12 WOC Authors You Need To Know This Year

by Melissa Ragsdale

Whether you call it an issue of diversity or equity, the publishing industry disturbingly, undeniably is white-washed. In January, a study by Lee and Low books showed that 79 percent of the publishing workforce is white and 78 percent identify as female (but if you work in publishing, this is not a shock to hear). Adding on, Brooklyn magazine recently published a comprehensive article called "You Will Be Tokenized: Speaking Out About the State of Diversity in Publishing," in which 50 people across the book world (from writers to editors to literary agents) give their thoughts about this problem and share their striking stories of how it has affected them. From backhanded comments to deep-set racism, the article is filled with haunting examples of how inhospitable the industry is to people of color.

From Marlon James to Mira Jacob, authors worldwide have been speaking out about the dangerous effects of the publishing industry's lack of diversity. There's a twisted and pervasive notion out there that a) only white audiences buy books and b) that white audiences only want to read white voices. Not only is this complete BS, but it's stifling many opportunities for great literature to be experienced. As a reader, I don't want to read the same viewpoint over and over again. I want to dive into every perspective out there. I want to walk in other people's shoes and make discoveries. I want every voice I can get.

No matter what position you're in — whether you read for pleasure or you're an executive at one of the big five publishing houses — it's past time we stop buying into the myth that only white voices sell. Let's enthusiastically celebrate the talent of people of color. Because truthfully, there are many authors of color out there who are absolutely killing it. Below, you'll find a sampling of the women of color who are making waves with brilliant new books this year. Get reading, you don't want to miss out.

1. Helen Oyeyemi: What is Not Yours is Not Yours

Well-known for her previous novels Boy, Snow, Bird, Mr. Fox, and Icarus Girl, Helen Oyeyemi's dropping a fantastic short story collection this March. With each piece, you open the door into a brand new world to explore, each just as enchanting as the last. This book is like a pure shot of imagination.

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2. Kaitlyn Greenidge: We Love You, Charlie Freeman

Coming out in March, We Love You, Charlie Freemanis sure to floor you. For a research experiment, the Freeman family moves into an apartment with a chimp, Charlie, with the goal that they will teach him sign language. Isolated in an all-white community by both their race and their living situation, the Freemans begin to unravel. And when Charlotte Freeman discovers the dark secrets of the research institute, the past seeps toxically into the present.

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3. Roxane Gay: Hunger

Not only is Roxane Gay is a powerful force in the discussion of diversity (or, any discussion really), but her writing is top-notch amazing. The world is on the edge of its seat for her new book, Hunger, which is coming out this June. A memoir of Gay's relationship with her body, Hunger promises to be a fantastic exploration of body image, self-esteem, feminism, and more.

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4. Nayomi Munaweera: What Lies Between Us

Nayomi Munaweera's recently released What Lies Between Us is one of those books that will grab you and not let go. The story is told as the confession of a woman who has committed a horrific crime. She dives back into her personal history, from growing up in Sri Lanka to immigrating to the United States and creating a new life for herself, leading you down the spiral of how her past caught up with her in the darkest of ways.

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5. Jhumpa Lahiri: In Other Words

A Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, this is Jhumpa Lahiri's nonfiction debut, and it's hooking readers left and right. A love letter to language, Lahiri delivers a stunning memoir about learning Italian. In fact, she originally wrote the book in Italian. The journey of a writer seeking a new voice, In Other Words is especially a must-read for language nerds and anyone who writes.

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6. Terry McMillan: I Almost Forgot About You

Terry McMillan is a prized author, and her newest book (coming out in June) is another knock-out read. When a 55-year-old woman upends her life, quitting her job and moving, she finds herself on a journey filled with hope and second chances. A book about rediscovering yourself, this one will have you flying through the pages.

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7. Leila Aboulela: The Kindness of Enemies

In her brilliant exploration of Muslim American life, Leila Aboulela draws shining connections between history and Post-9/11 life. When history professor Natasha discovers a link between one of her students and 19th century Muslim leader Imam Shamil, she is forced to confront her own Muslim heritage and what it means in the context of today's world.

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8. Jung Yun: Shelter

This debut novel has been turning heads. The story of Kyung Cho, a young father whose debts are catching up to him. When he takes in his estranged parents (who never showed him any affection as a child), the family is under the same roof for the first time in decades. Awash in the tension, Kyung must confront how his childhood has affected his own fatherhood as the family strives to come together.

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9. Petina Gappah: The Book of Memory

This debut novel is both haunting and riveting. This is the story of Memory, an albino woman convicted of murder and living in an intense maximum security prison in Zimbabwe. As Memory dives into the circumstances that brought her to murdering her adoptive father, you'll be hanging on to every word, trying to figure out if and when she's telling the truth.

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10. Han Kang: The Vegetarian

This allegorical novel set in South Korea will blow you away. When Yeong-hye stops eating meat in a country of strict social protocol, her vegetarianism becomes an act of subversion. As she's confronted with scandal, abuse, and estrangement, Yeong-hye falls deeper into the fantasies that ignited her rebellion.

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11. Ingrid Betancourt: The Blue Line

Columbian French politican and activist Ingrid Betancourt's debut novel is a gold mine for any reader, infused with both her own experiences and shimmering magical realism. Set against the violence of the Argentinian Dirty War, The Blue Line tells the story of Julia, who receives visions of horrific events. When she falls in love with a revolutionary, the two set on a dangerous mission to upend their government.

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12. Crystal Wilkinsin: The Birds of Opulence

Following several generations of women in a bucolic Southern black township, this lyrical novel paints a story filled with both enchanting magic and harsh realities. Following the Goode-Brown family, plagued by secrets of mental illness and illegitimacy and Francine Clark, a single mother haunted by her late husband, this book is propelled by intense relationships and deep-set connections to the community. It will take your breath away.

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Images: LubosHouska/Pixabay