I am a member of DORT, the Diversity and Outreach Roundtable, which is a subunit in the Minnesota Library Association. At the recent MLA conference, several members of DORT presented on diverse books. The topic desciption that was submitted to the conference was very broad, which allowed each of us to choose what we were persoanlly passioante about as our individual topic. I spoke about adult genre fiction, where it is often difficult for authors of color to break out. Since I only had ten minutes for my portion of the presentation, I was unfortunately only able to highlight the following six books (all of which I have read and enjoyed).
Additionally, I also created three lists of adult genre authors of color, which you can see here. There are at least 100 authors on each list, all of whom have been published or are soon to be published in the US, and should be available in print, digitally, or both. If you have any additional authors to suggest, please leave a comment here or there, and I will update the lists. These reviews, as well as other materials and resources related to our presentation, were originally published on the blog we created in lieu of presentation handouts for the 2014 MLA conference which can be found at: Diversity! Books for a Better Today
Night Hawk by Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins always adds an unobtrusive history lesson to her books, which is part of the reason I enjoy them. Her characters are strong, diverse men and women who celebrate their heritage, and welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that can, at times, seem overburdened with tortured nobility. Night Hawk is the story of Ian Vance, a bounty hunter who had been featured in a few of Jenkins’ previous books, and Maggie Freeman, a woman accused of killing a white man who had molested her. Although Ian initially plans to simply deliver Maggie safely to her trial judge, he comes to admire her spirit and quickly realizes that she is not guilty of the crime she is accused of. The two travel to Ian’s home in Wyoming, while slowly building a life together—each is running from a past that still haunts them, and while both desire a future with the other, there are obstacles they must overcome.
My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin
Jeannie Lin’s Tang Dynasty romances are a series of four loosely connected books that take place in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). She has recently started a new series, the Pingkang Li Mysteries, also set during the Tang Dynasty. My Fair Concubine is the story of Fei Long and Yan Ling. Fei Long’s sister has run away rather than be sold off in a politically expedient arranged marriage, and Fei Long must find a replacement to preserve the family honor. Yan Ling is a servant at a teahouse who yearns for a better life. Realizing that they are in a position to assist the other, the two come to an arrangement, and Fei Long does his best to transform a servant into a lady. But when the time comes to hand Yan Ling over to the Emperor, Fei Long realizes he might have gotten more than he bargained for. Yes, it is a retelling of “My Fair Lady,” just in case the title alone was not enough to tip you off. But the setting of the story and the attention paid to detail and characterizations raise this far above a run-of-the mill retelling to a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The Caretaker by A. X. Ahmad
While many thrillers involve vast international conspiracies that only one man can thwart due to his superior skills and knowledge, this book (the first in a series by debut author Ahmad) is a thriller on a much smaller scale. Ranjit Singh, a disgraced ex-Indian army officer living with his family in the US, is trying to make a go of his landscaping business on Martha’s Vineyard. Things seem to be looking up when Ranjit gets a job as an off-season caretaker for Senator Neals—he has a steady income, and he decides, despite his better judgment, to move his family into the Senator’s house for the winter. But suddenly things go very wrong: Ranjit’s family has been picked up and is awaiting deportation back to India, and Ranjit has been sucked into a conspiracy that stretches all the way from Washington to India, to the scandal that drove Ranjit out of the army. I don’t read very many thrillers, as I generally find them too far-fetched or hysterical to suspend my disbelief, but this one had just the right mix of plausibility and intrigue to keep me interested. I will be reading the sequel, to see how Ranjit deals with the unresolved problems from this book.
The Concubine’s Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland
This is the fourth of Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro novels; the eighteenth was published earlier in 2014. They are set in Japan during the late 17th century, and frequently feature the Shogun and members of his court and household. Sano Ichiro, the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People, has just married Lady Reiko when their wedding feast is interrupted by the untimely (and violent) death of Lady Harume, a favored concubine. Rather than being allowed to take the vacation he was promised, Sano must delve into the complex world of court intrigue, power plays, and sexual politics. Meanwhile, Lady Reiko struggles with her new identity as a wife and her position both in society and in her husband’s household. Rowland is another author who is skillful at delivering history lessons within her novels, without making them feel like a chore. Another important skill, especially for a long running series, is that the characters grow and mature, and do not stagnate into caricatures of themselves
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
A high fantasy novel that does not take place in a stand-in for medieval Europe! Instead it is in a stand-in for a medieval Arabic kingdom, but without all the annoying orientalist trappings that so often mar these settings. It’s wonderful, and I can’t wait for the sequel. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is ready to retire from his career as a ghul hunter and enjoy tea and biscuits and relaxing with his friends, when word comes that the clan of the Badawi has been almost entirely slaughtered. Adoulla and his assistant Raseed are soon joined by Zamia, the sole survivor of the attack. Together they discover that the massacre was part of a larger plan by an unknown evil adversary to destroy the great city of Dhamsawaat—and possibly the world.
Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler (some of the links are no longer active or otherwise correct, but it is a good starting point)
The seven short stories and two essays in this collection are a perfect introduction to Octavia Butler’s work, especially as each piece features a short afterword by the author explaining how it came to be written, what her intent was with the piece, or how her thoughts on a particular subject led her to create something entirely different. While Butler did not consider herself a short story writer, and indeed in the introduction to this book says that she hates writing short stories, they still creep into your brain and stick with you, just as her longer fiction does. My favorite stories are “Speech Sounds,” set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a disease that has destroyed people’s communication skills; “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” in which individuals who have a terrible genetic disease are faced with limited choices, none of them good; and “Amnesty,” in which an abductee now works with the group that abducted her for the benefit of both. The two essays are about writing, and her experiences as an author of color in the sff community, and should be required reading for any aspiring writer, no matter what genre they hope to publish in.
Source: all books borrowed from the library, except for the Jeannie Lin title, which I own