Written in Invisible Ink: A Celebration of Ethnically Diverse Writers
By Sophie Apps
In celebration of Black History Month, here is an extraordinary and unappreciated list of literature written from a myriad of racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. From Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give to Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, we have a literary mixtape of powerful narratives and exposure to a definition of literature that doesn’t begin with Harry Potter. Admittedly, bookshelves and Goodreads lists across the planet are, at least a little, consumed with white writers. This is leading to the stories of diverse cultures often going unheard and unread. So, in the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement – centring itself on education and equality – we are summoned from various races, ages and genders to be well-read on, not only Black history but all disenfranchised ethnic perspectives. Through, diversifying our bookshelves, we can all stay informed and give praise to culturally infused literature. Next time you peruse the shelves of Waterstones or mindlessly click on Amazon, think about the books you are buying and the ethnic perspectives they have. Below are only a few brilliant racially diverse writers and pieces of literature. I hope you can find the time to read them!
In the ever-lasting wake of the COVID pandemic, if you can, consider purchasing any of the books listed below (that interests you) from an independent bookstore – as now more than ever is the time to support small local businesses.
- The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
The best-selling YA novel The Hate You Give by Afro-American author Angie Thomas offers a startingly insight into police brutality, humanising one of the countless voices of the Black Lives Matter movements. The book battles a struggle for voice and justice through the protagonist, Starr Carter. From the first-perspective of Starr, readers act as additional witnesses to the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend, Khalil, by a police officer and the aftermath; seeing their lives echoed in the words or for readers detached from Starr’s experience, they can have the opportunity to become allies and listeners to the BLM movement. The Hate You Give additionally introduces cycles of violence within neighbourhoods and racism against multiple races which makes it even more culturally significant. If you don’t happen to read the book, the film adaptation directed by George Tillman Jr. is equally heart-breaking.
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Written by Isabel Wilkerson – the first Afro-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism – the work chronicles the extraordinary untold stories of American history during the Great Migration. From 1915 to 1970, nearly 6 million Black Americans departed from the South to Northern and Western cities to escape lynching, sharecropping and Jim Crow laws, in search of opportunity. In this bold and remarkable historical narrative, Wilkerson interviewed more than a thousand people over the course of 15 years to account these American journeys, comparing the migration to the migrations of people in history. The Warmth of Other Suns marvellously captures the stories of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling and Robert Foster and their exhausting escapes to find work and liberation; therefore, a must-read.
- Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
Still I Rise is a blink in the chasm of Maya Angelou’s originality, political agency and flair; working as a poet, civil rights activist, storyteller, educator, singer, dancer, and being Hollywood’s first female Black director, she defines new borders of Black womanhood, both creatively and otherwise. Her written works include On the Pulse of the Morning, The Complete Collected Works of Maya Angelou and most notably I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which are well-worth reading as a whole if you get the chance. Without giving Angelou’s poem Still I Rise too much analysis, she grasped the literary form by the teeth, as Langston Hughes did, giving a voice to herself and the millions of marginalised Black men and women throughout America during the twentieth century.
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military strategy book – arguably the world’s most influential – dating from the period of the Warring States (403-221 BC). Born out of intense turmoil in Chinese history, the text analyses the nature or art of war- demonstrating how victory can be achieved in only thirteen short chapters. Tzu’s tactics include: the art of deception, knowing yourself and the enemy, and subduing the enemy’s army without battle, to name a few. This isn’t a book for everyone guaranteed, though if you’re into warfare, Chinese history or are plotting a war against your housemates for stealing your food it’s worth a read! If not for The Art of War’s ability to preside politically pertinent in today’s society.
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Midnight’s Children tells the story of Saleem Sinai – a boy born at the stroke of midnight in harmony with the declaration of India’s independence – who finds himself with magical powers, along with 1,001 others, that bind him to history. As our protagonist, Saleem navigates us through the dichotomy of India’s vast, vibrant background and turbulent history which reflects the Indo-Pakistan wars in 1975 and 1971. Indian author Rushdie, through Midnight’s Children, questions reality and whether history can be condensed into one narrative – perhaps hinting that there could be many realities experienced in a single strike of the clock. This dazzling novel won the Man Booker Prize, and with an astonishing plot and enriched cultural references, Midnight’s Children deserves a place on your shelves at home.
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith
White Teeth by Jamaican and English author Zadie Smith tells the story of three dysfunctional families living in Britain: an Englishman, his Jamaican wife, and their daughter; a Bengali couple and their boys; and an English couple, Joyce and Marcus, and their children – who are connected by unlikely wartime friends Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal, who served together in the military. Set in the cultural and grand tapestry of London, White Teeth captures the dialects and diction of every character; representing their racial heritage, age and narratives. With Smith’s tangible talent, she visualizes rounded and inimitable characters submerged into generational conflicts which envelop their families. Though quite daunting in length, White Teeth is a myriad of multiculturalism, humour and breath of fresh air that commands you to read it.
- The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
In The Colour Purple, Walker imagines the lives of African American women in early-twentieth-century rural Georgia; crafting a coming-of-age story that remains contemporary to her readers. This is a story of sisterhood. Through many letters, we live in Celie’s trauma and triumphs; getting short glances at Nettie’s life as a missionary in Africa; observing how the love between two separated sisters transcends boundaries of time, silence and distance. Walker compassionately narrates the lives of the daring Celie, Shug Avery, Nettie and Sofia, who are nurtured into womanhood – overcoming racial prejudice, domestic abuse and patriarchal institutions – to educate each other and discover their positions in a world that places them last. The Colour Purple is Bildungsroman for all of Walker’s troubled characters; where redemption and resilience are won. Amen to the epic, independent women that shape this rich feminist text.
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Fuelled by wit and tragedy, The God of Small Things openly telling us of an electric and frequently unlikeable family wreckage consisting of grandmother Mammachi; her son Chacko; her daughter Ammu; Ammu’s dizygotic twins Esthappen and Rahel; and Baby Kochamma, the bitter grand-aunt. Indian author Roy wills her words into lines of poetry; her language is synchronously classic and unparalleled, striking and familiar, and soaked in an Asian Indian cultural glaze. In the book’s fragmented chronology, readers are reminded that our constructed lives – like the story itself – are inconsecutive; our days are connected in a never-ending circle that doesn’t follow a straight line. A dazzling concoction of child-like interpretation, meticulous metaphors and spinning stories, Roy encapsulates a politically charged caste-ridden Ayemenem and the lives of those residing there.
- When Love Arrives by Sarah Kay
Sarah Kay – a Japanese American poet – is a bundle of metaphors, passion and clever wordplay; and has already written the poem that you were planning on writing. Her poetry works include No Matter the Wreckage, All Our Wild Wonder, The Type and B – one of my favourite poems of hers being When Love Arrives and If I Should Have a Daughter. Through her spoken word poetry, Kay embraces the humour of human existence, dancing with failed romances and defies expectations of what poetry can achieve. She builds palaces out of paragraphs; crafting remarkable and understandable poetry that is a cinematic experience for the imagination. Whether on Ted, Button Poetry or through a copy of her collections, I cannot recommend her literature enough.
- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Esi Edugyan is a brilliant Canadian and Ghanaian author, who’s written works include Washington Black, Half-Blood Blues and The Second Life of Samuel Tyne. Shortlisted for the Man Book Prize in 2018, Washington Black comes to us as a memoir written by a former slave called George Washington Black. Readers first meet Wash as an eleven-year-old field slave in Barbados, then see his entire world collapse as he adventures in a world of wonders and stumbles into an unlikely friendship with the eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde: a naturalist, explorer, inventor, scientist and abolitionist. As the two take flight across the eastern coast of America – in a spectacular flying machine – Edugyan similarly to Wash, takes her readers on a story they are least expecting to go. Washington Black is not only an unflinching depiction of slavery but tells a profound narrative of friendship, morality and questions of freedom.