Growing up, my family and friends could always find me with my nose stuck in a book. I fingered through the dog-eared pages, watching the characters unfold, blossoming before my eyes; however, among those characters were rarely ever young women who looked like me. African American writers and African American characters were an anomaly where they should have been expected, an experience readily at hand for any girl or boy looking for a reflection of themselves.
The lack of representation of people of color on screen and on paper continues to be a pervasive aspect of our society. Either the portrayal of minorities is racially stereotypical, or there is no diversity at all.
While there is much room for improvement, there is no denying the leaps and bounds taken within the media to become more inclusive of all races, genders, sexual orientations and religions.
A door of opportunity and promise has opened up to allow everyone a space to feel equally represented. The following 3 female African American writers take the responsibility of bridging the gap by the horns and own it without apology.
1. Tomi Adeyemi
Tomi Adeyemi, an author of Nigerian descent and a Harvard graduate, has truly taken the literary fantasy world by storm. The 26-year-old is also a creative writing coach and blogger. She honed further into her passion for adventure and magic with her debut novel, “Children of Blood and Bone.”
The novel depicts a mystical world where Zélie Adebola, the main character, loses almost all that is dear to her — her mother and her magic, but not her faith. Adeyemi weaves complex issues of the modern world along with the notion that there is power within everyone if you look hard enough. It’s a page turner, to say the least.
Adeyemi spoke passionately about the impact of cultural representation in one of her blog posts, revealing her motives for sitting at her computer and writing. The author said she felt called to a purpose much bigger than her and even bigger than the dreams she held.
“I was determined to write an incredible YA [Young Adult] story, with adventure and imagination like nothing people had ever experienced. And my protagonist was going to be black,” she wrote. “It’s the thought that one day a little girl might be able to walk into the library and see a protagonist that actually looks like her. It’s the idea that maybe someone who grows up around people who don’t look like him might like the story enough to think twice before resorting to unwavering hatred.”
Adeyemi’s latest publication is the second book of the trilogy, “Children of Virtue and Vengeance.”
2. Nora K. Jemisin
N. K. Jemisin, herself, is magic. The science fiction writer forces you to see what her characters see, feel what her characters feel and even taste what her characters taste. She beautifully paints vivid pictures beyond the imagination with mere words, which is striking for someone who admittedly struggled with writing.
Jemisin carries out her work, not only as an author, but also as a practicing psychologist and career counselor for college students. She took on writing as a career after realizing her passion for the craft was deeper than anticipated.
Adeyemi’s and Jemisin’s styles are similar in that both African American writers engage with the current matters of the world to frame their fictional realms. But Jemisin mainly focuses on the structures of characters in an apocalyptic world where injustices are in plain sight.
In a cutting interview, she tackled the cultural shift in narrative diversity. “I think what we will start to see is that it was inevitable that the bulk of the world started to demand stories that represented the bulk of the world,” she told GQ. “We’ve got a kind of cultural apartheid going on where you’ve got a small minority that’s been dominating discourse, dominating everything, dominating even the way that we’re able to think or imagine.”
The Alabamian native has won a Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row for “The Fifth Season” and its sequels in the “Broken Earth” series. The gripping tales of redemption and overcoming adversity have charmed readers all around the globe, including myself.
Jemisin’s most recent work is the short story collection, “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?”
3. Alyssa Cole
Romance has to be one of my absolute favorite genres for more reasons than I can name, but one of those reasons is Alyssa Cole.
The quirky author takes on a whole new meaning of love and happiness in her contemporary stories, especially considering the dynamic of her characters. The chemistry is palpable between the duos Cole drafts up while maintaining a realistic approach.
You can find more of her works with companies like Vulture, Shondaland and The Toast. Cole also writes historical romance and science fiction romance. While these subgenres are not my cup of tea, the style of writing and plots are just as fascinating.
The 36-year-old developed a newfound love for romance novels after she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Cole used writing as a form of healing and to prove she was worthy of loving another and being loved.
She aims to reaffirm marginalized groups through her work. “Our society has spent a long time and a lot of energy reinforcing the idea that black women are, in fact, not lovable,” Cole said in an interview. “That we don’t need kindness and romance, that we don’t have vulnerabilities that require support and care — and that’s before you even get into gross sexualization of black women.”
“So while I’m not always consciously trying to fight back against this,” she continued, “I think every black (and non-black people of color, indigenous, queer, and disabled) romance author writing (non-problematic) love stories centering people who’ve traditionally been told they are not worthy of love is, on a subconscious level, trying to change the world for the better.”
Cole formed a community to continue voicing these matters, founding the Jefferson Market Library Romance Book Club. Everyone is welcome.
African American writers, such as Adeyemi, Jemisin and Cole, are paving the way for aspiring writer to make groundbreaking strides in fighting for cultural representation. Not only are their characters of color, but they are also raw, flawed and completely relatable. They are black women slaying demons, finding love and challenging the expectations of their society. These women could be you, me or anyone brave enough to see themselves in these books.