“How To Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “So You Want To Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander: anti-racist reading lists circulated widely following the international protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd. In large part, works of fiction haven’t made the cut.
We should elevate works of fiction in anti-racist discourse just as much as non-fiction books like Kendi’s or Oluo’s. The mere act of telling a story that reflects on the self is a political and social act. But given the identity of Black women at the intersection of two marginalized and oppressed communities, the words of Black women are radically and urgently political.
The truth is that Black women have been telling rich, beautiful stories since the dawn of time, but the modern world only acknowledged their voices after centuries of Eurocentric literature. “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe chronicles pre-colonial Nigeria and the impact of British colonialism and Christian missionaries. First published in 1958, the novel is a milestone in African literature and has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler was a breakthrough science fiction novel published in 1993. The book, set in a world fractured by capitalism and environmental racism, tells the story of a woman with a radical hope to change the future.
One of the most renowned Black female writers of the twenty-first century is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie, who grew up in Nigeria, was inspired after reading “Things Fall Apart” at age 10 by seeing her own life represented in the book. Her bestselling 2013 novel, “Americanah,” is a story of a Nigerian couple navigating a newfound sense of race and isolation in a Western world. Adichie wrote from her own experiences of navigating racial identification while studying in America, she said on NPR.
As more youth participate in activism, writers of color have only become more crucial in the search for diverse voices. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, published in 2017, became a sensational Young Adult novel for its powerful portrayal of police violence and systemic corruption. Thomas, who expanded a short story she wrote in college about the police shooting of Oscar Grant, attempted to expand readers’ understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and difficulties faced by Black Americans who code-switch in different communities.
Throughout the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, new books by Black writers have gained massive success. “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, which was published on June 2nd, 2020, has been on The New York Times Fiction Bestsellers list for thirteen weeks. And “Luster” — Raven Leilani’s debut novel published on August 4th, 2020 — was an instant New York Times Bestseller and an Amazon Best Book in August 2020.
Works of fiction share ideas in a powerful and unforgettable way. Fiction presents the lesson through the story, drawing the reader to feel the moral rather than read it—non-fiction may feel direct or overbearing to some readers, especially to those who would, at first glance, disagree with its conclusion. We absorb fiction emotionally and in a memorable way, like our bedtime stories we cherish and remember. Lastly, fiction extends our empathy. By imagining ourselves as the characters and feeling the same emotions as them, we gain a better, near-tangible understanding of their experiences. I’ve absorbed life-changing lessons and found myself immersed in worlds I couldn’t have previously imagined in “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, “With the Fire On High” by Elizabeth Acevedo and “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.
These crucial moments after a global reawakening of what it means to be Black in America provide the space and opportunity to reflect on ourselves and the media we consume. The books on these anti-racism lists are a powerful tool to amplify Black voices and learn about Black experiences of racism and systemic oppression. By adding these fiction reads to our bookshelves, we gain a powerful and emotional understanding of the Black lives that we should listen to and celebrate every day.