Toni Morrison and Other Excellent Female Novelists of Color

Toni MorrisonI was starting to read Alice Walker’s novel The Temple of My Familiar the morning of August 6 when I learned that literary great Toni Morrison had died the day before. So it seemed time to write a long-overdue piece about female authors of color.

Of course the women I’m about to mention are AUTHORS — one word, stop. But being female and not being white informs much of their fiction. Their writing expresses anger over racism and sexism, illustrates the evils of those isms, depicts coping mechanisms for women and people of color, and also includes all kinds of other personal, social, political, and non-political elements.

Not much I can say about Toni Morrison (pictured above) that hasn’t already been said. Nobel Prize winner, Pulitzer Prize recipient, professor, book editor, and more. I’ve read only two of her novels — Beloved and Sula — but found her writing about the black experience in the U.S. and other topics to be brilliant, evocative, harrowing, and highly original. Song of Solomon is prominent on my to-read list.

The Temple of My Familiar is my second Alice Walker novel — after the ultra-memorable The Color Purple, of course — and it’s an absorbing/heartbreaking book with magic-realism elements and fascinating characters from different places and times. Haven’t finished it yet.

Perhaps my favorite living female author of color is the biracial Zadie Smith — whose London-set debut novel White Teeth is at times hilarious, at times dead-serious, always multicultural, and published when Smith was only in her mid-20s. Two books later came the set-in-U.S.-academia On Beauty, also a winner.

Another stunning debut novel was The God of Small Things by Indian author Arundhati Roy. A heartbreaking book with many socioeconomic and political overtones.

Then there’s American author of Indian descent Jhumpa Lahiri, whose excellent novels The Namesake and The Lowland look at the immigrant experience and more.

I’ve also enjoyed reading Terry McMillan, whose work is somewhat lighter than the other authors I’ve mentioned but still compelling. Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back

Some additional deceased authors of color who shouldn’t be missed include Zora Neale Hurston and her masterful Their Eyes Were Watching God, which chronicles a black woman, her three marriages, and more; science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, known for novels such as the searing time-travel work Kindred and the apocalyptic Parable of the Sower; the Nigerian-born Buchi Emecheta, perhaps most famous for her gripping semi-autobiographical novel Second Class Citizen; and Maya Angelou, who wasn’t a novelist per se but whose autobiographies (including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) read like novels.

Sort of/sort of not “eligible” for this post is the great French novelist Colette (Gigi, The Vagabond, etc.), who had some black Caribbean ancestry.

I’ve obviously left out many authors. Your favorite women-of-color writers and your favorite works by them that I mentioned or didn’t mention?

I’ll be skipping an August 18 post next Sunday because of a vacation week. Back on August 25!

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — written by my cat 🙂 — is here.

80 thoughts on “Toni Morrison and Other Excellent Female Novelists of Color

    • Hi bebe, Currently in my car (passenger!) on my way back from vacation replying to you on my iPhone. Sounds like a very good novel despite some flaws. The rich can act SO strangely…

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  1. Dave as you mentioned Zeda Smith`s ” White Teeth”, amazing story teller, it is a PBS mini seried long time ago.

    ” God of Small things “, by Arundhuti Roy was a heart breaking novel, nothing good came out of it, after that book I pass all her books. Recently She published.Ministry of utmost Happiness, Roy’s characters run the gamut of Indian society and include an intersex woman (hijra), I decided not to read anymore of her books.With the liar in chief as the POTUS, the world is full of misery and unhappininess. A little upbesat I look forward to.

    Then there is Jhumpa Lahiri as you mentioned…what an author and books. Her last Novel ” The Lowland “, We both have read the book Dave,.
    “The book received praise from critics. Vogue stated Lahiri to be “at the height of her artistry” in a review for the book. The Oprah Magazine called the book “intriguing” while Chicago Tribune called her “A great American writer”.

    USA Today said, “memorable, potent..” and said of the writer “(Lahiri) has reached literary high ground with The Lowland.” “

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the great and wide-ranging comment, bebe!

      Didn’t know there was a screen version of “White Teeth”! Such a great novel, with loads of laughs amid the seriousness.

      “The God of Small Things” is indeed VERY depressing, but masterfully written. I hear you about how it’s hard to read a sad book these days.

      And Jhumpa Lahiri deserves all the praise she gets!

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  2. I just want to mention the name NoViolet Bulawayo, a young Zimbabwean author whose novel We Need New Names recounts the experience of immigrating to the West out of unstable militarized community society. Her novel is brilliant and and is told with humour in the shadow of great pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have read a few Morrison novels, and I enjoyed my time with them: Sula, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon. I have read a few Phyllis Wheatley poems. But I confess, to my ignorant shame, to having read none of the other authors on your list, save Colette– a fact I shall rectify while I have my wits, mostly, anyway, about me.

    But I do know one female writer of great skill and artistry, who worked in another genre, black popular music, from the late 1920’s till the early 1950’s. She wrote out of experience and out of observation, and had a streetwise sensibility and a fierce independence that was ahead of her time. I refer to who I think was one of the greatest of blues artists, and one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, male or female: Memphis Minnie (Douglas). Tricks Ain’t Walking, Me and My Chauffeur Blues, Memphis Minnie-jitis Blues, Nothing In Rambling, I’m Going to Bake My Biscuits, Bumblebee Blues, In My Girlish Days are each and all worth a trip over to youtube.

    I own more than 150 of her songs on cd. and at one time, she’s about all I listened to. Time well spent!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist.
    She pulsished several books, essays, poems and here is Ms. Maya at her best.

    Still I Rise

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Dave, this comment is also off-topic, but I adored the novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple. I just watched “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and learned that a movie based on the book comes out Friday and stars Cate Blanchette as Bernadette, who was on the show last night. I don’t get excited about new movies very often but I look forward to seeing this one.

    Btw, I’m now awaiting Carvana to pick up my little black Beetle, since I’m now under doctor’s orders not to drive any longer, which makes me quite sad. But I keep telling myself it could be a lot worse.

    Enjoy your vacation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! Great that a “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” movie is about to come out! I really enjoyed that very quirky novel after you recommended it.

      Very sorry about you not being able to drive anymore and having to give up your car. That is a REALLY difficult thing. 😦 (My very first car was a red, used, beat-up 1969 Beetle. Wish I had a photo of it.)

      I appreciate the vacation-week wishes!

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      • Ha, well, my first car was a 1971 beige VW Beetle, which my father helped me buy. It had a manual transmission, which I had no idea how to drive, but he took me out to teach me, which was a disaster, and I ended up in tears. He finally left me on my own, which eventually worked, and I ended up loving to driving it. My next car was an orange Super-Beetle that I had for a few years that was also a manual transmission. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kat Lit, those manual transmissions were indeed hard to drive (at first, at least). My 1969 VW was also a manual, and the guy who sold it to me gave me a crash course as I test-drove it. Took me a few weeks, and a lot of grinding, before I got the hang of it. Glad you also got used to yours after that rough beginning!

          Orange was a great car color — until Trump came along. 🙂

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          • Yes, well I hope that the person who gave you a crash course in driving a manual told you about being on a hill — my dad didn’t! I think that it’s easier these days, but I wouldn’t be able to do it even before I was banned from driving! One of my most harrowing drives ever was a trip down to Atlantic City with my BF. She drove down there, but when we decided to head home, she got in the car and said that she was going to sleep. I couldn’t bear the idea of sleeping in a parking lot in AC, so I took her keys and drove back to Chester Co. in her very old Toyota used car with a manual. I don’t remember how many times I grinded her gears on this drive back home, but we somehow made it! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yikes! Stopping at the top of a steep hill in a manual car (for a stop sign or traffic light) and then rolling backwards. 😦

              That does sound like a difficult drive you had back from Atlantic City! But, yes, better than sleeping in a parking lot…

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    • Kat Lit, way to go, yes it could be worse.
      I just bought a car a month ago and I am home with a broken arm all due to my stupidity.
      My car is intact resting in the garage. I am totally dependent on my husband, poor guy is busy .

      Month ave gone by, he takes me for p t . I could drive small distances but not pushing for it.

      Okay to wait… bebe here.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Dave,

    May I make a comment / ask a question that is 99% off topic? If this is inappropriate for any reason, please feel free to delete, and I promise I won’t be offended.

    I had the telly on the other day, and heard Toni Morrison’s name (that’s the 1% that’s not off topic). Looking up from whatever I’d been reading, I realised that I was watching a U.S. news programme called “PBS Hour”, hosted by Judy Woodruff. I don’t watch a lot of news, and I mostly try to ignore the over-hyped Trump news that comes out of the US, but I was intrigued by this. It’s always interesting to see what goes on in other places, and not just the Australian version of it. Of course, I realise that I’m still only getting someone else’s version, and I guess that’s where my question comes in. Can you, or anybody else here, tell me what I was watching, or what I might not be aware of?

    I realise that I can’t watch an hour of American news and think I have a grasp on what all 300 million people are thinking. But I think I enjoyed watching it, despite it being mostly about the depressing topic of gun control, and I’d like to watch it again, assuming that it’s not something that’s blatantly manipulative, or inaccurate.

    Dave, I understand that this isn’t remotely what your blog is about, and I really won’t mind if you delete this. But the commenters here are the nicest bunch of Americans that I’ve ever ‘met’, and I trust the information and opinions that I read here.

    Finally, congrats on your 3,000th viewer! And I hope you enjoy your upcoming break as much as I’m going to enjoy mine which starts tomorrow! (Another one of those strange coincidences…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sue, Thank you for your comment! Any topic is fine, and I totally agree with your praise of the commenters here. 🙂

      I’m afraid I’m no expert on American TV news programs — whether on Fox (far right), MSNBC (not nearly as liberal as its reputation), CNN (center-right), etc. I just don’t watch them, except for the occasional brief clip on YouTube, instead reading news online and in print. From what I gather, PBS might be the best of the lot — partly because, as public television, it’s not as consumed with ratings. Other posters here might have more to offer in response to your comment.

      Thank you very much for the 3,000th-follower-related congratulations, and I hope you enjoy your (coincidentally timed 🙂 ) break!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dave, these days all day I don`t turn on TV, only 15 some mins of ABC.
        Evening hubby after long day turns on TV, MSNBC sometimes I ugge him th turn on A. Cooper in the evening, others are so loud and they all give free promo to trump by showing.
        Sunday mornings I sometime watch Chris Wallace, weekdays if I am at healthplex ( now I can`t go) , Shep Smith on Fox is a okay.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dave, is your public television the same as our Free To Air? I.e. not cable, not paid for? Sadly, even our FTA is very ratings driven, which is why it’s filled with ‘reality’ TV.

        I never used to watch a lot of TV, but I must admit I’ve gotten a bit addicted to streaming things like Star Trek and Supernatural. I still don’t watch any news, but our programmes haven’t changed in forever, so I’m familiar with what they are. Free to Air news is pretty light though, and seems to be mostly sport and weather. Maybe that’s a good thing…

        Of course, my praise of the commenters on this site included the person who posts the most – you!

        Bebe – thank you for that reassurance that I’m not watching anything bad by tuning in to Judy once or twice a week…

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, Sue, free — like Australia’s — not cable. And U.S. public television, while more “mature” than paid TV here, still has some junk. 😦

          When I did watch TV, “Star Trek” was my favorite! The original, “Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” and “Voyager.”

          And thank you for that commenter praise! That Dave person does seem to blather on a lot… 🙂

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    • Dear a Sue bebe here, somehow in my iPad I am anon.
      Let me tell you, that is the best American News you watch. We regularly watch it, Judy is the best but I am no a fan of Amna , all the rest are excellent . William, Alcindor ( spell ?) and the rest.
      Do continue watching that program that’s all you need.

      Liked by 1 person

    • My opinion:

      The PBS News Hour is as reasonable a one-shot assessment as any other available for US viewers, though it does try to hew to a sensible middle view that’s more reflective of past consensus here than our polarized present.

      For the most erudite and thoughtful take on the day’s political events, I tune in to Chris Hayes, and then Rachel Maddow, who appear on MSNBC. Maddow is wonderful in her way, but also a tad given to reformulation of every point, so as to leave not even the slowest viewer behind. As I am not in that happy band, I occasionally find her redundant.

      That’s my list. Others have their good points, but not so many as to outweigh their shortcomings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, “a sensible middle view” these days almost gives the impression one is complicit in all the outrages happening. Sort of as ineffectual as “a sensible middle view” would have been in 1930s Germany. Neutrality/centrism is a weak weapon to fight Trump and everything he stands for when the far right never plays fair.

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      • Well if you think Dave is a blatherer, I can only imagine how you feel about my comments 🙂

        jhNY – thanks for your opinion. Unfortunately I don’t get to pick and choose which programmes are broadcast, so I’m stuck with “PBS Hour”. Which is fine, especially as you’ve described it has having a middle view. Though to me, it does seem to be pretty clearly left leaning. Or maybe the U.S. has a new version of far-right, and so everything else had to be realigned?

        It fascinates me how political everything seems to be, even in a non-election year. Australia gets a lot wrong when it comes to politics, but there’s quite a few things that I’ve become grateful for including compulsory voting, a non fixed election date, and a very short campaign period.

        Dave- I hope you’re having a nice break. I, of course, decided to pick this week to be sick, and have hardly gotten out of bed!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Susan, your excellent comments may be sort of long at times, but never “blathery”! 🙂

          “…compulsory voting, a non-fixed election date, and a very short campaign period” in Australia? Sounds good to me! If only the U.S. were the same way. 😦

          My break is going well. Very sorry you’re feeling sick; hope you’re feeling much better soon!

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  7. I recently enjoyed reading “Little Fires Everywhere” by Asian novelist, Celeste Ng. The book’s themes include privilege, class, race, parenthood, and being the outsider. Her writing style is wonderful, revealing just enough to pull the reader along for the journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Becky! “Little Fires Everywhere” sounds like a tremendous book, and you described it excellently. I see from Wikipedia that Ms. Ng is under 40 — I love trying the work of younger current authors. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Glad you’re enjoying “The Temple of My Familiar”! Hmmmm, trying to think of something you haven’t mentioned here…I went through a phase a couple years ago of trying to read more African authors, and discovered that there aren’t a lot of them being published in the US. However, I *do* recommend the short story collection “Shadows, Darkness and Light” by P. Zoro. It’s a collection of short stories about women in Zimbabwe.

    I also became acquainted with some authors who were writing popular genre fiction, mainly some form of romance, featuring women of color, normally with a feminist spin. So for example Sophia Scarlett wrote a series inspired by the “50 Shades” books, but with a biracial heroine who’s a feminist scholar, and N.D. Jones wrote a paranormal romance series influenced by the Twilight saga and also “Harry Potter,” but with mainly black characters and the use of African mythology. Both authors said they really enjoyed “50 Shades” and “Twilight,” and set out to write something similar, but with non-white characters and a more explicitly feminist message. (All of us are in agreement that the above-mentioned books) actually have a strong message of female empowerment already).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Elena, for your interesting take on — and additions to — this topic!

      Heartening to hear that genre fiction is getting more women-of-color authors and protagonists. Yes, something like the wonderful “Harry Potter” series has excellent feminist aspects and some characters of color, but those people-of-color characters (female or male) tend to be mostly secondary.

      Speaking of African authors: I didn’t mention it in the post because it’s written by a male, but I liked Wole Soyinka’s novel “The Interpreters” a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Maya Angelou was a renaissance woman,a writer she was proud to call herself,worked hard at this endeavor. She was first black woman screen writer,film called Georgia,Georgia. I thought “Cagebird” was brilliant and also was taken in by “Gather Together In My Name.” I will gradually read her other autobiographical works,I believe 6 in total. Last written called “Mom & Me.” Her poetry is transfixing and brings hope to us all. She was beautiful in so many ways and will be revered and remembered for the ages.

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    • Maya Angelou; Renacenista y finalmene reconocida por Obama!, cuantas otras féminas escritoras están a la sombra de Editoras Sin Escrúpulos!, que condicionan sus publicaciones por cuestiones de género(raza) y son tan brillantes escritoras no sólo en Norteamérica, las hay Latinas y son aisladas por causas similares o de machísmo!!

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      • Thank you for your comment, Eduardo! My Spanish is kind of rudimentary, so I ran your words through a Spanish-to-English translation site and saw this:

        “Maya Angelou; Renaissance and finally recognized by Obama !, how many other female writers are in the shadow of Unscrupulous Publishers !, who condition their publications by gender (race) issues and are such brilliant writers not only in North America, there are Latinas and are isolated by similar or machismo causes !!”

        I agree that some publishers unfortunately don’t give women, black, and Latina authors the same opportunities, marketing, etc., that many white-male authors get.

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    • Thank you, Bill! It’s great you got to hear Gwendolyn Brooks live! I love her poems. (Including the one she wrote about Paul Robeson that I quoted from when writing an obituary of him for my college newspaper way back in 1976.)

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