Feminist Bookshelf: We Need Diverse Books

Alice Boyd shows you how to avoid a 100% white, straight and cisgender summer reading list

‘Ah!’ I gently mutter as I breathe a sigh of relief, crawling into a comfy deck chair in the garden in the sunshine, and pull out a book. With 20 degree heat and plenty of sun to go around for everyone, summertime is the perfect excuse to escape from university and work responsibilities, and get your head into a good book. But whether you’re into clichéd romance novels, intensive crime dramas or sci-fi fantasy worlds, you should check your reading list for accidental ignorance. Surprised? Here’s why.

How many of you are familiar with little-known, New York, Feminist writer K Tempest Bradford? On February 22nd she wrote a blog post that challenged readers to stop reading books by ‘straight white cisgendered male authors for a year.’ Her argument was that most books were ‘skewed heavily toward privileged voices,’ making her ‘ragequit’ reading them. The response back was that Tempest was referred to as a ‘black supremacist,’ and was ‘intolerant, censorious, and an obstruction of the free exchange of ideas that is essential to freedom itself.’

And Tempest isn’t alone in suggesting we should remove ourselves – even temporarily – from allowing our reading lists to be dominated by white male writers. Sunili Govinnage wrote in The Guardian of her experience reading 25 books in 2014 that were all by authors of colour, as a reaction to ‘inherent bias’ in publishing. Blogger Saladin Ahmed went a step further to state that: ‘the market itself is racist and sexist in all sorts of unseen ways.’ Furthermore, female writers observed that the New York Times tends to ignore female novelists in their reviews.

Even commonly criticised Tumblr offers an excellent insight onto the issue through its We Need Diverse Books CampaignThe campaign is helping to raise awareness for how children’s books have a distinct lacking of black, lesbian, gay and transgender role models. They are also helping to raise awareness of the sexism that is rife in children’s literature; 57 percent of kid’s books published each year have male protagonists whilst only 31 percent have female.

It’s not that literature and the arts should be enforced to meet a diversity quota, but more than they should be pushed to expand their horizons and look for alternative content to publish: alternative content that is not white or cisgender, but valuable and profitable literature. And it is partially the responsibility of us to purchase copies of novels written by women, transgender and homosexual authors, and people of colour, to prove their popularity and secure their place in British and Global bookstores.

So, take the step further with your reading this summer and invest in novels and stories that aren’t always or dominatingly white, English-speaking or cisgender. Here are some of my suggestions of novels to keep your summer reading list as diverse as possible:

Books with Non-White Leads:

  • The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
  • Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
  • The Girl with Ghost Eyes, by M.H. Boroson
  • The Kaleidoscope: The Gift of Madness, by Adrian Mendoza

Books with Non-Heterosexual Leads:

  • Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
  • Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
  • Maurice, by E. M. Forster
  • Geography Club, by Brent Hartinger
  • B-Boy Blues: A Seriously Sexy, Fiercely Funny, Black-on-Black Love Story, by James Earl Hardy

Transgender Authors:

  • Six Months, Three Days, by Charlie Jane Anders
  • A Safe Girl to Love, by Casey Plett
  • Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock
  • Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience, by Matt Kailey
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg


  • The Colour Purple, by Alice Walker
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  • This Life, by Karel Schoeman
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson
  • A Dark Night’s Passing, by Naoya Shiga
  • Memed, My Hawk, by Yashar Kema
  • White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

Books in Translation:

  • The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
  • The Last Lover, Can Xue
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami
  • Neuland, by Eshkol Nevo
  • The Open Door, by Latifa Zayyat
  • Tamas, by Bhisham Sahni
  • The Swallows of Kabul, by Yasina Khadra

Non-White Feminist Literature:

  • We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, by Patricia Hill Collins
  • Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
  • Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, edited by Daisy Hernandez

Image: PEN American Center

One thought on “Feminist Bookshelf: We Need Diverse Books

  1. I must disagree with your premise for such an article. Firstly, literature is rampant with homosexual authors from ancient to modern day. Secondly, just because an area is dominated by male protagonists (by only a slight majority) it is not the fault of those male straight cis authors but by all authors. And it by no means reflects the quality of the work. Your literary criticism shouldn’t stem from what is essentially a racist, sexist and heterophobic viewpoint which if anything is more exclusionary. Feminism is not for the oppression of the cis white privileged straight male community, but for any community, of which there are many, that think of women as property or a lesser sex. As a nail in the coffin, JK Rowling is a perfect example of a woman who supports strong female characters, the LGBT community and has achieved great success even with a vagina and a male protagonist.


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