Top 5 Short Stories by Women of Colour

6th May 2014

This year, I set myself a rather ambitious New Year’s resolution: to read a short story, longform journalism piece or essay by a person of colour every day.

My resolution was partly inspired by the fact that the longer my degree has gone on, the more I have stopped reading for fun, and partly because whatever I did read was more often than not written by a white writer.

It was time, as Junot Díaz put it, to change my diet and read stories by people of colour.

Changing my diet wasn’t only because I seemed to be only reading articles by white authors, but by continually reading white authors I was reinforcing an absurd idea, developed as child and aided by years of exclusively white reading lists, that the only stories worth reading are by white authors.

In fact, as a child, I was so used to reading white authors and in turn stories with exclusively white characters that the first time I read Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series, I was surprised to find that some of the characters in that book looked like me. I would go on to feel the same surprise as I read Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Zora Neale Hurston and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

This resolution was about both learning and remembering that not only are there great authors of colour out there, but they have written a multitude of stories that are worth reading.Reading women of colour and works about people of colour shouldn’t be a surprise. And so this resolution was both about reading for fun and also about chipping away at the toxic idea I had carried from childhood up until now.

This resolution was about both learning and remembering that not only are there great authors of colour out there, but they have written a multitude of stories that are worth reading.

To celebrate the four month anniversary of my little project here are some of my favourite short stories by women of colour:

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

A few weeks ago I recommended this short story to a friend with the comment: it was like looking into a mirror. Taken from Packer’s debut collection of short stories, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is, above all else, about being a black face in a predominately white university. There was something so incredibly sturdy and unapologetic about Packer’s writing that her story stayed with me, and continues to stay with me, every time I read it.

Recitatif by Toni Morrison

What makes Recitatif so compelling, besides the fact it is Toni Morrison’s only published story, is that while Morrison tells the reader that her two main protagonists are black and white, she never tells us which is which.

During a talk with Junot Diaz, Morrison explained the decision, stating that knowing the race of a character doesn’t tell you anything them about them as a person. And I can attest to that; reflecting back on Recitatif with a friend, I was forced to challenge my own ideas of race, my preconceived ideas about what it is to black and also what is to be white, and other wonderfully complicated things.

My Mother’s House by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is in the same category as ZZ Packer in that if I decided to stop this project tomorrow I’d be okay with that because I am grateful to have “discovered” her work. Her writing is careful and graceful, but more than that it has depth and explores so many ideas that by the time I was done reading, I felt full.

Miss Adele Amidst The Corsets by Zadie Smith

I have a Zadie Smith problem; I own two of her novels and have attempted to read two others but I have yet to finish a single one. Maybe it’s the inability to read for fun, maybe it’s the lack of attention span to read multi-character novels. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t seem to read Zadie Smith novels. But her short stories? I live for her short stories, and her latest tells me that I have made the right decision.

America by Chinelo Okparanta

I didn’t particularly enjoy or even like this story but I am still going to recommend it because it is a story that matters. Shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize, America tells the story of a Nnenna, a Nigerian woman, applying for a visa in the hopes of being reunited with her girlfriend. At times it lacks nuance and often feels too utopian to be believable, but I have recommended it to anyone who will listen because it is a story that attempts to break down the continued silence African LGBT+ voices.