An Embarrassing Personal Admission

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

A month or so ago, in the middle of our department meeting, the supervisor of our high school ENL department asked us to go get the books or short stories that our students were currently reading.  We laid them on a table and she asked us what they had in common. These book, poems and short stories represented different genres, historical time periods and topics.  It immediately became obvious to what she was referring.

All the authors were white males.

We were all shocked.

Our district represents a diverse population.  We have a little over 50% Latino students, most of whom were born in the US, and have more or less 15-20% Black and 25-30% White students and a small percentage of Asian students.  Those numbers are not exact, but the gist is right.  I don’t know the male to female ratio, but it must be more or less even.

Obviously, we all “teach” some stories, novels etc by minority writers.  But I’d have trouble coming up with a list on the spot.  This is not including our elective courses exclusively devoted to racism and sexism.

But it is even more startling in our department.   The English as a New Language Department is, by definition, comprised of students from other countries.  Almost all of those students are from Spanish speaking countries, along with some Asian, African and Caribbean students.  And I have them reading mostly stories by and about white teens and white male adults?

The school district wants to ensure that the reading choices and materials that we give our students include more authors of different races, religions and gender.  Perfect.

As I was driving home from work and contemplating this discussion, I thought about what I read in my personal life.  I’m a voracious reader and yet almost everything I read is by white authors.  Not exclusively male authors, but dominantly male authors.

I started to tick off a mental list of favorite authors as I drove.

  1.  Simon Winchester
  2.  Lee Child
  3.  Jonathan Kellerman
  4.  Louise Penny
  5.  J.K. Rowling
  6.  George R.R. Martin
  7.  John Grisham
  8.  Ray Bradbury
  9.  Agatha Christie
  10.  Robert B. Parker

This is by no means an inclusive list, but these were the authors who immediately came to mind.

How is this possible?

Yesterday, I opened a Goodreads account and started browsing.  Of course I have read books by authors of diverse backgrounds.  But my default list is comprised of books by white authors.

I added the following books to my “want to read” list.  And I’d like your opinions if you have read any of these.

Their Eyes Were Watching God  by Zora Neale Hurston

Fatal Shadows by Josh Lanyon

Iguana DreamsNew Latino Fiction by Delia Poey (editor) and Virgil Suárez (editor)

Native American Fiction Stories by Grey Eagle Thornton

Please recommend other authors and titles to me.  I read all genres, but love spy novels, mysteries, detective stories, sci-fi, historical fiction and fantasy the most.

I am thankful to be able to remedy this glaring hole in my reading choices.

It’s an embarrassing personal admission.


About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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47 Responses to An Embarrassing Personal Admission

  1. I was thinking through the non-white authors I hv read and these came to mind. Haruki Murakami (japanese), Khaled Hosseini (Afghan). I hv enjoyed a few of their books. This us a tough one but good to thinker. I have to go dig out books from the still unpacked boxes, Barb!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Darn…my earlier comment was truncated…that I’ve never thought about books that way since I choose books based on content vs author’s ethnicity. It’s not something I think about when it comes to books. So as long as the story is good, I’ll read. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A few African-American authors I’ve read:

    I’m a big fan of Leonard Pitts Jr., who I discovered through his syndicated opinion columns. His novels are not really in your favorite genres, though.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer for “The Atlantic” primarily writes non-fiction, but he does write a comic book/graphic novel called “The Black Panther”. (I’ve not read it, but I love his other writing.)

    Victor LaValle wrote an absolutely brilliant weird tale in the style of H.P. Lovecraft called “The Ballad of Black Tom”. Dark stuff (and maybe inaccessible if you don’t read Lovecraft) but I thought it was one of the best horror stories I’ve ever read. I have a review of it on my blog.

    Also, while they are far from mainstream (so far), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some female indie authors I know and admire: Shannon Selin (who writes historical fiction in the Napoleonic era), Eileen Stephenson (who write historical fiction set in Byzantium) and Alison Morton (who writes alternate future “Roma Nova” thriller series.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read a lot of non fiction these days Barb and by a variety of authors but I think it is great that you have made this connection and through your post bought it to the attention of many, it’s certainly good for thought. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was an avid Lee Child reader until Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher. I have a good imagination, but not that good as a 5’9″ actor cannot play a 6’5″ giant. I haven’t read anything of his since and will never watch one of the films.
    My reading habits these days are few, but I still enjoy Cathy Kelly and Erica James. Erica Spindler wrote some excellent thrillers, as does Tess Gerritsen and Sandra Brown. I haven’t seen anything by Matthew Reilly for years, and David Baldacci was another of my favourites from a few years back.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Be careful of Their Eyes… if I remember correctly, there is a difficult sexual scene included. Sandra Cisneros’ novel The House on Mango Street, How the Garcia Girls lost their Accent by Julia Alvarez, Farewell to Manzanar about life in a US Japanese internment camps, Gonzales and Daughter Trucking Co is a great Mexican American coming of age story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I’ve read The House on Mango Street and How the Garcia Glrls lost their Accent.. I’m very interested in anything to do with the Japanese internment camps in California so thank you for that as well as your other recommendations. Sorry if there are typos here. I just had eye surgery and my vision gets worse as the day goes on (I think it’s the eye drops that do it.)


  7. PS I’m so glad you posted this. The worst instructors are the one who persist in doing what they have always done.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Paul says:

    Wish I could help with some suggestions, but I don’t really know any authors. It’s good that your school is looking to diversify their material though.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Some of My Favorite Fiction Authors | A Ruined Chapel by Moonlight

  10. One of my favorite poems is Sterling A. Brown’s, “Thoughts on Death.” I first read that one in high school and it comes to mind often. Toni Morrison is another author I like to read. and please don’t leave out Maya Angelou!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Carrie Rubin says:

    Whenever I go to my son’s school’s parents’ weekend, I’m always surprised (annoyed?) by how many books on their literature curriculum are written by white male authors. Almost all of them. But it happens to many of us, I suppose. Though I read a lot of female authors–probably as many as males–I’m trying to make sure I also include books written by authors of color. It’s such a diverse world out there. We need to make sure we learn about it.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Carrie Ross says:

    If no one has suggested Leslie Marmon Silko yet, I highly recommend her work Storyteller (a collection of short stories and poetry) and Ceremony (a novel that ties together many themes: cultural identity, mental health/PTSD, and spirituality to name a few). Some other great options would be One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (magical realism), The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (a great look at the hero’s journey), and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

    On another note, I need to take this same thought and apply it to my own English classes. I know my students would benefit tremendously from reading different perspectives. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Almost Iowa says:

    My favorite novel from You-Can’t-Get-Anymore-Diverse-Than-This department is The Suffrage of Elvira by V.S. Naipal. It is an older book, written in 1957, but the blend of Hindi-Muslim-African-Carib-Spanish culture yields a spicy stew of humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Almost Iowa says:

    IMHO, the best reading are translated books. Way to many books are written for an audience other than that of the author and come off stilted. I prefer authors who are writing to and for people like themselves and that allows us to peer over their shoulders at a view of life that we don’t usually get.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Pingback: List of Stories To Be Read…..Part 1 | saneteachers

  16. Ann Coleman says:

    Like you, I seem to read mostly white authors, but I have always been a big fan of James Baldwin. His writing is very powerful. I do, however, read many books written by women, and some of my favorite authors include Magdalen Nabb, Ann Patchett (particularly “Truth and Beauty”), Gwendoline Butler, Tana French, Tracy Chevalier, Anne Lamott, Kathy Hogan Trochek, and “A Girl Named Zippy” by Haven Kimel is just hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I tend to gravitate towards series like the Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, the Jonathan Kellerman series, etc It’s like I’ve become in a reading rut. I’m glad of the responses to my post. I already started A Farewell to Manzanar and am hooked. I’ll check out some of the authors you mentioned 💟


  17. Pingback: List of Stories To Read… Part 2 | saneteachers

  18. Maggie Jean says:

    Sorry, I didn’t run through comments so I don’t know if Michael Connelly was mentioned. Never a disappointment. Dennis LeHayne, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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