Saturday, August 15, 2009

Heeding the Voices of Women of Color

Memoirs and fictional creative writing stories written by female authors of color who ethnically and personally identify with the characters are invaluable ones. Many such authors produce stories of fear and oppression and the strength of women of color to overcome individual life and societal challenges, such as ethnic, sexual orientation and gender discrimination. Their important stories represent voices that are typically under-heard and under-valued by the American ear.

Whether written by Iranian, African-American, Korean-American, Haitian-American, various Latina, or other non-White authors, these stories detail the lives of women of color of all ages who face difficulties related to a history of ethnic and gender oppression and/or a history of colonization, trauma, and family migration.

I have listed nine writers who are women of color* who have made and continue to make important contributions to the existing sea of literature with their memoirs and works of historical fiction. I have read all of the novels, story collections, novellas, graphic memoirs and memoirs listed below and highly recommend them.

*I would like to note that it is possible that I mis-identified one or more of the authors' ethnicities in spite of my google searches. One's ethnic identity is often subjective and representative of a personal journey to find and define the self, particularly in situations of migration and immigration; the authors, therefore, may define themselves differently than I have here.

1) The graphic memoirs of Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi:

The complete Persepolis (Volumes I and II)

"It's only natural! When we're afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators' repression" (Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi, 148).

2) Dominican author, Julia Alvarez's critical and reflective writing:

Something to Declare (Essays)
In the Time of the Butterflies (Novel)
En El Tiempo de Las Mariposas
(Spanish Translation of In the Time of the Butterflies)
Yo! (Novel)
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Novel)
"By writing powerfully about our Latino culture, we are forging a tradition and creating a literature that will widen and enrich the existing canon. So much depends on our feeling that we have a right and responsibility to do this" (Something to Declare by Julia Alvarez, 170).

3) Haitian-American author, Edwidge Danticat's heart-wrenching stories:

Krik? Krak! (Collection of Stories)
The Dew Breaker (Novel)
Breath, Eyes, Memory (Novel)
"His [the preacher's] own personal creed, that life was neither something you defended by hiding nor surrendered calmly on other people's terms, but something you lived bravely, out in the open, and that if you had to lose it, you should also lose it on your own terms" (The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat, 201).

4) Mexican-American author, Sandra Cisneros' compelling writing:

Woman Hollering Creek (Short Stories)
The House On Mango Street (Coming-of-age Novella)

What they don't understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don't. You open your eyes and everything's just like yesterday, only its today. And you don't feel eleven at all. You feel like you're still ten. And you are-- underneath the year that makes you eleven. ("Eleven," Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros, 7).

5) Esmeralda Santiago, Puerto Rican author of the following powerful memoirs:

When I was Puerto Rican
Almost A Woman
The Turkish Lover
“No one, I thought, could get beat down so many times and still come up smiling” (Esmeralda Santiago about her mother in When I Was Puerto Rican.

6. Novels by Iranian author Marsha Mehran, including:

Rosewater and Soda Bread

Dervla sniffed the air outside her bedroom window. Yes, a nasty reek of foreignness was definitely in the air. It was a different smell than what she remembered coming from Papa's Pastries all those years ago. She recognized the same unyielding yeasty scent of rising bread and perky almond intonations, but there was also a vast and unexpected array of under and overtones she could not name. The wicked, tingling sensation taunted Dervla's sense of decency, laughing at her as if it knew her deep, dark secrets; as though it had heard all about her dead husband's wanton ways. (Marsha Mehran, Pomegranate Soup).

7. The novels of African-American author, Toni Morrison, including:

The Bluest Eye

Each night Pecola prayed for blue eyes. In her eleven years, no one had ever noticed Pecola. But with blue eyes, she thought, everything would be different. She would be so pretty that her parents would stop fighting. Her father would stop drinking. Her brother would stop running away. If only she could be beautiful. If only people would look at her (Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye).

8. The memoir of Korean author, Kim Sunee:

Trail of Crumbs:
hunger, love, and the search for home

"Somehow, I thought, he'll never realize that the everything he wants to give me will never take away the nothing that I've always had" (Kim Sunee, Trail of Crumbs, 66).

**Please note that Sunee's ethnic identity is an important theme in her memoir about her journey towards finding and defining herself. Sunee was born in South Korea, abandoned in a marketplace by her mother at the age of three, adopted and raised in New Orleans, and lived in Europe for ten years. She now resides in Birmingham, Alabama.

9. Jamaica-born Nalo Hopkinson's psychically and physically titillating speculative/historical fiction novels, including:

The Salt Roads (Historical Fantasy)

'The gendarmes [French policemen] beat them out of the bushes in the gardens of the Tuileries palace, and before they could take them into custody, the mob set upon them. Stones, caning, blows. The gendarmes had to run for their lives. I saw it from where I was sitting, on a bench by the water. I had gone to watch them, those men. I sought them out in the dark, to see their bodies as they came together, to...' (Charles in The Salt Roads, Nalo Hopkinson).


If you want to feel these stories out before purchasing them, check the books out of your local library for free!

New Yorkers, you can search for, reserve and renew books online
here. It is quick and easy to register if you do not have a library account: find more information at

eBooks, iPod compatible audiobooks, and films are available for free Internet download through the New York Public Library’s new, user-friendly site:

I just downloaded Toni Morrison's most recent novel, A Mercy, a few minutes ago for a lending period of 21 days. To read this eBook on my computer, I downloaded Adobe Digital Editions for free. How exciting!

Only one of the above-recommended titles (The Bluest Eye) is available as an eBook. I did the research so you don't have to! Get your hands on their tangible versions or check out other eBooks or audiobooks by the same authors online. See more details below:
  • Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye is the only above-recommended tile available as an eBook.
  • Searches for Edwidge Danticat, Marsha Mehran and Marjane Satrapi yield no or inaccurate results.
  • Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads is not available as an eBook. Hopkinson titles that are available as eBooks include: Brown Girl in the Ring; Midnight Robber; The New Moon's Arms; Skin Folk; and Under Glass.
  • Kim Sunee's Trail of Crumbs is only available as an audiobook.
  • Sandra Cisneros' Loose Woman/Woman Hollering Creek, Caramelo, and La Casa en Mango Street are audiobooks.
  • A Mercy, Toni Morrison's newest novel, is available as an eBook. Morrison's Tar Baby, Sula, A Mercy, Love, and Beloved are available as audiobooks.
  • Before We Were Free, the only Julia Alvarez title made available, is an audiobook.
  • Suenos de America is the only Esmeralda Santiago title made available; it is an eBook.
Please forgive the missing accents on author's names. Photo cover of Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat is courtesy of All other photos in this article are courtesy of

1 comment:

  1. salt roads is such an interesting, beautiful, tough book. and everything edwidge danticat writes is perfect. i am going to look into some of the titles you've mentioned that i haven't read. thank you for sharing this list - it's so important for us women of color to write back to the structures that try to define us or erase us. and of course, it is crucial that we write back to ourselves.