#ReadPOC October Challenge: Read More Nonfiction by Authors of Color!

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.


We are nearing the homestretch of the Reading Writers of Color Challenge for 2021. Just three months remain! In addition to commenting about your reading this month, I’d love your feedback on potential challenges and challenge prompts for next year. Is there a particular genre or social group our 2022 challenge should highlight? Let us know in the comments!

This month’s challenge encourages you to read more nonfiction: memoir, biography, or creative nonfiction, to be precise. Although if you want to read a textbook or some “non-creative nonfiction” feel free to do so! It’s always okay to adapt the challenge to fit your reading needs.

I chose to highlight nonfiction for this month’s challenge to encourage us to read about real people’s experiences. Although I read both fiction and nonfiction, I tend towards fiction when I’m feeling stressed. While fiction still has a lot to teach us about our world it is, by definition, removed from reality. Although no piece of nonfiction can ever be a perfect representation of reality, taking the time to read an process nonfiction can help us to learn about experiences that are not our own.

I know this isn’t true for everyone. Many people would rather pick up a memoir than a work of a fiction! Memoir is a booming genre, although it remains a tough market to break into. Even if you read memoir all the time this is a good opportunity to pause and reflect on whose memoirs you are reading. The memoirs that get snapped up by publishers and advertised as having “broad market appeal” may actually fit a quite narrow set of ideas.

Biographies offer a good chance to learn about the life of important people. It’s fine to read an autobiography, or a biography of an interesting person written by someone else. Just remember to center the “author of color” portion of this challenge. A biography about an important person of color written by a white author may be interesting in its own right, but it’s not appropriate for the challenge.

To get you started, here are seven memoirs and biographies by authors of color. In the comments below feel free to recommend a work of creative nonfiction by an author of color you particularly enjoyed. What drew you to the book? What was inspiring, meaningful, or honest about it?

The cover of Minor Feeling shows the title wreathed in flames.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

Hong’s collection of essays blends memoir, history, and cultural criticism to expose truths about racialized consciousness in America. Throughout, Hong develops a theory of “minor feelings”–the feelings that develop throughout her life growing up as the daughter of Korean immigrants as she is repeatedly exposed to the contradictions of American culture. Hong’s book is at turns funny, devastating, intimate, and honest, and a must-read for fans of memoir or anyone looking to build an understanding of Asian American experience(s).

The cover of High Price shows Dr. Carl Hart sitting on a bench smiling at the camera. Hart is a black man with dredlochs wearing a gray suit.

High Price by Dr. Carl Hart

If you’ve fallen behind in your reading and are looking to catch up, High Price may be the book for you. Neuroscientist Carl Hart won the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for this memoir in 2014, meaning you can read a memoir, a book by a scientist, and an award-winning author in one book! Dr. Hart details his life as he went from avoiding studying to becoming Columbia’s first tenured African American professor in the sciences. (And can we talk about how shocking it is that he was the first? Wow! It sure took Columbia long enough!) His book High Price details the rational decisions of drug users to shed light on common motivations and explain why current drug policies fail.

The cover of What God is Honored Here shows a picture of a river running through grassy banks. The pictures is sketch and blue, making it seem cold and painted.

What God is Honored Here? ed. by Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Lang

Kao Kalia Lang returns to our recommendations list alongside Shannon Gibney as editors of this collection of writings on miscarriage and infant loss by and for Native women and women of color. Black women’s risk of pregnancy loss can by up to twice that of white women’s, but this dry statistic doesn’t get at the heart of the issue for the women who have experienced miscarriage or child death. What God is Honored Here? is the first book of its kind, bringing together a variety of voices of Indigenous women and women of color to discuss the expectations of interracial marriage, inter-generational love and trauma, medical racism, and much more through poetry and literary nonfiction.

The cover of Trace shows a yellow leaf spotted with holes. Behind the leaf fain words can be read through the holes.

Trace by Lauret Savoy

Another multi-award winner, Trace by Lauret Savoy combines memoir, history, and land as Savoy navigates her histories as woman of African American, Euro-American, and Native American heritage. What I appreciate most about Trace is that it acknowledge history is still unfolding. We live in a place shaped by the history of landscapes, migration, and movement, and we are also going somewhere. We have not reached the end of our journey yet. I would recommend Trace for anyone looking for thoughtful introspection that is deeply rooted in time and place.

The cover of Heart Berries shows various berries fruiting on vines and stems clustered in the shape of a heart.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

After being hospitalized with the dual diagnoses of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder, Mailhot is given a notebook to write her way out of trauma. She reflects on her dysfunctional upbringing as a child at the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest, her activist mother with a thing for prisoners, and her abusive father, a brilliant artist who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Heart Berries is an ode to love under the weight of shame, and a powerful example of reclaiming one’s own story.

The cover of All Boys Aren't Blue shows a drawing a black boy wearing a crown of flowers.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Johnson calls this “a memoir manifesto,” and it lives up to the name. In this series of essays journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores coming of age in New Jersey and Virginia. All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy.

The cover of Assata shows a photograph of Assata Shakur. She is a black woman with her hair in an afro. She looks over her shoulder at the camera.

Assata by Assata Shakur

On May 2, 1973, Black Panther Assata Shakur (aka JoAnne Chesimard) lay in a hospital, close to death, handcuffed to her bed, while local, state, and federal police attempted to question her about the shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike that had claimed the life of a white state trooper. Long a target of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to defame, infiltrate, and criminalize Black nationalist organizations and their leaders, Shakur was incarcerated for four years prior to her conviction on flimsy evidence in 1977 as an accomplice to murder. This classic autobiography continues to surprise and inform readers even now, decades after the events.

What’s on your reading list for this month’s challenge? Let us know in the comments below and help us all grow our to-read lists!


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13 thoughts on “#ReadPOC October Challenge: Read More Nonfiction by Authors of Color!

  1. This month, I’ll be reading two books (since they’re a bit on the shorter side). Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog and A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt. 🙂

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  2. Right now, I am reading “Good Seeds: a Menominee Indian Food Memoir” by Thomas Pecore Weso. I am really enjoying the way he shares his family stories and am looking forward to trying some of the recipes he includes in each chapter. I also plan on reading George Takei’s graphic novel “They Called Us Enemy”. It has been on my TBR for a long time now. I would also like to read “What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition” by Emma Dabiri. Her book “Twisted: the Tangled History of Black Hair Culture” was incredible! It had a huge impact on me so I look forward to reading this new book.

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  3. I don’t know if this one should count, but I love introducing my KIDS to authors of color in their picture book reading, and we recently got Rajani LaRocca’s really excellent THE SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU, which is a rhyming picture book that explains how DNA works in a really approachable way! It’s super clever and we really enjoyed it. 🙂

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