46 Books By Women of Color to Read in 2018
Someday we’ll have a 46th president, but until then, here are 46 other things to look forward to
I first wrote a list like this in February of 2017. I’d been looking for upcoming books by women of color — to review, as well as to read — and I had such trouble finding them that it felt like hunting for unicorns. Once I’d collected a few 2017 titles, I thought I’d tell others about what I’d discovered. To my great delight, that list ended up being one of Electric Lit’s top five most widely shared pieces this year. So, I’m doing it again, with the wholehearted hope that a 2018 list might, here and there, help make the literary landscape less parochial, more inclusive. Toward this end, I sifted through publishers’ catalogs for forthcoming books, asked friends for thoughts, and solicited help on social media.
I’ve heard it argued that it’s been a banner year for books by women of color already: there’s Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 National Book Award, for one. It’s the first time the fiction prize has been conferred twice upon any black person or woman—thereby formally, prize-wise, placing Ward in the company of William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth. This year’s National Book Award ten-book fiction longlist featured six titles written by women of color; three out of five 2017 New York Public Library Young Lions finalists were women of color; and so on.
But there’s such a long way to go. Look, for instance, at the New York Times’s weekly “By the Book” section, in which, to a shameless extent, prominent men continue to suggest we just read still more men’s books. Consider the fact that, as recently as this May, Leonard Chang wrote about a novel of his that was rejected by big-house publishers for not being “Asian enough.” As one editor told him, critiquing his manuscript, “You have to think about ways to make these characters more ‘ethnic,’ more different…in the scene when [a character] looks into the mirror, you don’t show how she sees her slanted eyes, or how she thinks of her Asianness.”
As it so happens, I’m Asian; I’m publishing my debut novel this summer, and my characters, much like me, don’t spend any time contemplating their slanted eyes. If that editor had read more widely in the first place, he might previously have recognized how limiting his stereotypes might be, and he could have broken free of the rigid confines of his own narrow mind. Perhaps it’s too late for him, but it’s not for us. Let’s read more broadly; let’s try inhabiting one another’s wildly varied, entirely human points of view. It’s late in 2017, and the situation’s desperate. If we can’t imagine one another, how will we get through these next few years?
I tried, I really did, to avoid mentioning our current president, but as wicked tyrants tend to do, he poisons every day. Still, since this is a forward-looking list, a joyful celebration of what’s to come, I want to glance past him. This, too, will pass. In honor of our next president, the 46th—whoever she, he, or they might be—I picked 46 splendid novels, memoirs, anthologies, and collections I’m anticipating. These writers are here, their 2018 books are coming, and look how glorious.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
I mean, honestly, what better way to start 2018 than by reading the memoir of Black Lives Matter founders Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele? It’s a vital, captivating story of who Khan-Cullors and bandele are, as well as of how the movement was founded.
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
I’ve admired, for a while, the incandescent essays Morgan Jerkins has published in places like The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. This collection brings together Jerkins’s writing about living as a black woman in the U.S., with reflections on topics ranging from Sailor Moon to Rachel Dolezal.
Halsey Street by Naima Coster
In Naima Coster’s first novel, a mother who’s abandoned her family gets back in touch with her daughter, asking for forgiveness. Ben Marcus says Halsey Street is “a poignant, moving book, written with deep empathy and sophistication.”
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo, editor-at-large of The Establishment, is a trenchant, reliably insightful writer and thinker about race in America, and this collection is necessary reading. Her writing’s been compared to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s, Roxane Gay’s, and Jessica Valenti’s.
Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
Celeste Ng calls this debut novel “a tender but unflinching portrayal of the bond between two sisters — one that’s frayed by mental illness and stretched across continents, yet still endures.” Everything Here is Beautiful examines the depths and limits of love.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
The Wedding Date is a first book from Jasmine Guillory, who wrote frequently for the late, much-lamented The Toast. It’s about a woman who goes to a wedding with a man she meets in an elevator, and Roxane Gay says it’s a “charming, warm, sexy gem of a novel.”
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
It’s always an event when there’s new writing from Tayari Jones, but her forthcoming novel, about a just-married husband sentenced to prison for twelve years, is, according to Edwidge Danticat, “an exquisite, timely, and powerful novel that feels both urgent and indispensable.” Jones, says Michael Chabon, “has found a new level of artistry and power” in An American Marriage.
The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu
Kim Fu’s extraordinary first book, For Today I Am a Boy, received the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. Her second novel depicts five girls at camp who take a kayaking trip and end up stranded, unchaperoned, on an island.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
A woman loses her mentor and best friend, and takes on caring for his Great Dane. In this vivid portrait of the wilds of sorrow, The Friend shows two fictional creatures in their shared but separate grief becoming increasingly close, and isolated from everyone else.
Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
From a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree comes this picaresque about an Iranian American bibliophile, freshly orphaned, traveling across Spain. Bustle has acclaimed Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi as an author “on the verge of developing a whole new literature movement.”
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
This is Akwaeke Emezi’s debut, but, as Taiye Selasi says, “she is an old―an ancient―storyteller: thrillingly at home in the tradition of griots, poets, seers and seekers.” Freshwater follows a Nigerian woman with a fractured self whose multiple identities take turns narrating the novel.
Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik
Song of a Captive Bird is a fictionalized portrayal of the influential Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, who, in her verse as in her life, rebelled against expectations that she keep quiet. Jasmin Darznik’s novel is inspired by the poetry, letters, and interviews that Farrokhzad left behind.
Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad by Krystal Sital
Nicole Dennis-Benn calls this memoir a “brilliant account of gender inequality and the burdens we bear as women in the Caribbean.” Secrets We Kept is about Krystal Sital’s grandmother’s life as a widow, and the complicated freedom she found after her husband’s death.
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
I really love opening up a magazine to find that there’s a new essay out from Zadie Smith. Now, for the first time, she’s gathered her nonfiction in one book, Feel Free.
Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot
While Terese Mailhot was in the hospital, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder, she started writing in a notebook. Heart Berries comes out of that notebook, and it’s a memoir in essays that, Lidia Yuknavitch says, is “shot through with funny angry beautiful brutal truths.”
The House of Erzulie by Kirsten Imani Kasai
Shade Mountain Press is a small, new, exciting feminist press founded by the writer Rosalie Morales Kearns. The House of Erzulie is its next release, a surreal novel that switchbacks between the present day and a 1850s Louisiana plantation.
Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirstin Chen
Kirstin Chen’s second novel is the large-hearted, absorbing tale of a family forced to flee Communist China because a child reports his grandmother to the Party for having vandalized a picture of Chairman Mao. When the visa office says one child has to be left behind, heartbreak ensues.
The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat
I was utterly enthralled by this book, an unsettling, inventive debut novel about a girl and her father in an island commune. On the level of both prose and story, The Parking Lot Attendant feels startling and new.
Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester
In this novel, Natalia Sylvester’s second, a woman’s father-in-law comes back from the dead to try to redeem himself with his unforgiving family. Cristina Henríquez says the book is infused with “extraordinary spirit and life.”
Go Home!, edited by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
For months, I’ve been anticipating this anthology, which brings together Asian diasporic writers as wide-ranging, and as wonderful, as Mia Alvar, Alexander Chee, Karissa Chen, Kimiko Hahn, Alice Sola Kim, Chang-Rae Lee, T. Kira Madden, Jennifer Tseng, Esmé Weijun Wang, and still others. Ocean Vuong says, “I read this book and see my people — see us — and feel, in our collective outsiderhood, at home,” to which I say amen.
My Old Faithful by Yang Huang
The winner of the Juniper Prize for Fiction, My Old Faithful is a linked collection about a Chinese family that immigrates to the United States. This slim volume spans thirty years and a rich variety of stories.
The Beekeeper by Dunya Mikhail
In The Beekeeper, poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail gives the accounts of Iraqi women who escaped Daesh (ISIS), and of the beekeeper who helped them get away. Mikhail herself left Baghdad for the U.S. in the 1990s.
Happiness by Aminatta Forna
Rabih Alameddine says Happiness is one of the best novels he’s read in a while; John Freeman compares it to Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. In this new book by the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize–winning Aminatta Forna, two strangers in London search for a missing boy.
Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
A police officer with a pregnant wife is killed on duty, and then the widow’s brother moves in to help raise the fatherless child. Alexander Chee says Whiskey and Ribbons is “thrilling,” and “as immediate and compelling as music.”
Poignant Song: The Life and Music of Lakshmi Shankar by Kavita Das
Poignant Song is a biography of Grammy-nominated Lakshmi Shankar, a prominent Hindustani classical music singer who collaborated with Western artists like George Harrison of The Beatles. I’ve followed Kavita Das’s writing for some time, and am eager to see what she does with this book.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Nafissa Thompson-Spires brings to life a funeral singer, a suicidal girl, and middle-class mothers in this debut collection from Atria. Kelly Link says “the stories here are dazzling, wise, wicked, and tender,” and that the book’s a “knockout.”
Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated by Tina Kover
Already the winner of France’s Le Prix du Roman-News, Disoriental now comes to the U.S. with its fictional account of Kimiâ Sadr, who, at ten, fled Iran for France. Now 25, she sits in a Paris fertility clinic as she’s visited — besieged — by memories of her family.
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
Aja Gabel’s debut novel focuses on a string quartet making its way through the highly competitive, fascinating demimonde of music. Maggie Shipstead, for one, calls The Ensemble “a wise and powerful novel about love, life, and music”: “I didn’t want it to end,” she says.
Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay
Look, I’m not sure what could feel more urgently necessary than this collection of essays addressing rape and assault. It’s never “not that bad,” and may everyone read this anthology.
Sick by Porochista Khakpour
Porochista Khakpour’s previous books, The Last Illusion and Sons and Other Flammable Objects, were memorably superb. I know I’m hardly the only reader who’s been awaiting Porochista’s third book and first memoir, a chronicle of her experience of late-stage Lyme disease.
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
With one of the more eye-catching titles around, Number One Chinese Restaurant is centered upon the workers in a Maryland Chinese restaurant. Peter Ho Davies praises the novel, saying that Lillian Li “conjures the ‘eco-system’ of this workplace with insider acuity and renders her bustling, hustling clan of waiters, hostesses, cooks, and managers with brilliant feeling.”
Tiny Crimes, edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto
Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto, both longtime champions of short fiction, have compiled 40 very brief stories about crime. The collection includes writers as fantastic as Amelia Gray, Yuri Herrera, Carmen Maria Machado, Charles Yu, and Laura van den Berg.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
I first read Sayaka Murata’s fiction in Granta and thought it hilarious, strange, and mesmerizing; this novel promises to be no less. It’s about a woman who started working at a convenience store while she was in college, and, at 36, is still in the same job.
Old in Art School by Nell Irvin Painter
Nell Irvin Painter is a visual artist and Princeton history professor whose teacher once told her she’d never be an “Artist.” In this intriguing memoir, she explores questions of what it is to be an “Artist,” capitalized, and of how the judgment of women would-be Artists can be affected by their looks, age, and race.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Fruit of the Drunken Tree takes place in 1990s Colombia, and depicts a privileged seven-year-old girl and her family’s maid. As drug-war violence escalates in Bogotá, the two girls draw close in what Patricia Engel calls a “heart-stopping portrait of the intimacy of violence.”
How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs
Plimpton Prize–winning Alexia Arthurs is publishing her first book, a collection about Jamaicans and Jamaican immigrants. These accomplished stories range from New York to the Caribbean to the Midwest.
Love War Stories by Ivelisse Rodriguez
Here’s what Brazos bookseller Mark Haber has to say about Ivelisse Rodriguez’s book: that “it’s an insightful look into girlhood, race, and the wounds of growing up,” a “dazzling collection by an important new voice.” Puerto Rican girls, and the women who raise them, fight and love in this new release from the Feminist Press.
What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan
What We Were Promised tracks a family that moves from rural China to America then back to China, this time to a luxury high-rise in Shanghai. One day, an ivory bracelet goes missing, a mystery that exacerbates existing interfamilial tensions.
A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua
Vanessa Hua’s previous book, a story collection, received the Asian/Pacific American Award in Literature and was applauded by O, The Oprah Magazine as a “searing debut.” A River of Stars is Hua’s first novel, and its gripping tale of Scarlett Chen, a Chinese boss’s mistress sent to America to birth a child, is as moving as it is entertaining.
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim
Gary Shteyngart says If You Leave Me is “an unforgettable story of family, love, and war set against the violent emergence of modern Korea.” This deeply affecting debut novel is about Korean War–dislodged refugees who fall in love.
Everyday People: The Color of Life, edited by Jennifer Baker
Everyday People is the first fiction anthology in a long while from a big-five publisher featuring people of color and Native writers. Edited by Electric Lit contributing editor Jennifer Baker, the book includes Mia Alvar, Alexander Chee, Junot Díaz, Yiyun Li, Hasanthika Sirisena, Brandon Taylor, and other luminaries.
This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s third novel details the difficult life of Tambudzai, a woman in Zimbabwe who hopes for a better life than she can attain. Crisis comes when she takes a last-resort job in ecotourism.
OCTOBER AND AFTERWARD
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
I’m in the habit of reading every one of Nicole Chung’s essays that I come across — compassionate and astute, her writing has much to tell us about race, America, belonging, and adoption. All You Can Ever Know is her first book, a memoir about having been adopted and the search for her Korean birth family.
And It Begins Like This by LaTanya McQueen
“I have felt unseen my entire life,” says LaTanya McQueen, and she notes that this might be why she became obsessed with finding out more — and writing — about a storied ancestor, once a slave, who had a relationship with a white man. They had three children together, and the ancestor took the man to court to give their children his name.
Useful Phrases for Immigrants by May-lee Chai
Tayari Jones selected Useful Phrases for Immigrants for the Bakwin Award, and calls it “essential reading,” with fiction that “interrogates heavy subjects with a light touch.” May-lee Chai used to report for the Associated Press, and this will be her ninth published book.
The Body Papers by Grace Talusan
Grace Talusan makes use of immigration papers, legal certificates, and medical test results in her memoir about immigration, trauma, and illness. The winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction, The Body Papers is timely and compelling.