Ana of Things Mean a Lot reminded me recently that the third A More Diverse Universe reading challenge was coming up, hosted again by Aarti of BookLust. The challenge is very simple – read at least one book by an author of color and write about it during the week of Sept. 14-27. I was the 87th blogger to sign up for it this year, so one can hope that by the end of that week there will be at least 87 reviews of books that you may not have ever heard of – books whose authors probably had to fight to get them published, books that were repeatedly rejected or overlooked, books that you may not see on the shelves of bookstores or libraries.
I love what Ana wrote here: “Making a deliberate effort to diversity your reading is a way to redress the fact that the world is not a level playing field. It means acknowledging that the best works won’t “naturally” rise to the top. It means a small step towards righting a wrong. And it means enriching your reading life by seeking out valuable perspectives that deviate from the white default.”
In her signup post (which you can reach by clicking the banner above) Aarti recognizes that turning your reading into a political activity can be exhausting. After all, reading is often a relaxing activity, and an escape from the trouble or boredom of life. Why make it complicated? However it is also a powerful form of media, and therefore what you choose to consume becomes very important.
Like Aarti says: “None of us lives in a monochromatic world, and yet the fact that terrifying hate crimes still occur makes it clear that we do not fully understand or trust each other. And maybe part of the reason is because the media we consume does not accurately reflect the diversity of our society. And books are such a massive part of the media we consume that we should demand and fight for those that do represent minorities and those that do present the world from a different perspective than the one we are used to.”
Ever since I was little I’ve turned to books to teach me about the world – both the one I lived in, and the one I imagined. Reading has always been an intentional act for me, and the older I get the more thought I put into it. I began to read more books by female authors on purpose a few years ago, and it did stretch me a bit. I had to work at it, and most years I still wound up with a book list dominated by male authors. This year though, the thought habit is strong and female authors are two books ahead on my list…!
Only 10 books out of 40, however, were written by an author who wasn’t white. This is the next task at hand.
I was drifting in this direction already this year, with my discovery of August Wilson and recent obsession with the Cuba of Margarita Engle’s books. It has also been interesting to explore the library in Braddock, PA. The collection is colorful with spine labels that note ‘African-American Author’. I’ve scanned a lot of library shelves over the years, and have grown familiar with the typical collection found in those of small communities – small predominantly WHITE communities. Braddock’s library collection reflects a much more diverse community, and frankly I’ve never heard of most of the authors whose books line those shelves.
I plan to focus on diversifying my reading for more than just the week of the challenge, therefore, and I’m excited about all the new books I’ll discover! I started making a list the other day, using my interest in Cuba and my recent trip to Jamaica as jumping off points. I realized that I’ve read very few books by Native American authors throughout my life, despite being born just outside a Navajo reservation, so I sought out a few of those too. And all the books I’m aiming to read are by female authors. This was an afterthought, but seemed necessary when I realized that of the authors publishing in Cuba who were then also being translated into English, only about 3 are women. I demand more!
My list so far then:
Jamaican Authors –
The Hills of Hebron by Sylvia Wynter
From Harvey River by Lorna Goodison
The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Cuban Authors –
Cubana: Contemporary Fiction by Cuban Women edited by Mirta Yáñez
Disconnect by Nancy Alonso
Havana is a Really Big City by Mirta Yáñez
Everyone Leaves by Wendy Guerra
Native American Authors –
Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling
Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan
Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story by LeAnne Howe
Night Sky, Morning Star by Evelina Zuni Lucero
Ravensong by Lee Maracle
About half of these books are somewhere in the Pittsburgh library system, which is nice, but part of the challenge is to diversify your own shelves, so I have a good excuse to buy a few books! I was startled and pleased though to find The True History of Paradise sitting on display at my local branch today, so I guess I’ll be getting right to it.
I encourage you to join A More Diverse Universe – it’s so easy, and I suspect it will be ridiculously rewarding too. I can’t wait to discover a new favorite book!