Let's face it: sometimes you just don't want to read books by old dead white guys.
Are some of their works classics? Sure. Are the classics classics for a reason? Yes, they're usually good. However, sometimes you just really need some fresh perspective, a different voice.
There's such a drastic difference between a white man writing about minority oppression versus actual minorities writing about it--the white guy will never fully understand oppression.
As an English major, I spent most of my school career dredging through the works of, you guessed it, old dead white guys. However, I was lucky enough to be able to take a class called "Voices of America", which focused specifically on American authors that weren't just white males.
I hadn't put much thought into who was writing the stories that I was reading, and after taking this class, I have become much more aware of the voices that are creating what I read.
It certainly doesn't stop me from reading a story by white guys that I'm interested in reading, but I put more thought into the creation of the work itself now.
Anyways, not all of these authors are still alive, but most are. If you're interested in reading different voices besides the old dead white guy, here's a great list of works to check out:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Based partially on Alexie's own experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, the book follows Arnold Spirit Jr., a fourteen-year old Native American coming of age as he transfers to an all-white public school.
Hilarious, but also poignantly raw, Alexie tells Arnold's story not only with words, but in comic illustrations, too.
This is a great read if you aren't a huge reader, or even if you are and just want something that's still raw and real, but less dense than other books. There's still absolutely those gut-punching moments, and sometimes they came through the drawings. I've been making it a point to try to read Alexie's other works after reading this one.
Drown by Junot Diaz
Junot Diaz, a Dominican American author, tells the semi-autobiographical story of Yunior, whose family immigrates to America to pursue the American dream, and the story of the pitfalls and struggles that accompany chasing that dream.
Drown is a collection of short stories that are not chronological, and it's honestly that ambiguity of time that makes it so powerful. This has been my personal favorite read. Junot Diaz has a way of capturing emotion that hits you right in the chest, and his other works are excellent, too. However, Drown stands atop them all.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I know that some high schools required reading this book, which is how I first stumbled across it many years ago, but if you haven't read it already, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the autobiography of Maya Angelou (RIP), a black woman growing up in Arkansas.
Angelou tells the story of the racism she experienced as a black woman, and how she transformed from only a victim to somebody who can respond to the prejudice.
Angelou tells a story we, as white people, try our best to avoid engaging with: the racism of our grandparents, parents and their societies, and of even our peers and society today. Her prose is beautiful, and she does not mince her words nor sugarcoat anything that happened to her, and her words echo in you long after you've finished the book.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian American author, tells a series of short stories about different Indian and Indian American people, all struggling between their roots in India and the world they face in America.
Lahiri's succession of stories that follow different characters sounds like it would be difficult to care for a rotating cast, but she develops them so fully that you cannot help but care for each one. You wonder what will happen to each one, and whether the problems that are presented will be solved or fall further apart.
Sula by Toni Morrison
Sula by Toni Morrison tells the story of the predominantly black neighborhood of The Bottom in Ohio, and follows the narrator, Nel Wright, and her best friend, Sula Peace, as they grow up in The Bottom. This is the story of their friendship and their relationship to the world around them.
Morrison creates a vibrant world that fights back against the girls, who aren't quite strict of moral, either. The complexity of the novel, as well as the numerous parallels that run through it, leave you as a reader with so much to mull over at the end, and it's almost impossible to not sit there and make connections between things in the text.
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
Amy Tan tells the story of Ruth, a Chinese American, and her mother, an immigrant. Ruth's mother, Lu Ling, is developing dementia, and Ruth explores her frustrations and feelings towards her ailing mother. Lu Ling had written her life story in Chinese, and Ruth takes the documents for translation, learning her mother's story and truth of her life in China.
There's two stories being told: Ruth and Lu Ling's. Their relationship is not the best, but the realistic way it's portrayed hit me right in the feelings place. My own mother has been struggling with my grandma's dementia, and I have given her this book in hopes that reading the relationship between Ruth and Lu Ling will help her feel less guilty about the things she might be feeling towards her mother.
The way this book is written really makes you contemplate the relationships we share with our families, and how they can be made and broken.