posted by MartinWisse (17 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
This is cool, and adds even more to my reading list. It makes me uncomfortable that without really considering it the huge majority of authors I read are straight and male.

Fortunately over the past month or so this has skewed a bit due to an excellent answer at AskMe by (surprise surprise) MartinWisse.

I look forward into digging into more than a few of these books.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:51 AM on February 23, 2015

(of colour seems to be an actual phrase, for those of us who don't know it)
posted by gorcha at 4:01 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Interesting! I'm not doing exactly this, but I'm on a 50-book-a-year challenge and I've been tracking 1) how many authors are new to me, 2) how many are female, and 3) how many are people of color. I haven't set specific goals, but I'm trying to keep all 3 categories above 50%. It definitely has forced me to branch out.
posted by duffell at 4:02 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm doing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge with similar goals to expand my reading habits.

I'm not sure if I could do full on only authors of color (or only women, or only LBGT authors, etc.), or for a full year, but I think a month or two of "No straight white male authors" could do me good.
posted by damayanti at 5:24 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

(of colour seems to be an actual phrase, for those of us who don't know it)

Yep, as replacement for the problematic "non-white" (as used in the url here and still defining people in opposition to the white "default") or "minority" (not helpful if e.g. you're talking about writers in their native contexts).
posted by MartinWisse at 5:45 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

You know, it's almost not fair* that Octavia Butler is probably multiple people's "I can't believe I haven't been reading this author forever; I should be more cognisant of the writers I read" author. But she was mine too 15 years ago and I bet it's a fairly large club.

* I mean here that her work is strong enough that it should stand as wholly awesome on its own and not be classified as some sort of "Saul going to Damascus" moment for the previously clueless.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:17 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've cycled in and out of more and fewer books by non-white and/or non-US writers. It's easier with literature, and less so with genre stuff (at least without significant effort). I'm reading (well, listening to) Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings right now, and it is amazing, easily the best book I've read in the last year.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:22 AM on February 23, 2015

Slight derail, but only slight. I've been doing something similar in that I've been trying to read fantasy novels written mostly from women and my oh my have I missed so much:

- Octavia E. Butler
- Elizabeth Moon
- Patricia A. McKillip
- Mercedes Lackey
- Jacqueline Carey
- Robin Hobb
- Elizabeth Bear
- Ursula K. LeGuin
- Jane Yolen
- Tanya Huff
- Sherri S. Tepper
- C.J. Cherryh
- Julie E. Czerneda
- Sarah Monette
- Tanith Lee
- Lois McMaster Bujold
- Katherine Kurtz
- Carrie Vaughn
- Kim Harrison
- J.V. Jones
- Carol Berg
- Terri Windling
- C.S. Friedman
- Katherine Addison
- N.K. Jemisin
- Katherine Kerr
- Kate Elliott
- Kameron Hurley
- Melanie Rawn

Oh man, still so many on my list but I won't detract further from this already awesome project. There are so many wonderful writers out there, good reading my friends.
posted by Fizz at 6:43 AM on February 23, 2015 [14 favorites]

If you like SF and haven't read N.K. Jemison -- well I'm actually a little jealous, because you have something amazing in front of you. I came across her name in a similar list, can't quite recall where although this is close and includes links to other blogs of interest.
posted by PandaMomentum at 6:54 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Last year I started doing something similar. My rule is simple: if I'm trying to choose what to read next from a handful of books, I choose the non white male option. I still read a good bit of white male books last year, because I would just NEED to read Annihilation or GoT or Ned Beauman, for instance. Here's some of the other books I read in the last few months that I would recommend:

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (already recommended a million times on Metafilter)

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli (I have a feeling this will be a contender for the Best Translated Book Award this year.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck (beautiful but incredibly depressing)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters (I would recommend anything by her actually.)

Pretty much everything by Elena Ferrante

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

The Good Lord Bird - James McBride

I started reading A Brief History of Seven Killings and couldn't get into it, maybe because I don't know enough about the context. I very much loved James' The Book of Night Women though.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:03 AM on February 23, 2015 [9 favorites]

I need to do this. Over the past few years I have tended to read mostly women, because I was tired of getting halfway through a book and throwing it across the room because it either had no women to speak of or they all appeared to be cardboard cutouts. But I haven't done anything to seek out writers of color specifically. I'm sure I'm missing a lot.

I admire Octavia Butler, but find her work gives me nightmares (lots of horrible things happening to children, rape happening to everyone) so I can't really call myself a fan.
posted by emjaybee at 7:09 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

This post is destroying all motivation to work on work things. All I want is to read fun things now. Damn you metafilter.
posted by Fizz at 7:13 AM on February 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

Remarkable that not reading white people should cause you to read more SF. Things have moved on since I were a lad, it seems.
posted by Segundus at 7:27 AM on February 23, 2015

At the end of last year I analyzed my book reading for the year and found that 70% of books I'd read were by white American males. This year my goal is to be under 50%, which while not the hardest goal, is still a significant improvement.
posted by matrixclown at 8:19 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Remarkable that not reading white people should cause you to read more SF.

I think more SF fans are tapped into web communities than, say, literary fiction folk. This means more exposure to books outside of the major gatekeepers. For literary fiction recommendations, I still look to the New Yorker, LRB, etc.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:20 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I run a book club through my library, and I'm responsible for making the ballot we use to vote for upcoming books. For a long time our reading skewed really white, so I started stacking the deck: forcing everyone to vote for different categories and always making sure one of them was all writers of color (I also make sure to create categories for female and/or queer authors, as well as different genres, so that we don't end up with four consecutive months of literary speculative fiction about people farms, not that that's ever happened before). But I forgot to do that last year, and what do you know, now we're set up for six months of all white novelists. For the next 6-month cycle I think I'm going to do an all-WOC ballot to compensate, and drawing up the list of contenders, there's so much to choose from that probably wouldn't have made it onto my radar had I not consciously set out to find it.
posted by libraritarian at 10:11 AM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

For the past few years Aarti has been hosting the More Diverse Universe reading challenge on her blog. It is a great place to find reading material. It is quite a list, and there are some wonderful books listed, and reviewed by various book bloggers so you can get an idea of the book before you pick it up.
posted by Fence at 11:11 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

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