#Ownvoices | Collection Development: Race, Diversity, & Society

The complexity, history, and nuances of race in America mean a wealth of material could be identified as essential. A recent explosion of titles plus classics document the multiplicity of the American experience.

The complexity, history, and nuances of race in America mean a wealth of material could arguably be identified as essential for library collections. There has been a recent explosion of titles about diversity and identity in America, and there has been more published historically than is often acknowledged.

As mobility and interconnectedness surge and the under­standing of our society’s intricacies deepens, building collections that reflect both the entanglements of our local communities and our broader country and world is becoming increasingly crucial. Looking outside of typical collection development tools can help librarians expand collections to encompass many voices. Online publications such as Buzzfeed, The Rumpus, and Book Riot regularly provide lists of contemporary writers from a broad array of backgrounds, including Ocean Vuong, Angela Flournoy, Taiye Selasi, Rigoberto González, Imbolo Mbue, Gabby Rivera, Celeste Ng, Natalie Baszile, Natashia Deón, Yaa Gyasi, Porochista Khakpour, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Linda ­LeGarde Grover.

The works listed here reveal some of the diversity of American society but certainly not all. They are relatively recent and perhaps less publicized. It’s assumed that the classics will already be part of nearly all collections because, whether acknowledged or not, cultural pluralism has always defined our society. These classics include works by Zora Neale Hurston, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Zitkala-Sa, Vine Deloria Jr., James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Paula Gunn Allen, Maxine Hong Kingston, N. Scott Momaday, Richard Wright, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, Ntozake Shange, Amy Tan, Hisaye Yamamoto, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Octavia E. Butler, Junot Díaz, Linda Hogan, Janet Campbell Hale, Sherman Alexie, Joy Harjo, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, and Luís Alberto Urrea, among many others, a good number of whom are still writing and publishing.

Our culture and stories continue to evolve and expand, and our cultural production, from publishing to Hollywood, is beginning to catch up. A variety of artists develop diverse work in film, music, multimedia, and podcasting. Writers from many different backgrounds are creating romance novels, mystery, noir, speculative fiction, fantasy, comic books, literature, poetry, creative nonfiction, memoir, researched nonfiction, academic nonfiction, biography, graphic novels, and so much more. There are a great many chroniclers of the American experience. Look for them in unusual places and across every genre.

Starred titles (redstar) are essential for most library ­collections.

Candice Kail is Web Services Librarian, Columbia University, New York, and was a Reference Librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. She has reviewed for LJ since 2007 and is also a freelance writer


Alcalá, Kathleen. The Desert Remembers My Name: On Family and Writing. Univ. of Arizona. 2007. 192p. ISBN 9780816526260. $32; pap. ISBN 9780816526277. $16.95.

Born in California to Mexican parents, Alcalá was always told of California’s roots as a part of Mexico. In these linked essays, she writes about culture, land, and the many meanings of family.

Alexander, Elizabeth. The Light of the World. Grand Central. 2015. 240p. ISBN 9781455599875. $26; pap. ISBN 9781455599868. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455599851.

Alexander’s memoir beautifully captures the love she shared with her husband and the grief she and her young sons bore when he died suddenly at age 50. Alexander is a poet, and her lyricism captures the dreamlike quality of their daily routine, the haunting experience of sudden loss, and the rebuilding they did. (Memoir, 2/19/15)

Bayoumi, Mustafa. This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror. New York Univ. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781479836840. $89; pap. ISBN 9781479835645. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781479804061.

This work describes what life in post-9/11 America has been like for Muslims, particularly for those who have been under surveillance for practicing their religion. Bayoumi exposes and corrects mis­information and myths about Islam and Muslims in this and his other books. (LJ 9/1/15)

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9780812993547. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780679645986.

In the wake of the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, Coates wrote an extended letter to his 15-year-old son about the realities of being a black man in America. Also recommended is Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle, a memoir about his relationship with his father and growing up in Baltimore. (LJ 2/1/16)

Ebrahimji, Maria M. & Zahra T. Suratwala, eds. I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim. White Cloud. 2011. 224p. ISBN 9781935952008. pap. $16.95; ebk ISBN 9781935952367.

In 40 essays, women from across the United States write of their allegiance to our country and to their faith and how those shape both their private and public lives.

Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist. Harper. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780062282712. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062282729.

These essays intertwine the personal with the cultural, offering incisive takes on music, movies, fashion, and pop culture, along with sexual assault and violence, race, and gender. By turns humorous and serious, Gay is always engaging. (LJ 11/1/14)

redstarGlaude, Eddie S., Jr. Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. Crown. Jan. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780804137416. $26; pap. ISBN 9780804137430. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780804137423.

Glaude (religion & African American studies, Princeton) illuminates and unpacks present-day issues of race through individual stories, history, and unflinching sociopolitical analysis, with writing that makes this book almost impossible to put down. If his exploration interests you, be sure also to look for Keeangha-Yamatta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. (LJ 11/1/15)

Jefferson, Margo. Negroland. Knopf. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9780307378453. $25; pap. ISBN 9780307473431. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101870648.

Jefferson grew up in Chicago’s African American elite upper class. She describes negotiating the expectations of her parents, along with those of her broader social circles. She interweaves history, culture, ideas, and memory and also candidly examines how race can affect the perception of, diagnosis of, and responses to mental health issues. (LJ 9/15/15)

redstarKendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. PublicAffairs. 2016. 592p. ISBN 9781568584638. $32.99; pap. ISBN 9781568585987. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781568584645.

In exceptionally compelling prose and well-researched detail, Kendi (Africana studies, Univ. of Florida) begins with the colonies and continues through abolition, emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil rights era, and Black Power. He breaks down the differences among segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist ideas and explains why moving to an antiracism power structure that embraces immediate equality is the way to end racism in America. (LJ 2/15/15)

redstarLaDuke, Winona. Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming. Haymarket. 2016. 294p. ISBN 9781608466276. pap. $19; ebk. ISBN 9781608466627.

LaDuke, who is Anishinaabe, begins by asking, “How does a community heal itself from the ravages of the past?” She argues that recovering the sacred is integral to healing and looks at work being done to protect sacred land and traditional agriculture and foodways and to recover cultural objects and images across Native American communities to restore ways of life.

redstarLanham, J. Drew. The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature. Milkweed Editions. Jun. 2017. 232p. ISBN 9781571313157. $24; pap. ISBN 9781571313508. $16.

Lanham (wildlife ecology, forestry, & environmental conservation, Clemson) fell in love with nature as a young boy growing up in South Carolina. His family’s property and surrounding Forest Service land provided plenty to explore. Lanham describes his childhood and the challenges and dangers he’s faced doing remote fieldwork as a scientist and “birding while black.”

Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America. S. & S. 2015. 528p. ISBN 9781476739403. $29.95; pap. ISBN 9781476739410. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781476739427.

Lee (history, Univ. of Minnesota) has written the most comprehensive, accessible, history of Asian America to date. (LJ 6/1/15)

Savoy, Lauret Edith. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape. Counterpoint. 2015. 240p. ISBN 9781619025738. $25; pap. ISBN 9781619028258. $16.95.

Savoy’s (environmental studies & geology, Mt. Holyoke) unique journeys and explorations of race, history, family, the American landscape, and her own memory are richly drawn meditations. Her love for the land and for unearthing her roots and connections to the environment are ­palpable.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. The Turquoise Ledge. Penguin. 2010. 336p. ISBN 9780143120100. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101464588.

Silko writes evocatively of both the desert surrounding her Tucson, AZ, home and the land of the Laguna Pueblo, where she grew up. Her mesmerizing storytelling here interweaves family history, the natural world, and the Laguna Pueblo culture.

Touré. Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means To Be Black Now. S. & S. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9781439177556. $25; pap. ISBN 9781439177563. $16.

Touré interviewed 105 people about the many ways of being black in America, and he pulls all those experiences along with his own into this book, explaining that postblackness is not postracial and defies stereotyping what being black means. See also Baratunde Thurston’s How To Be Black.

Treuer, David. Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life. Atlantic. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780802119711. $26; pap. ISBN 9780802120823. $16.

Treuer, also a novelist (Prudence), describes his experiences growing up on a reservation in northern Minnesota while elegantly weaving in history. His brother Anton Treuer’s book Everything You Wanted To Know About Indians but Were Afraid To Ask is an incredible compendium covering terminology, history, identity, and more. (LJ 2/1/12)

redstarWard, Jesmyn, ed. The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race. Scribner. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9781501126345. $25; pap. ISBN 9781501126352. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781501126369.

This collection of essays and poetry uses James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time as its progenitor, and the writers speak about race from perspectives that intertwine personal, cultural, and political histories. The contributors (among them Carol Anderson, Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Layman, and Claudia Rankine) write “toward the hurt, to wrestle with the ugly truths that plague us in this country.” The result is incredibly wrought. (LJ 6/15/16)

Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Vintage. 2010. 640p. ISBN 9780679444329. $35; pap. ISBN 9780679763888. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780679604075.

Wilkerson investigates the Great Migration, a period from World War I through the 1960s when six million black Americans emigrated from the South to the North. She focuses on three individuals who moved to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Her reporting and writing are meticulous and riveting.


Chang, Jade. The Wangs vs. the World. Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780544734098. $26; pap. ISBN 9781328745538. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780544734203.

In this road trip novel, Charles Wang, after losing his personal fortune and cosmetics company in the financial crisis, takes his family from Bel Air, CA, to his eldest daughter’s home in upstate New York. (LJ 8/16)

redstarHenríquez, Christina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage. 2014. 419p. ISBN 9781410474322. $31.99; pap. ISBN 9780345806406. $15; ebk ISBN 9780345806406.

After their daughter suffers a brain injury in Mexico, Arturo and Alma ­Rivera decide to bring her to the United States for a better chance to heal and thrive. They settle into an apartment complex in Delaware filled with other Latinx immigrants, whose stories become woven into theirs.

Jacob, Mira. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. Random. 2015. 528p. ISBN 9780812994780. $26; pap. ISBN 9780812985061. $17.

Jacob’s family saga reaches from New Mexico and Seattle back to India through a family haunted by past interactions and differing generational ­expectations. (LJ 6/1/14)

Kahf, Mohja. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. Carroll & Graf. 2006. 448p. ISBN 9780786715190. pap. $17.99.

Khadra Shamy is a Syrian girl growing up in Indiana in the 1970s in a devout Muslim family navigating the territory between being Muslim and being ­American.

redstarMathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. Vintage. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780307949707. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350303.

Hattie Shepherd moves north to Philadelphia from Georgia during the Great Migration. There, she marries and tragically soon loses her firstborn twins to illness. This trauma and its effects on her life and those of her nine other children are woven throughout this inter­generational tale.

redstarTorres, Justin. We the Animals. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. 2012. 144p. ISBN 9780547576725. $18; pap. ISBN 9780547844190. $12.95; ebk. ISBN 9780547577005.

A novel about growing up with brothers, about being half Puerto Rican, about coming of age as a queer kid in a small upstate New York town where being Puerto Rican has already made you different, and about the sheer physicality of life, Torres’s debut, though slim, is packed. (LJ 7/11)

Umrigar, Thrity. The Story Hour. Harper. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780594600435. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9780062259318. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062259325.

Dr. Maggie Bose and Lakshmi ­Patil have a complicated friendship that ­traverses cultures, boundaries, and marital troubles.

Yamashita, Karen Tei. I Hotel. Coffee House. 2010. 640p. ISBN 9781566892391. pap. $19.95.

Ten interconnected novellas tell the story of the Yellow Power movement in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1960s and 1970s.


The Betrayal (Nerakhoon). Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath. Cinema Guild. 2008.

Filmed over 23 years, this unique documentary collaboration depicts Phrasavath’s experiences as a Laotian refugee immigrating to the United States because his father participated in U.S. ­military operations in Laos during the Vietnam War.

New Muslim Cool. Jennifer Maytorena Taylor. Seventh Art Releasing. 2009.

This documentary follows a young Puerto Rican convert to Islam who moves to Pittsburgh, where he is called to set up a religious community and work with poor and incarcerated boys and men. (LJ 10/1/11)

Real Women Have Curves. Patricia Cardoso. HBO Films. 2005.

Set in Hispanic East Los Angeles, this coming-of-age tale of Ana Garcia (America Ferrera) resonates across generations.

Selma. Ava DuVernay. Paramount. 2015.

Selma covers three months in the civil rights movement, culminating in the historic Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery and the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Includes standout performances by David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Skins. Chris Eyre. First Look Media. 2002.

Eyre (director, Smoke Signals) excels at story­telling and cinematography in this film about two brothers on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The Developing Schedule

AUG PROSTATE health & Wellness
NOV Math & Science Literacy
DEC graphic novels/nonfiction

To submit titles (new and/or backlist), contact Barbara Genco four to six months before issue dates listed above (email: bgenco@mediasourceinc.com)

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