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Take a look at your bookshelf. Unless you’ve intentionally been adding people of color’s work to your collection, it’s possible that most of your literature was penned by white authors.
If so, that’s a shame, says Denver author R. Alan Brooks. “So much writing is about understanding a subtle aspect of the human condition,” he says. “If you have a bookshelf that has mostly white authors, how narrow is that sliver of understanding you’re feeding yourself?”
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Luckily, a literary notion receiving increased attention can help you broaden that sliver. It’s called “decolonizing your bookshelf,” and it starts with understanding why your collection lacks a range of voices. Since European colonialism began, white writers have received a boost not offered to authors of color. As Alex Nolos writes on Bookstr: “the famous works everyone has heard of were written by people who had the power to circulate them all over the world, specifically people who are white European men.”
Although works by authors of color have earned acclaim throughout the years, white writers still take up far more space in the card catalog. In 2018, 87.2 percent of American authors and writers were white, according to Census Bureau data pulled by Data USA. The same year, less than eight percent of romance novels from leading publishers were written by people of color. Data collected in 2018 by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education program, showed that approximately six percent of children’s books worldwide were written by African or African American authors; Latinx authors claimed roughly five percent of the lot.
Some of that disparity could be blamed on the lack of diversity in publishing, where the gatekeepers determine whose work is published and promoted. Per the most recent PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 84 percent of those working in the industry in 2018 were white. (Brooks notes that he self-published his own popular graphic novel, The Burning Metronome, rather than waiting for someone to recognize his work.)
So, it makes sense that most of the books you naturally encounter were written by white authors. Brooks faced that very problem while growing up in Atlanta. “Much of the media I was consuming had the same face on it, the face of a white male,” Brooks says. The graphic novel fan had to purposefully seek out literature written by black writers like him.
Such intentionality is really all you need to begin decolonizing your bookshelf, too. The process starts with actively considering how each tome you own bolsters the impacts of colonialism. In her Facebook post on the topic, writer and host of the Combing Your Roots podcast Ally Henny suggests getting rid of books written by problematic authors. “The goal isn’t to run away from alternative viewpoints or ideas with which we disagree, but these should not be the dominant voices in your library,” she writes, adding that books that promote racist ideals should be confined to university libraries, where they can be studied.
Then, of course, comes the part sure to delight any bibliophile: Buying more books. Finding them is as simple as Googling lists of great Latinx/black/indigenous/etc. writers. From there, Brooks says, it’s important to keep an open mind. “You will find some things you do like, and you’ll find some things you don’t like,” he says. “You don’t have to pretend like you love something just because a person of color wrote it. You probably don’t love every book by a white author you’ve ever read.”
To get you started, 5280 put together a list of Colorado-based authors of color. Though we’ve listed just one book from each writer, many have penned multiple. And while we think Brooks’ final piece of advice is a good one, we suspect you’ll love all of these.
If you like science fiction
If you like short stories
- One of These Days, Trent Hudley, velizbooks.com; buy here
- Sabrina & Corina, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, kalifajardoanstine.com; buy here
If you like graphic novels
- Acid of the Godz, Anubis Heru
- The Burning Metronome, R. Alan Brooks; buy here
If you like horror or crime fiction
- Desperado: A Mile High Noir, Manuel Ramos, manuelramos.com; buy here
- The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, Mario Acevedo, marioacevedo.com; buy here
- The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones, demontheory.net; buy here
If you have kids or teens
- 500 Words or Less, Juleah del Rosario, juleahdelrosario.com; buy here
- Cute and Curly, Rosemarie Allen, lovebeingblack.com; buy here
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor; buy here
- Silhouetted by the Blue, Traci L. Jones, traciljones.com; buy here
- Spotted Tail, David Heska Wanbli Weiden, davidweiden.com; buy here
- When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon, sandhyamenon.com; buy here
If you like poetry
- Lovemestiza, Sheree Brown, lovemestiza.com; buy here
- Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, goodreads.com; buy here
- Thirteen Descansos, Suzi Q. Smith, suziqsmith.wpcomstaging.com; buy here
- You Ask Me To Talk About The Interior, Caroline Ebeid, carolinaebeid.com; buy here
If you’re a foodie
If you like (auto)biographies and memoirs
- The Life of Charlie Burrell: Breaking the Color Barrier in Classical Music, Charlie Burrell and Mitch Handelsman, amazon.com; buy here
- A Mighty Long Way: My Journey To Justice At Little Rock Central High School, Carlotta Walls LaNier, penguinrandomhouse.com; buy here
- My First White Friend, Patricia Raybon, patriciaraybon.com; buy here
- Remembering Lucile: A Virginia Family’s Rise from Slavery and a Legacy Forged a Mile High, Polly E. Bugros McLean, upcolorado.com; buy here
- Soaring on the Wings of a Dream: The Untold Story of America’s First Black Astronaut, Ed Dwight, goodreads.com; buy here
If you like nonfiction
- African People’s Contributions to World Civilizations: Shattering the Myths Vol. 1, Paul L. Hamilton, maatinus.com; buy here
- Border Thinking, Enrique Sepúlveda III and Andrea Dyrness, upress.umn.edu; buy here
- Defining The Times: Barack Obama, Patricia Duncan, definingthetime.com; buy here
- Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity, Brenda J. Allen, waveland.com; buy here
If you like historical fiction
We will update this list, so please send recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org