This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color 2021 challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.
I’ve read a lot of books by white people. Like, a lot.
Most of these books were assigned to me in school and, later, at college and graduate school. When I was taught about the “canon” of great literature I was taught about white people (and specifically about white men). When I was learning the social theory that would shape my perspective as a Sociologist, I learned the thoughts and theories of white people, too.
I have a distinct memory of sitting in in a graduate seminar on Race and Ethnicity. We had just read Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought, and my world was rocked. Every word of her book had felt like a revelation. I said that I felt she was the most brilliant person I had read so far in grad school, and I wondered aloud why we didn’t start students off by reading her work.
Another student, also white like me, said that we couldn’t do that. We needed to start with the “foundational theorists” so we could “understand what Collins was responding to.” From this perspective, Collins’ work was unintelligible unless we first read, absorbed, and accepted the thoughts and perspectives of dead white men.
My experience as a student and a reader is a reflection of larger systems of racial oppression. Defining great works as primarily works written by white people is no accident of history. I won’t pretend that simply by reading a few books we can dismantle racism, but at least we can resist being complicit in the systemic racism of the publishing industry and in education.
To that end, I’m challenging myself–and you reading this–to commit to reading works by black, Indigenous, and people of color* this year.
I’ve designed this challenge with three goals in mind.
First, to introduce you to a variety of writers of color across different genres. There is no single genre this challenge favors, and the hope is you may stretch your comfort zone a bit and read something you wouldn’t normally seek out.
Second, to build skills in finding and recognizing authors of color. Because we are inundated by whiteness it becomes normalized to only pick up books written by white authors, but it doesn’t have to be this way. This isn’t a challenge that can be completed in a year, after which you can go back to uncritically reading whatever falls into your lap. Instead, I hope that through skill building you’ll be better able to recognize who is writing what you’re reading and what background and biases they may be bringing to the table.
Finally, to inspire you to read even more works by Black, Indigenous, and people of color beyond just the 12 books you will choose as part of the challenge. If you’re a voracious reader 12 may not seem like very many books at all in which case, great! We all have our favorite genres, and I encourage you to examine your own reading practices and commit to reading writers of color for every book this year. For those of us who may not have much time to read, or may not be well-practiced at reading, a book a month can be a big commitment. I encourage you to adjust the challenge to fit your circumstances. If committing to a book is not feasible consider instead committing to reading articles or short stories. Remember, too, that audio books totally count as books read!
Each month I will post a short guide explaining the goals of each challenge prompt with some options for books to choose from, but you’re never required to choose one of the books on my lists. My goal is to share my research with you and remove the barrier to entry during months when you may be too busy to spend time researching what to read ahead of time. I will tell you about my own picks and what I’ll be reading, and you can share books you know of in the comments of each post. Together, we can build a community of knowledge sharing.
Part of this challenge also asks you to write reviews for each book and post them somewhere notable. Strong reviews encourages new readers and can help get the books we read for this month into more hands. You can also follow the authors you read on social media and help boost their viewership.
For the year 2021 read the work of Black, Indigenous, and people of color that fit the following prompts:
- January: By a woman of color
- February: By a scientist
- March: A work of fiction
- April: By a queer or trans author
- May: About a radical social movement or historical event
- June: On your “to be read” list
- July: Collection of short stories, poetry, or essays
- August: By an award winner
- September: In translation
- October: Memoir, biography, or creative nonfiction
- November: By a local author
- December: Published 2021
Which month looks most exciting for you? Which month are you most uncertain about?
Your first task? Make a public commitment to the challenge. You can post in the comments below and make a public statement on social media and/or to your friends and family. Making this commitment to centering the voices of racially marginalized authors in 2021 can help you hold yourself accountable.
If you’d like, you can share the image below in your public commitment and encourage others to join as well!
Let us know below how your public commitment went. Happy reading!
*A quick note on terminology: In the official challenge name I’ve used the term “writers of color” in part because it is general term that many people are aware of. But I recognize and honor that terminology changes, and currently the term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) may be a more useful concept to help center to voices of those most marginalized by processes of colonialism and anti-blackness. Therefore, I use both when describing the challenge. Whenever possible, I will use the specific racial identification of the individual authors when discussing their books.