Authors of Color From Each US State – A Photo Gallery

I am looking for titles set in each US state by authors from that state. Can you help fill the gaps or notify me of egregious omissions? Scroll down for details on the project. Thank you!

One of the most challenging aspects of my Andrea Reads America project has been finding works of fiction set in each state written by non-Caucasian authors who are either from the state or have lived there as a resident. When I wrote about this difficulty in a previous post, Where are the ethnic authors?, several readers asked that I compile a list of the titles I have so far so that they could help fill in the gaps. (Thank you @LissGrunert and The Afro-Librarians for the suggestion. I’m holding you to your offer now.)

As of this posting date, March 12, 2014, I have found non-Caucasian authors from 38 states and the District of Columbia. I lack titles for the remaining 11:

Colorado

Indiana

Maine

Missouri

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

South Carolina

Utah

West Virginia

Wyoming

If you have favorite titles that meet the following criteria, please leave me a note in the comments below (or via Twitter at @andreabadgley) and I will add them to the list. If you know a title set in a specific state but do not know where the writer is from, don’t worry: please give me your titles anyway and I’ll research the author’s background. All genres are welcome:

  • Non-Caucasian author (African-American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, Indian American, etc.)
  • Narrative set in a specific US state
  • Author born in or has lived in the state in which the title is set OR author writes about personal ancestors in the state

Thank you so much for your help, and here we go!

Alabama

Train Whistle Guitar by Albert Murray

(completed: please see Andrea Reads America: Alabama for writeup)

Alaska

Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival by Velma Wallis

(completed: please see Andrea Reads America: Alaska for writeup)

Arizona

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

La Maravilla by Alfredo Véa, Jr.

(completed: please see Andrea Reads America: Arizona for writeup)

Arkansas

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Janis F. Kearney

Ark of Bones and Other Stories by Henry Dumas

(completed. Please see Andrea Reads America: Arkansas for writeup)

California

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

The Gangster We Are All Looking For by Lê Thi Diem Thúy

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

(completed. Please see Andrea Reads America: California for writeup)

Colorado

The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz by Manuel Ramos (added March 23, 2014)

Connecticut

The Narrows: A Novel by Ann Petry

Delaware

I’m On My Way But Your Foot is On My Head by Bertice Berry

District of Columbia

Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones

Florida

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Georgia

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Hawaii

Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

House of Thieves by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Idaho

The Jailing of Cecelia Capture by Janet Campbell Hale

Illinois

Native Son by Richard Wright

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

Indiana

(no authors of color yet)

Iowa

Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee

Kansas

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes

Kentucky

Blackberries, Blackberries by Crystal Wilkinson

Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson

Blacks in Appalachia, edited by William H. Turner (KY) and Edward Cabbell (WV)

Lousiana

Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Maine

(no authors of color yet)

Maryland

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

 

Massachusetts

The Living is Easy by Dorothy West

The Wedding by Dorothy West

Michigan

The Autobiography of Malcom X by Malcom X and Alex Haley

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

Minnesota

The Birchbark House by Louse Erdrich

Mississippi

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Missouri

(no authors of color yet)

Montana

Winter in the Blood by James Welch

Nebraska

(no authors of color yet)

Nevada

(no authors of color yet)

New Hampshire

(no authors of color yet)

New Jersey

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

New Mexico

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

House Made of Dawn by M. Scott Momaday

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

New York

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

Passing by Nella Larsen

Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

North Carolina

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacob

North Dakota

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Ohio

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Oklahoma

Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan

Oregon

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow

The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson

Pennsylvania

Buck: A Memoir by M.K. Asante

Rhode Island

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

South Carolina

(no authors of color yet)

South Dakota

From the Deep Woods to Civilization by Charles Eastman

Tennessee

Roots by Alex Haley

Texas

The Border is Burning by Ito Romo

Caballero by Jovita Gonzalez

 

Utah

(no authors of color yet)

Vermont

See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid

Virginia

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Washington

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

West Virginia

(no authors of color yet)

Wisconsin

Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr

Wyoming

(no authors of color yet)

Please pass this list around to any readers you know so we can fill it in and provide a resource for folks who’d like to diversify their reading. Thank you!

This was originally published January 13, 2014 on Andrea Badgley’s Butterfly Mind.

Where are the ethnic authors?

I am reading America: 3 books set in each state and written by men, women, and authors of color.

My reading project is turning out to be more complex than I thought. I am reading my way around the US in three books per state, and my original hope was to read works of fiction written by men, women, and non-Caucasian authors who are natives of the state, or at least lived there a while:

  • Three works set in each US state
  • Male, female, and writers of color
  • Fiction
  • Authors native to or residents of the state

I gave myself these parameters for a number of reasons: setting plays a huge role in my love for literature, and I want to get to know my country better through language and story; I want to read a variety of voices; I love fiction – it’s my favorite; and I want to read each state from the perspective of its own people, from writers whose minds have been shaped by the state’s landscape and culture.

Mainly, though, I set these criteria to give shape to what might otherwise be an unwieldy enterprise. I thought I was going to need limitations to help me narrow down the choices; in Georgia, my childhood state, I can think of ten books that represent the landscape and culture, and I have no idea how I’m going to pare the list down to three.

As far as male and female authors go, or I should say as far as male and female white authors go, my parameters are doing exactly what I intended them to do: they are helping me eliminate titles so that I am not overwhelmed by all of the possibilities. It is the non-Caucasian component of the project that is introducing complexity.

I knew when I got up into Maine, the whitest state in the United States (95%) I might have trouble finding a non-Caucasian fiction author. But I didn’t start with Maine. I started at the beginning of the alphabet, in Alabama, and finding an Alabamian author of color wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be.

According to the 2000 census, Alabama ranked 7th in America in its percentage of African Americans: a full 26% of the Alabama population in 2000 was African American. On top of that, Alabama has a rich racial history, was pivotal in the civil rights movement, is the birthplace of Rosa Parks, and was home to Martin Luther King, Jr. There are lots of stories there. Yet, after I easily found novels by an Alabama man and an Alabama woman, and had several more piled up I could read, all of the authors I found were white. I racked my brain trying to think of a novel set in Alabama written by an African American author, and I couldn’t. I did some digging, was not satisfied, and ultimately, I got a recommendation from an editor at Book Riot. Unlike with white authors, I did not have a large pool to select from. I had one title.

Alaska and Arizona were not as problematic. Though there still weren’t a lot of authors to choose from, I was able to find titles written by Native American and Latino authors who are also natives of their states. But as I move through Arizona and prepare myself for Arkansas, I am stuck. Once again, I’ve got plenty of selections by white men and women, but not a single title by an author of color. Or at least not one that fits my parameters.

There was an interesting discussion going on over at Book Riot, where they recently ran a Who Are Your Favorite Writers of Color? poll. One reader commented, “Why do we have to call them writers of color? Why can’t they just be writers?” My mom asked a similar question over Christmas – why do we keep talking about race? Aren’t we all Americans? And ultimately, yes, it would be great to get to that point, where we don’t constantly distinguish between our own people – white, black, Asian American, Latino. But the fact is, when I’m trying to find authors of color to read their perspectives, to hear their voices, and it takes days to find just one author, that concerns me.

I am not sure what the reason is for finding so few titles by non-Caucasian authors. Are ethnic fiction writers that rare? Is the publishing industry not picking up their manuscripts? Are they publishing them but not promoting them? Or is it a failure of research on my part? Perhaps I am not looking in the right places to find more titles. I have contacted several faculty in the English department at the University of Arkansas with the hope that they might have some suggestions.

Meanwhile, I am working out my options for relaxing the restrictions of my project. My first priorities are setting – the narratives must be set in the state of interest – and that I read a diversity of authors, which still includes men, women, and non-Caucasian writers. The commenter on the Book Riot poll is right that they are all writers – white, black, man, woman – and my mom is right that we are all Americans. And my purpose with this project is to listen to them all: to hear many voices, to read an America that is not my story. So these parameters must stay:

  • Three works set in each US state
  • Male, female, and writers of color

As for fiction and the residency of the authors, it looks as if I must choose between them. In Arkansas, I could read nonfiction: Maya Angelou’s autobiography from her Arkansas years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, or Janet Kearney’s memoir Cotton Field of Dreams. Or I could stick with fiction and read a novel whose blurb excites me, whose blurb makes me want to skip out of the Arizona desert right now and luxuriate in the languid South, except that the novel’s author was born and raised in New York, not Arkansas. If I read a non-native, non-resident depiction of a place, am I going to get a Hollywood version or the real deal? As W. Somerset Maugham articulates in The Razor’s Edge,

Men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they were born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learned to walk, the games they played as children… And because you cannot know persons of a nation foreign to you except from observation, it is difficult to give them credibility in the pages of a book.

I would argue that the same holds true for setting: it is difficult to know a landscape, the weight of the air, the subtle shift in mood that a shift in atmosphere precipitates, through research and observation. You have to have lived them.

I want to know the truth of a place. And while I want to read that Arkansas-set novel by a New York author, I think that for the purposes of Andrea Reads America, because my intention is authenticity of setting, residency will have to trump fiction. I may read that novel, but not for this project.

I wish I didn’t have to choose between fiction and residency to read a good book by an author of color. I wish we had more options. I look forward to the day when we are able to overcome whatever obstacles are in place – biases in education, or publishing, or marketing – that limit our authors of color. I look forward to the day when we have so many works to choose from, so many stories from so many points of view, that we are overwhelmed by the possibilities, that we must set parameters and restrictions and rules to help us thin the thicket, and that when we do narrow it down, when we prune titles to get to what we want, we are left with a shapely shrub instead of a spindly twig.

As a follow-up to this piece, I assembled a list of authors of color from each state. If you are interested in diversifying your reading, you will find more than 60 titles on Authors of Color From Each US State: A Photo Gallery. Enjoy!

“Where are the ethnic authors?” is a revision of a piece originally published January 10, 2014 on Andrea Badgley’s Butterfly Mind.