I read way too many books by white dudes.
May 7, 2013 9:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for contemporary(ish) literary fiction written by folks who are not white men.

My bookshelves are embarrassingly hegemonic and I would like that not to be the case any longer. STUFF I LIKE: Lydia Davis, Don DeLillo, Tom McCarthy, Shirley Jackson, Roberto Bolaño, David Foster Wallace, Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Deb Olin Unferth, Patricia Highsmith, Arthur Bradford, Donald Barthelme; I like straight lit & decently experimental stuff & genre things that are not too genre-y (more The Handmaid's Tale and less A Song of Fire and Ice. STUFF I DISLIKE: Well, too-generic stuff. I realize this is murkily defined, especially as I included Highsmith and Jackson and etc., but hopefully you get the drift. I'm also not particularly looking for anything pre-midcentury, although I'm not GREATLY OPPOSED to such things. But yes I already read Emma, thanks.
posted by shakespeherian to Writing & Language (55 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
I am going to recommend Temeraire specifically so we can shout about social justice dragons via email.
posted by elizardbits at 9:27 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Junot Diaz, Lucy Ellmann, Alison Bechdel (who's a graphic novelist), Shelia Heti
posted by mlle valentine at 9:28 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Louise Erdrich is good. I have enjoyed both The Master Butchers Singing Club and The Round House.
posted by something something at 9:28 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and Alejandro Zambra.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: One of my favorite books is One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So, I'll recommend that.
posted by meese at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like Shirley Jackson? Check out the similarly named Shelley Jackson, particularly her queer speculative fiction novel Half Life.
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2013

ZZ packer Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Lydia Peelle Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing
Gloria Naylor Bailey's Cafe
posted by krisptoria at 9:30 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Based on your list, I think you'd like Zadie Smith and Jhumpa Lahiri.
posted by third rail at 9:30 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I enjoyed Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and I think it meets your criteria.
posted by wondermouse at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2013

I've been reading Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson and it's great.
posted by Ouisch at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2013

And Arundhati Roy.
posted by third rail at 9:32 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Some of my recent favorites:
+ Marie-Helene Bertino, Safe As Houses
+ Vanessa Veselka, Zazen
+ Lidia Yuknavitch, Dora: A Headcase
+ pretty much anything recommended by The Rejectionist
posted by divined by radio at 9:35 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: I like Sherman Alexie.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:41 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance" is one of my favourites.

I also enjoy Thomas King's work, especially "Green Grass, Running Water".
posted by backwards guitar at 9:43 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Octavia Butler (Kindred in particular)
posted by SugarAndSass at 9:45 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Nobody has mentioned Marilyn Robinson's Housekeeping. I also have infinitely good things to say about Zadie Smith, whose fiction keeps changing and never for the worse. Toni Morrison should be in the running for greatest American novelist of the second half of the twentieth century. If the subcontinent counts as non-white, then Vikram Seth is a dude you shouldn't ignore. The recently departed Chinua Achebe cannot help but move you, unless you are dumb and deaf to the world. And finally, she's hardly contemporary anymore, but Woolf gives all the British modernists a run for their money (especially
with her masterpiece, The Waves).
posted by dis_integration at 9:46 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh man, you've got to read some Octavia Butler. She certainly fits the bill as a sci-fi author whose work is not *too* genre-y. And her work is amazing. Kindred might be a good start. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are also quite good.
posted by duffell at 9:46 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: And I second small_ruminant's comment, above. Sherman Alexie is a masterful author. Many of his books edge into magical realism, which isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I'll drink that tea any day if he's pouring.
posted by duffell at 9:48 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Borges, Alexie
Achebe, Allende
Robinson, Carter
Willis (even if SF isn't your thing)

Tennessee Jones has a great book Deliver Me From Nowhere and might be a worthwhile addition to a diverse author list (he is trans). Andrea Barrett has written some light-but-fascinating books of stories and I can never get enough of Geraldine Brooks.
posted by jessamyn at 9:51 AM on May 7, 2013

Beth Nugent's Live Girls and City of Boys.
Amelia Gray's Threats and AM/PM.
posted by mattbucher at 9:52 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Lydia Davis - Samuel Johnson is Indignant and Collected Stories.
Jessica Anthony's The Convalescent
posted by mattbucher at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Teju Cole. Open City.
posted by Iridic at 10:01 AM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

People I know are raving about Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah
posted by infini at 10:11 AM on May 7, 2013

Caitlin Kiernan's The Drowning Girl.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2013

+1 to Chimamanda Adichie.
Her novel Half of a Yellow Sun is really wonderful.
Here's a link to her great TED Talk entitled "The Danger of a Single Story".
Sounds like you're on the right track to diversify your story exposure!

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
posted by musicismath at 10:31 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

People I know are raving about Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah

Haven't read it yet, but Purple Hibiscus was pretty good, and Half of a Yellow Sun was excellent. She's put out some good short stories, too.

Speaking of short stories, I can recommend Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders as well. Quick read, great concept: The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures.
posted by duffell at 10:32 AM on May 7, 2013

I liked Mohsin Hamid's "Moth Smoke" quite a bit.
posted by raihan_ at 10:35 AM on May 7, 2013

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys will turn Jane Eyre totally on its head for you.

And the absolute, hands-down, no-contest best history I've ever read is a trilogy by the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano - his Memory of Fire trilogy starts with preColumbian myths and ends in the 1980's, and in between it reads like Howard Zinn and Gabriel Garcia Marquez got totally drunk one night, spent the night in jail together and ended up having to teach history as their Community Service portion of their sentence and decided they should at least have fun while they were at it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:45 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Muriel Spark's best stories go down like shots of chilled gin.
posted by Iridic at 10:49 AM on May 7, 2013

"The Ark Sakura" by Kobo Abe.
posted by rr at 10:55 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Seconding Jhumpa Lahiri - she is one of my favorite authors of all time. I like The Namesake but adore her short stories.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:56 AM on May 7, 2013

I really love James Baldwin's *Another Country*.
posted by Philemon at 10:57 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Great suggestions above! Can't wait to read some of these that I'm not familiar with. Here are some more of my favorites:

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Jazz by Toni Morrison
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:58 AM on May 7, 2013

I simply cannot recommend N.K. Jemsin's Inheritance trilogy enough it is a literate highly imaginative fantasy romance with a fantasy world that is wholy original. Sex scenes that convey they actual feeling of having sex and being other worldly powerful at the same time.
posted by Rubbstone at 11:21 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Jhumpa Lahiri, mentioned many times above, is awesome.

Ruth Ozeki just released a new novel, and I greatly enjoyed her first one.
posted by TrarNoir at 11:22 AM on May 7, 2013

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is really good.

I also love Sherman Alexie and have really enjoyed the Octavia Butler books I’ve read.
posted by bongo_x at 11:31 AM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Salman Rushdie
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:16 PM on May 7, 2013

The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh
Kenzaburo Oe
Gao Xingjian
Duong Thu Huong
posted by seemoreglass at 2:30 PM on May 7, 2013

Nalo Hopkinson is all about the Afro-Caribbean future.

Brown Girl in the Ring was her first, and very good at that, but Midnight Robber is one of my favourites. She has a new book out, the second after a longish gap, which I'm excited to get my hands on: Sister Mine.
posted by bonehead at 2:32 PM on May 7, 2013

How could I forget V.S. Naipaul?
posted by seemoreglass at 2:40 PM on May 7, 2013

I read two Octavia Butler novels years and years ago and found her singularly lacking in humor. Has that changed?
posted by small_ruminant at 2:46 PM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Sandra Cisneros
Louise Erdrich...
posted by brujita at 3:51 PM on May 7, 2013

Jennifer Egan! (Goon Squad, The Keep, etc.)
The Night Circus is a lovely first novel by Erin Morgenstern
posted by prex at 7:04 PM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go
posted by so much modern time at 9:14 PM on May 7, 2013

Best answer: Sandra Cisneros was already mentioned - her most famous is The House on Mango Street about an 11-year old girl Mexican-American. It's written as a series of moments and ideas captured by this girl. The chapter about her name is one of my favorite written works.

Gabriel García Márquez is the Colombian author of 100 Years of Solitude, a novel that rivals anything by John Steinbeck. It's also decently experimental and a bit surreal.

Khaled Hosseini is the Persian author of the Kite Runner. It's a little more generic.

Ernest Gaines is a black American author who, despite being born in 1933, continues to write fiction about race in rural Louisiana. Start with A Lesson Before Dying.

For a young-adult read try Bang! by Sharon Flake about a boy who's father takes him camping and leaves him there with nothing but a gun. Or Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watson's Go to Birmingham which mixes in a famous MLK-era bombing with PTSD.

For non-fiction... check out Atul Gawande's description of the problems in the medical field in Complications. Or The History of White People, an academic text written by a black American woman.
posted by jander03 at 9:29 PM on May 7, 2013

Banana Yoshimoto is good.
posted by monocot at 5:36 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about Forbidden Colours by the ridiculously fascinating Yukio Mishima? From 1953, it's a novel from Japan about the crepuscular netherworld of homosexual liaisons in Tokyo at that time. Very good.

Virginia Woolf has only been mentioned once in here, so I'll mention her again, and plump for Mrs Dalloway.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 5:48 AM on May 8, 2013

Oh! Isabelle Allende! Her House Of The Spirits is another in the magic-realism genre, akin to 100 Years of Solitude - but I actually prefer her non-fiction work Aphrodite, which is a wonderful, wonderful take on food as an aphrodisiac. Not just aphrodisiac foods, mind you - although she does touch on that - her approach is that all food can be aphrodisiac because opening yourself up to food as pleasure can open yourself up to pleasure in general, and from there.... (She even has recipes in the back.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on May 8, 2013

Seconding Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin (although Jemisin runs pretty deeply into genre territory, the setting is a totally made-up fantasy world with divine protagonists and such).

I don't read much litfic, but I'll throw out some contemporary Chinese authors that range from somewhat to mostly obscure: Eileen Chang, Yu Hua, Mao Dun (Rainbow), Wang Shuo (Please Don't Call Me Human, which reminds me a little bit of Murakami).
posted by serelliya at 12:43 PM on May 8, 2013

Response by poster: Okay thanks everyone and also future folks who may yet answer I've gone through and marked as Best Answer the stuff I'm going to check out immediately and also the answers that were things I already have (Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Gabo, Rushdie, etc.) because you're not wrong and in the event that Best Answers ever get monetized I don't want you left out.

I'll prolly make another sweep through at some point and check out more stuff but I only have so many shelves you know?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:29 PM on May 8, 2013

nthing Toni Morrison (start with Song of Solomon, or Beloved), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, especially for Half of a Yellow Sun.

Also, Edward P. Jones, particularly for his short story collection Lost in the City, which is about the lives of African-Americans in Washington, D.C. His other work is "heavier," if that makes sense, but if you like Lost in the City then give his other books a try, too. He writes beautifully, and is a master of dialogue.
posted by luckyveronica at 11:06 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like Diane Williams more than Lydia Davis, personally.

This is just running superfast down my LT and AZ collections, not all of them are straight up personal endorsements, and some are really stretching "contemporary" but:

Fleur Jaeggy. Gina Berriault. Amy Hempel. Christina Stead. Andrea Barrett. Ines Arredondo. Carole Maso. Deborah Levy. Jayne Anne Phillips. Lorrie Moore. Dubravka Ugresic. Julieta Campos. A.L. Kennedy. Joan Didion. Edwidge Danticat. Mo Yan. Christine Brooke-Rose. June Akers Seese. Marguerite Young. Violette Leduc. Penelope Fitzgerald. Aimee Bender. James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon). Helene Cixous. Clarice Lispector. Janet Frame. Jose Donoso. Laurie Colwin. Mary Gaitskill. Elfriede Jelinek. Rikki Ducornet. Kathy Acker. Nathalie Sarraute. Anita Brookner. Olive Moore. Aurelie Sheehan. Fay Weldon. Anita Loos (well, not contemporary or even -ish, but). Kate Atkinson. Ntozake Shange. Monique Wittig. Emily Prager. Jeanette Winterson. Geraldine Brooks. Margeret Atwood. A.M. Holmes. Melissa Banks. A.S. Byatt. Francine Prose. Bao Ninh. Iris Murdoch. Barbara Pym. Valerie Martin. Alice Adams. Susan Minot. Kobo Abe. Anne Carson (poetry, but it reads like prose vaguely how Markson's stuff works). Christa Wolf. Rivka Galchen. Zadie Smith. Janice Galloway. Susan Daitch. Luisa Valenzuela. Kenzaburo Oe. Orhan Pamuk. Sophie Calle. Alice McDermott.
posted by ifjuly at 9:24 PM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt is a thing of wonder and you should read it very soon.
posted by Huw at 3:34 AM on May 10, 2013

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