Contemporary POC Authors to Know

The great thing about taking English-literature courses in college is that you’re introduced to a new literary world full of authors and genres you’ve never heard of or could ever imagine. Thanks to both the short story class and contemporary American literature class I took last semester, I’ve learned about a couple new authors who have quickly made their way into my personal collection of favorites.

In those classes we talked about a need for inclusion of all races in literature, and how it’s important to study and recognize POC authors in addition to the usual plethora of white authors who have been studied for years and years. What does it mean to be a revered “American” writer? Perhaps some names come to mind: Twain, Hemingway, or Fitzgerald; all classics, also all white men. When did literature become such a niched pastime for white dudes? Why do we really only know them as the so-called “greats”?

My professors encouraged us to “reimagine” American literature as contemporary readers in a world where literature is endlessly being created, where great works have been published within the last year and ten, twenty years. Where this cool stuff’s being written by people who aren’t white. So here are a few authors I love, and ones to just know.

Junot Díaz is a Dominican-American author who also teaches literature here in Boston at MIT. My favorite work of his is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a story about social outcast Oscar Wao. Oscar is lonely, nerdy, and fat: all attributes that completely contradict the macho Dominican male persona. The novel touches on some pretty complex themes like masculinity, sexuality, identity and just growing up. Díaz depicts the Dominican slums of New York in both Oscar Wao and also short story collections Drown and This is How You Lose Her; all three works are connected. The way Díaz writes about his characters makes you feel a connection with almost everyone you read about; reading Oscar Wao made me laugh and cry and feel all types of emotions that I hadn’t felt about fictional people in a long time. His writing is phenomenal-- Díaz is known for his incorporation of Spanish slang into his writing which contributes to the authenticity and also elucidates the importance of Latin American culture to the narratives.

Gish Jen makes me proud to be an Asian-American woman writer. Perhaps my love for Jen also comes from the fact that she, too, is a child of immigrants and writes a lot about this facet in her novels and short stories. Badass New Yorker and Harvard grad, Jen touches upon the Asian-American family dynamic, as well, in Mona in the Promised Land, The Love Wife and Who’s Irish? What draws me to Jen’s writing is that it’s daring and unapologetic. She writes from the heart and she doesn’t ever hesitate from writing about topics that aren’t beautiful or flowery-- it’s all very real. For example, in Who’s Irish?, she employs a similar technique to Díaz where she writes the whole story from the perspective of an Asian mother who speaks in Broken English. But it’s not just the diction here that makes the story so impactful: it’s the subject matter. In this story, the narrator expresses about the difficulties of raising a daughter in America where the culture is so different and contradictory to Chinese culture. She also has trouble accepting that her daughter marries a white man. The comparison of the two different lifestyles and reluctance to assimilate to the Western one is really interesting.

Roxane Gay is a professor at Purdue, New York Times contributor, a self-proclaimed feminist, and bisexual woman, and also the author of one of my favorite books of 2016. I follow her on Twitter and her tweets are amazing. However, unlike Jen and Díaz, Gay writes mostly nonfiction. Super funny nonfiction. Bad Feminist (my fave) is probably her most popular work, and I completely understand why. Every essay in that book is hilarious, yet complex; she discusses issues ranging from intersectional feminism to her passion for the game of Scrabble to humorous vignettes about being a professor. Somehow everything she writes about -- some topics more abstract and deep, others just about her personal life -- is so enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend Bad Feminist to anyone; Gay’s philosophy towards feminism and just life in general is so admirable and relatable. The conversational writing style makes it a noncommittal, easy read that you can finish in no time.

text: isabelle truong
visuals: macrolit, kalamu, kayana szymczak, kevin nance
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