10 Books by Women of Color to Read for #ReadPOC2021

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.

2021 is the year of reading authors of color. Commit to reading more books by writers of color and build your skills in finding these authors and centering their voices in your media consumption.

To start us off, we will read a book by a woman of color. In 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw used the term intersectionality to explain Black women’s particular marginalization in the legal system. Since then, this concept has taken off and is used broadly to theorize how our identities are not distinct, discreet units, but instead form complex and overlapping webs of influence over our lives.

Today, I’d like to ask us to return to one of Crenshaw’s main arguments in the article which sparked national and international discussion. Crewnshaw argues that in both feminist organizing and anti-racist organizing we often leave out women of color. In part because their experiences are not easily codified as either being a result of their womanhood or their race, women of color find themselves at the margins of both movements. In feminism, the needs and wants of white women become the “face” of the feminist movement. In anti-racist organizing, it is Black men who are centered, and their needs are used to override the needs of Black women. In both cases Black women are told their needs will be acknowledged after the “real” problems are solved.

A corollary to this argument would tell us that because of their particular position, women of color have something unique and important to teach us about our society. We must listen to their stories and arguments in order to fully understand the world we live in.

To that end, we will start the year by centering their voices. Below I’ve created a list of potential books to read ranging in genre from science fiction, to young adult, to graphic novel, to social theory text. Whatever you’re interested in, you can find a starting point here. Of course, you can choose any book by any woman of color to read this month. Or, if you’re strapped for time, consider reading a short story or essay.

What will you read this month? Let us know in the comments section what your favorite book by a woman of color is and what you plan to read for the challenge!

Without further ado, here’s my list of ten books by women of color you can read for the reading writers of color challenge:

The cover of Parable of the Sower depicts a black woman in an orange dress made of stylized leaves. She walks forward with a purpose.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

This dystopian speculative fiction novel begins with global climate and economic crisis and ends with the founding of a new religion–and a new hope and vision for humanity. Lauren Olamina lives in a gated community where the horrors of a world in chaos are kept at bay, but the community faces its own struggles, and when it no longer provides the safety it once did, Lauren must leave with only a few supplies and the knowledge of her new belief system: Earthseed, the dream that humanity is someday destined to leave Earth and live among the stars. This novel is set in the 2020s and may feel prescient to the reader. In part, this prescience is aided by Butler’s attention to detail as she discusses race relations, economic precarity, the daily struggle for survival, and the undaunted hopefulness of humanity.

The cover of The Last Report on the Miracles and Little No Horse shows three lit candles on dark wooden table. The candles are melted into a pile of wax.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Ojibwe, gives us the story of Father Damien Modeste, a priest consulted on the matter of the miracles performed by Sister Leopolda at the remote outpost Little No Horse. Shall Sister Leopolda be granted Sainthood? Or are her miracles more complicated than they first appear? This simple premise is the entry point into a lifetime of history regarding Modeste’s young adulthood, his later interactions with the Ojibwe people, and his loves had and lost. All of Erdrich’s books are excellent, but I chose this one for its exploration of the complicated role of gender and the interplay between spirituality and duty in Modeste’s life. It is told in Erdrich’s enriching prose by interweaving of time and experience in a non-linear narrative.

The cover of Citizen 13660 depicts a long-haired Japanese person looking angrily at a confused guard with a gun.

Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 the United States began a program of forced internment of Japanese-descended people. Presented as “protective custody,” this internment upset the lives of over 100,000 people, the majority of whom were American citizens, by forcibly relocating them to isolated, militarized bases. Many lost their livelihoods, jobs, land, or homes during internment. Miné Okubo, already an accomplished artist, was interned first in California and then in Utah. Both locations forbid the use of cameras, and so Okubo documented her internment with over 2,000 sketches of daily life which later became the subject of her book.

The cover of Everfair shows two hands reaching towards a metal gas lamp. One hand is black and the other is made of metal, like a steampunk cybernetic hand.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

This alternative history steampunk novel retells Belgium’s devastating colonization of the Congo. African American missionaries and socialists from Great Britain found Everfair, a utopia in the Congo, that quickly rises to prominence as its residents make enormous strides in steam power. Everfair becomes a place of recluse for native Congolese and for slaves who have escaped from America. Shawl’s novel highlights the complicated relationships these immigrants and Indigenous peoples have with colonialism and violence, and centers the dream of utopia and the promise of real freedom that can emerge when people work together towards a common vision. Fans of science fiction may also be interested in Nisi Shawl’s “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.”

The cover of Salt Fish Girl shows the fin of an orange fish and an Asian woman's close-cropped face looking downward.

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

This novel–set alternatively in ancient China and in a futuristic Pacific Northwest–tells the story Miranda. Miranda, troubled even in her middle-class life inside the walls of Serendipity, finds herself caught up in a conspiracy of science, capitalism, and biotechnology. Born with a particularly strong odor of durian emanating from her body, Miranda’s life invites us to consider the intertwining of or bodies with our natural world. Lai’s book falls most neatly into the category of magical realism with elements of mythology, romance, and science fiction as Miranda’s story is intertwined with that of Nu Wa, an ancient Chinese shapeshifter, and as Miranda falls in love with a fishy woman. This is Lai’s second of three standalone novels and makes an excellent entry-point into her work.

The cover of The Beginning and End of Rape makes the book appear to be a stack of yellowed paper that is burnt on the corner.

The Beginning and End of Rape by Sarah Deer

Sarah Deer is a Tribal scholar, citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, and a University Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas. Her account of the legal history of sexual violence against Indigenous peoples and on Indigenous land is a must-read for anyone interested in ending sexual violence. You’ll walk away with a knowledge of Federal law as it pertains to Indigenous peoples in what is today called the United States of America, and a deeper understanding of how those laws create the circumstances in which Indigenous women and girls are more likely to suffer harm and struggle to find justice. Deer’s solution to this problem places self-determination back in the hands of Tribal peoples.

The cover of Killing the Black Body is white text on a dark brown background. The text fades to a gradient of lighter brown.

Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts

File this under “books that will change your life,” Roberts’ book pairs well with The Beginning and End of Rape by Sarah Deer. Roberts deftly and expertly interweaves legal history, critical race theory, and a stunning feminist critique in her description of the history of anti-Black woman racism in America. Her book centers the role of reproduction–and white America’s control of Black reproduction in particular–to give us an opportunity to radically reconsider our notions of liberty and equality in America.

The cover of The Marrow Thieves shows a young Indigenous man's face with a white stripe on his cheek.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

This young adult novel by Cherie Dimaline, a member of the Georgian Bay Metis Community in Ontario, brings us into a world where the majority of people have stopped being able to dream. Without dreams, they descend slowly into madness, and they will do anything to get out of it. The only groups still able to dream are Indigenous peoples, and a temporary cure for the dreamless state lives in the marrow of their bones. But removing the marrow is a deadly proposition, leading the young teenager Frenchie and his friends to live a life on the run.

The cover of A Tale for the Time Being shows five images stacked on top of each other: a drawing of a girl's face, a distant plane flying downward or possibly crashing, a tumultuous sea, the top of a book with a red cover, and a dry field with distant pine trees.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Ozeki’s breathtaking novel takes place in two locations an ocean apart. In Tokyo, Nao, a teenage girl, contemplates suicide but first plans to record the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Across the Pacific and living on a remote island, Ruth, mired in writer’s block, discovers Nao’s journal washed up on shore. Ruth believes the journal to be debris from the 2011 tsunami which struck the island of Japan. But as she reads Nao’s journal she slowly discovers things are not as they appear, and that Nao may be more aware and knowledgable than she first seemed.

The cover of Borderlands/La Frontera shows a highly-stylized and vaguely humanoid shape.

Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa

This classic text is a collection of poetry and prose in both English and Spanish, reflecting what Anzaldúa calls the new Mestiza–an interplay identity that arises at the intersection between borders, sexuality, Indigenous identity, and gender. Anzaldúa provides a scathing critique oppression in all forms and from all sources as she describes life as a Chicano living in an Anglo-dominated culture, growing up as a woman in Hispanic culture, and her experiences as a lesbian in a heteronormative world. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in feminist critique, or for those looking to explore both poetry and social theory.

Share your favorite book by a woman of color in the comments below. What do you like about this book? If you’re following along with the challenge you can also share what book you plan to read for January. It doesn’t have to be one of the books listed here, of course, and we’re always happy to hear about new books!


26 thoughts on “10 Books by Women of Color to Read for #ReadPOC2021

  1. I loved _Caste_ by Isabel Wilkerson, because it made me feel like I finally understand America. Her earlier book is fantastic too, nonfiction but reads like a story. And _The Dark Fantasic_ by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas is so interesting. I think she could fill at least another book on the same topic.

    Currently I’m reading _On Pointe_ by Shelly Ellis, a romance about a dance teacher being squeezed out by gentrification.

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  2. “The Vagrants” by Yiyun Li was probably my favourite book of the year. Bunch of content warnings, but can highly recommend. Also currently very much enjoying “Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernadine Evaristo. Can also highly recommend “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi and anything by Angie Thomas.

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      1. I can think of worse problems! 😉

        If you’re also doing any LGBTQ+ challenges, _Elatsoe_ is a fun read with an asexual character. And any of Rebecca Roanhorse’s books would fit fantasy challenges as well. (I sign up for ALL the challenges, so I’m an expert at double-dipping. 😉 )

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      2. I am not doing any LGBTQ+ challenges so far. If you know of a nice one for 2021, let me know! Elatsoe would fit my BIPOC challenge though. However, it looks a bit too YA for my taste… I‘ll see! Thanks for the recommendation.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. @cathepsut It’s more middle grade in feel than YA, if that makes any difference. Another interesting book by an indigenous writer — I seem to have read a lot of them lately! — is _Nobody Cries at Bingo_. Memoir of growing up on “the rez.”

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  3. I’ve actually already read Everfair! Highly recommend it to sci-fi fans, was a ton of fun to read and I liked it a lot. The worldbuilding was incredibly interesting. Same with Parable of the Sower, it feels very prescient to well… what we have now.

    This month I’m reading Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. I’ve been meaning to get to it for a while now, I’ve heard really good things!

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