Similarly to most PR pros, I loved reading as a kid, but between college and a packed social life filled with brunches and happy hours, my passion for reading and getting lost in a good novel vanished completely. This past year, in the name of self-care and wellness, my friend inspired me to challenge myself to reading 20 novels, but not by just anyone — by only black authors.
This challenge isn’t something new. As mainstream society shifts to a collective sense of wokeness, people are recognizing the inequality expressed in art, entertainment and everyday life and finding creative ways to confront it. Most of the top best-sellers lists, lists of classic books, required reading lists from schools and oftentimes recommendations from friends/co-workers are usually dominated by stories by white authors.
Just last week, Barnes & Noble caught flack on Twitter after attempting to promote diversity by editing the covers of classic American literature to reimagine protagonists as characters of color. What the retailer thought was an ode to Black History Month turned out to be a slap in the face to black authors. The books still featured white characters, were written by white authors from a white perspective, but now with a black person on the cover (excluding the one featured book written by a black author, The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.) Barnes & Noble’s misstep shines light on the fact that there’s a jarring lack of diversity in popular literature, meaning black and brown voices are going unheard and unread, risking these books irrelevance.
Luckily, there’s no shortage online of like-minded people who are also yearning for stories that captivate the black experience. On Goodreads, there’s lists of popular black classics; on Instagram (#client), I started following Well-Read Black Girl, a book club exclusively for Black women with an annual book fair in New York City; and my mom gifted me Michelle Obama’s unique and thought-provoking memoir, Becoming, right at the top of 2019.