I love book lists: 1000 novels to read before you die, 60 books to read in your 20s, 17 books to encase in underwater housing while scuba diving off the coast of Sri Lanka. Okay, that last one hasn’t been written (yet), but I would read that list and attempt to convince my nerdy wife how we MUST GET underwater housing for my books, as I will surely die without it.
It’s been a fantastic year for novelists and short story writers of color with some truly amazing work coming out, but you wouldn’t know it by walking into a bookshop, or reading the blindingly white, “best fiction of 2014” lists circulating on your Facebook feed with the same four writers of color showing up to the party.
Adult literature doesn’t have a powerhouse movement in our corner like WeNeedDiverseBooks, book packagers like Cake Literary, or independent publishers of multicultural literature for young readers like Lee and Low books, but there are some great user created lists like 19 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels by Women of Color, written by Buzzfeed community member, Anjali Patel, who apparently has a cat power of 1. I feel she should get at least a 10. It seems like the proper thing to do. Make that shit happen, people. And this absolutely KICK-ASS list of Top 10 Books by Novelists of Colour Published in 2014 from East African journalist and READER, Samira Sawlani, who you should follow on twitter ASAP.
In an ideal world, 2014 wouldn’t have started off with my 4 year-old daughter upset she didn’t look like any of the protagonists in stories marketed towards her, and end of the year book lists with titles like,”best novels of 2014″ would instinctively include diverse voices without it being an active effort. And there wouldn’t be any need for VONA, the only multi-genre workshop for writers of color in the country because every writing workshop and MFA program would be awesome without the mythical monolingual, white reader as the only target demographic.
A lot of book lists have very complex criteria in judging novels. I have one: the first line, something that Sona agrees is pure agony. Here is my shortlist of 37 novels and two bonus ones by authors of color, along with their gorgeous first lines. If I’ve missed any, please drop me a line in the comments below and I’d be happy to add them. Also, please also give some love to my roundup of short story writers of color published in 2014.
1. “The layers were stacked on top of each other. To the boy, they looked like cake. Green and spongy on the top, brown and chocolatey in between.”
2. “He leaps over two fire-painted blossoms resting on the stark cracked city pavement.”
3. “It was the year 934 of the Hegira, the thirtieth year of my life, the fifth year of my bondage – and I was at the edge of the known world.”
4. “She comes out of the house and sees fresh shapes in the grass, a geometrical warning she does not understand.”
5. “On his desk in the office, Aar has three photographs, one of each of his two teenage children and a third, the photo of a very beautiful woman, which occupies center stage.”
6. “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”
7. “Around six, the zoo starts to shake itself up from its brief sleep.”
8. “Boyang had thought grief would make people less commonplace.”
9. “Sawdust, soft and fine as Ma’s best muslin duppata, tickled Madan’s nose, making him sneeze.”
10. “My mother used to say, ‘Lilian, as long as I’m alive, you must have nothing to do with that woman.'”
11. “In the early hours of one September morning in 2008, there appeared on the doorstep of our home in South Kensington a brown-skinned man, haggard and gaunt, the ridges of his cheekbones set above an unkempt beard.”
12. “When Isaac and I first met at the university, we both pretended that the campus and the streets of the capital were as familiar to us as thedirt paths of the rural villages we had grown up and lived in until only a few moths earlier, even though neither of us had ever been to a city before and had no idea what it meant to live in such close proximity to so many peple whose faces, much less names, we would never know.”
13. “A sea of wedding altars stretched across the desert sands and disappeared into the horizon.”
14. “Yerzhan was born at the Kara-Shagan way station of the East Kazakhstan Railway, into the family of his grandfather, Daulet, a trackman, one of those who tap wheels and brake shoes at night and during the day, following phone call from a dispatcher, go out to switch the points so that some weary old freight train can wait while anexpress or passenger special like ours hurtles straight through the junction.”
15. “My father has a glum nature.”
16. “It was a fever, a hot rage of words.”
17. “As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School cafeteria – his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his ear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket – he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking.”
18. “My mother named me Gabriela after my grandmother who – coincidentally – didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was therefore living in sin.”
19. “Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.”
20. “You could say I was thinking of other things when I shampooed my hair blue, and two glasses of red wine didn’t help my concentration.”
21. “I wake up late the morning I’m meant to go to the consulate.”
22. “Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.”
23. “Lydia is dead.”
24. “Back then, all we wanted was the simplest things: to eat good food, to sleep at night, to smile, to laugh, to be well.”
26. “I’m Sulaman Saddeq, and I’m sitting in a clean white room, thinking about the decisions we make.”
27. “This hands cannot do.”
28. “Exactly once upon a time in a small village in northern Iran, a child of the wrong color was born.”
29. “Ikechukwu Uzondu, ‘Ike for short,’ parked his Lincoln Continental cab at a garage that charged twelve dollars per hour.” Foreign Gods by Okey Ndibe
30. “Ever seen a bullet-smashed windscreen?”
31. “Fig leaves and fruit swirl in Scyla’s hands.”
32. “It is known where we come from, but no one much cares about things like that anymore.”
33. “Sylvia Levine (nee Amado) had been brooding for months.”
34. “My mother and I used to play this game when I was growing up. Every time I had a question she couldn’t aswer, she made write to my imaginary father, Mr. Brezsky, who lived on the moon.”
35. “Today, the opening day of the Mozhay Point Ojibwe Reservation’s wild rice harvest, cumulus clouds drift slowly over the boat landing on Lost Lake, bringing with them the scent of sweetgrass.”
36. “Four hundred have died here.”
37. “I stuffed the letter from the bank back into the drawer and slipped into the kitchen to turn the vent out toward Pig Park.”
38. “I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital Columbus, Ohio, USA – a country caught between Black and White.” (yes, I know it’s not a novel, but this is my list and there’s no way this isn’t on here).
39. “It always feels like death.”