From a recent post on Roxane Gay’s blog:
Can you name five contemporary black writers? Or Latino/a writers? Or Asian writers? Can you do it if you omit writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, Ha Jin, the writers who have achieved enough success to be the go to writers of color?
I’m not interested in sparking any kind of sociopolitical debate here, as it’s already happening elsewhere.
But I would like to list some contemporary writers of color. And, of course, they’re more than that—they’re unique voices, gifted storytellers. For the most part, I first encountered most of them by opening (or logging onto) my favorite literary journal.
Some disclaimers before I start:
I’m using the term “Emerging writer” loosely here. Being an “emerging writer” means you have a few impressive publications but haven’t recently won the Pulitzer (see Roxane Gay’s example of Junot Díaz). For the same reason, I didn’t list Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. If you’re looking to read successful but underread African-American writers, I’d suggest James Allan McPherson and Richard Wright. I didn’t list Don Lee, Chang-Rae Lee, Maxine Hong Kingston, or Amy Tan because they’re fairly popular Asian-American Writers. For successful Hispanic writers, I’d suggest Jimmy Santiago Baca, Roberto Bolaño, and Isabel Allende. Established Arabic writers include Mahmoud Saeed and, of course, Khaled Hosseini.
Lists are problematic. I’m aware that I omitted a number of great writers here, and I felt kind of uncomfortable categorizing and packaging writers in such a way. However, a widespread perception that “there really aren’t any new writers of color” makes me even more uncomfortable. No part of this blog post is meant to offend anyone. Feel free to add names in the comments section.
Uwem Akpan is a Nigerian Jesuit priest. He may have shot to international fame when Oprah selected his debut book Say You’re One of Them for her book club in 2009, but his work has received praise from a variety of reviews, from The New York Times to the Washington Post Book World to the Wall Street Journal.
Roxane Gay is the co-editor of Pank and the Fiction Editor of Bluestem Magazine. She’s also a prolific and talented fiction writer. Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011. Her story There is No “E” in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You Or We” can be found here. A very important article she wrote about language and rape can be found here.
E. C. Osondu is a Nigerian writer. I first read his work in The Atlantic’s Fiction issue. His story “A Simple Case” can be found here.
ZZ Packer’s collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, is a Pen/Faulkner finalist and a NY Times Notable book. From her website: “Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Story, Ploughshares, Zoetrope and The Best American Short Stories 2000 and 2004 and have been read on NPR’s Selected Shorts.” The latest story I read by Packer is “Dayward” in The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 Fiction Issue.
Danielle Evans’ story “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s No Where to Go” is in the most recent edition of the Best American Short Stories, edited by Richard Russo and Heidi Pitlor. It’s a powerful story about an Iraq war vet who has just returned home. Her charming bio can be found here: http://daniellevaloreevans.com/bio/
Molly Gaudry. From her website: A five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Molly Gaudry is the author of the verse novel We Take Me Apart, which has been nominated for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. She is also the editor of the soon-to-be released Tell: An Anthology of Expository Narrative, founding editor of the environmental literature journal Willows Wept Review, co-founding editor of Twelve Stories, and she runs Cow Heavy Books.
The last thing I heard, she was working as a successful independent literary publicist. An interview where she explains what a “novel in verse” is can be found here.
Reese Okyong Kwon. From her wonderfully minimalist website: Reese Okyong Kwon’s stories are published or forthcoming in American Short Fiction, Epoch, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Sun Magazine, and elsewhere. In addition, her essays and reviews have appeared in the Believer, More Intelligent Life, and Rumpus. Recently, she was named one of Narrative’s “30 Below 30″ writers.
Matthew Salesses. I recently heard him read from “Our Island of Epidemics” at the Annalemma/Pank/Mud Luscious Reading at AWP this year. Can’t believe I’ve never encountered any of his work before. His website can be found here.
Paul Yoon. I first read his story “Once the Shore” in One Story. This blurb basically sums up the experience of reading his work: “Paul Yoon writes stories the way Fabergé made eggs: with untold craftsmanship, artistry, and delicacy. Again and again another layer of intricacy is revealed, proving that something as small as a story can be as satisfying and moving as a Russian novel.”—Ann Patchett
To find Hispanic writers, I heavily relied on The Akron-Summit’s list “Recent Hispanic Fiction Titles.” The novel descriptions here are adapted from that document. This part of the post is short on photos because I had trouble finding them on the writers’ websites.
Daniel Alarcon. Lost City Radio (novel, 2007). “Radio host Norma finds her life irrevocably changed when a young boy from a remote jungle village provides a connection to her long missing husband.” From his website: Daniel Alarcón is author of the story collection War by Candlelight, a finalist for the 2005 PEN-Hemingway Award, and Lost City Radio, named a Best Novel of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, among others.
Marie Arana. Lima Nights (novel, 2009). “Carlos Bluhm leads an elegant, throwaway sort of life in upper class Lima until he meets a 16 year old tango dancer on the wrong side of town.” Her website can be found here.
Cristina Henriquez. The world in half (novel, 2009). “A college student journeys to Panama to track down the father she never knew.”
Carolina De Robertis. The invisible mountain (novel, 2009). “This novel follows the story of three generations of women as they search for love and identity during the tumultuous political events of twentieth century Uruguay.”
I went to grad school with Carlos Antonio Delgado. He’s the recipient of the EIDOS Christian Center Grant and was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s July 2010 Very Short Fiction contest for his story “Is Still.” His work has appeared or is forthcoming in RELEVANTMAGAZINE, Acentos Review, and the upcoming anthology Pittsburgh Noir.
To find writers of Arabic descent, I relied heavily on The International Prize for Arabic Fiction’s website, as well as M. Lynx Qualey’s blog Arabic Literature (in English). The descriptions here are adapted from those websites’ biographies and descriptions. I’m especially grateful to M. Lynx Qualey for listing each writer’s country of origin. There aren’t any pictures here because I couldn’t find any of these writers’ personal websites.
Moroccan writer Mohammed Achaari’s novel The Arch And The Butterfly, describes how Islamic extremism and terrorism have destroyed Arabic society.
Saudi Arabian writer Raja Alem’s novel The Doves’ Necklace, describes the lesser known side of the Saudi city of Mecca.
God’s Soldiers by Syrian Fawwaz Haddad, who was previously shortlisted for the Arabic Booker for his Unfaithful Translator. The IPFAF’s website’s description of God’s Soldiers: “In an action-packed story set in modern-day Iraq, a father goes in search of his son who has joined Al-Qaeda, hoping to take him back to Syria.”
Syrian Writer Maha Hassan was nominated for her novel Umbilical Cord. From the IPFAF website: “Umbilical Cord contrasts life in Syria and France through the story of a mother and daughter.”
Lebanese writer Renée Hayek was longlisted for the IPFAF for her novel A Short Life. From the website: A Short Life gives an eye witness account from a woman living in Lebanon during the long years of Civil War.
The Akron-Summit’s list “Recent Hispanic Fiction Titles”
Arabic Literature (in English’s) great post on the IPFAF.
All photos are taken from the writer’s websites except for Carlos Antonio Delgado’s photo, which is from The Acentos Review.