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12 Classics from Non-White Authors

For the past two years I have had the reading goal to read twelve classics books in a year. The first year I had this goal I noticed that all of the books I was reading were from White European authors that anyone would've have picked up in high school English class. This year I wanted more intention. There are so many classic books that did not come out of Europe. These are the books that I will be reading this year. I am about half way through the list and would love to know if you've read any of these.


Originally Published: 1002


Synopsis: Japan in the 10th century stood physically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world. Inside this bubble, a subtle and beautiful world was in operation, and its inhabitants were tied to the moment, having no interest in the future and disdain for the past.


The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon was a product of a tenth-century courtier's experiences in the palace of Empress Teishi. A common custom of the time period, courtiers used to keep notes or a diary in a wooden pillow with a drawer. This pillow book reflects the confident aesthetic judgments of Shonagon and her ability to create prose that crossed into the realm of the poetic. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is one of the earliest examples of diary literature whose passages chronicle the events of the court calendar, the ceremonies and celebrations specific to Teishi's court, and the vignettes that provide brilliantly drawn glimpses into the manners and foibles of the aristocracy.


A contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji, this small diary brings an added dimension to Murasaki's timeless and seminal work.



Originally Published: 1941


Synopsis: Borges sends us on a journey into a compelling, bizarre, and profoundly resonant realm; we enter the fearful sphere of Pascal's abyss, the surreal and literal labyrinth of books, and the iconography of eternal return. More playful and approachable than the fictions themselves are Borges's Prologues, brief elucidations that offer the uninitiated a passageway into the whirlwind of Borges's genius and mirror the precision and potency of his intellect and inventiveness, his piercing irony, his skepticism, and his obsession with fantasy. To enter the worlds in Ficciones is to enter the mind of Jorge Luis Borges, wherein lies Heaven, Hell, and everything in between.



Originally Published: 1989


Synopsis: Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who's "saying" the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. "To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable." Forty years later the stories and history continue.


With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.



Originally Publsihed: 1959


Synopsis: Set in Brooklyn during the Depression and World War II, "Brown Girl, Brownstones" is the enduring story of a most extraordinary young woman. Selina Boyce, the daughter of Barbadian immigrants, is caught between the struggles of her hard-working, ambitious mother, who wants to "buy house" and educate her daughters, and her father, who longs to return to the land in Barbados. Selina seeks to define her own identity and values as she struggles to surmount the racism and poverty that surround her. Moving and powerful, "Brown Girl, Brownstones" is both a classic coming-of-age tale and a vivid portrait of one family's struggle to achieve the American Dream.



Originally Published: 1969


Synopsis: Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou's debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.


Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash." At eight years old and back at her mother's side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age--and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.


Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.



Originally Published: 1923


Synopsis: First published in 1923, Jean Toomer's Cane is an innovative literary work--part drama, part poetry, part fiction--powerfully evoking black life in the South. Rich in imagery, Toomer's impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic sketches of Southern rural and urban life are permeated by visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and fire; the northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. This iconic work of American literature is published with a new afterword by Rudolph Byrd of Emory University and Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, who provide groundbreaking biographical information on Toomer, place his writing within the context of American modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and examine his shifting claims about his own race and his pioneering critique of race as a scientific or biological concept.



Originally Published: 1967


Synopsis: One of the most influential literary works of our time, One Hundred Years of Solitude remains a dazzling and original achievement by the masterful Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendiá family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad and alive with unforgettable men and women--brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul--this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.






Originally Published: 1898


Synopsis: Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen is an autobiography by Queen Lili'uokalani. Published in 1898, the book was written in the aftermath of Lili'uokalani's attempt to appeal on behalf of her people to President Grover Cleveland, a personal friend. Although it inspired Cleveland to demand her reinstatement, the United States Congress published the Morgan Report in 1894, which denied U.S. involvement in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen appeared four years later as a final effort by Lili'uokalani to advocate on behalf of Hawaiian sovereignty, but it unfortunately came too late. That same year, President McKinley and the United States Congress approved the annexation of Hawaii.

In Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, Lili'uokalani reflects on her experiences as a young girl growing up on Oahu, where she was raised as a member of the extended royal family of King Kamehameha III. Born in Honolulu, she was educated among her fellow royals from a young age. In addition to her studies, Lili'uokalani developed an artistic sensibility early on, and was fond of both writing and music. She crafted the lyrics to the popular song "Aloha 'Oe" (1878), just one of the more than 100 songs she would write in her lifetime.

Although her book was unsuccessful as an attempt to advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty and the restoration of the monarchy, it has since been recognized as a moving personal portrait of a girl who grew up to become Hawaii's first and only queen, a beloved monarch who fought for the rights of her people.



Originally Published: 1937


Synopsis: One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years--due largely to initial audiences' rejection of its strong black female protagonist--Hurston's classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.





Originally Published: Before 1021


Synopsis: The most famous work of Japanese literature and the world's first novel--written a thousand years ago and one of the enduring classics of world literature.


Written centuries before the time of Shakespeare and even Chaucer, The Tale of Genji marks the birth of the novel--and after more than a millennium, this seminal work continues to enchant readers throughout the world.


Lady Murasaki Shikibu and her tale's hero, Prince Genji, have had an unmatched influence on Japanese culture. Prince Genji manifests what was to become an image of the ideal Heian era courtier; gentle and passionate. Genji is also a master poet, dancer, musician and painter. The Tale of Genji follows Prince Genji through his many loves and varied passions. This book has influenced not only generations of courtiers and samurai of the distant past, but artists and painters even in modern times--episodes in the tale have been incorporated into the design of kimonos and handicrafts, and the four-line poems called waka which dance throughout this work have earned it a place as a classic text in the study of poetry.



Originally Published: 1955


Synopsis: A masterpiece of the surreal, this stunning novel from Mexico depicts a man's strange quest for his heritage. Beseeched by his dying mother to locate his father, Pedro Páramo, whom they fled from years ago, Juan Preciado sets out for Comala. Comala is a town alive with whispers and shadows--a place seemingly populated only by memory and hallucinations. Built on the tyranny of the Páramo family, its barren and broken-down streets echo the voices of tormented spirits sharing the secrets of the past.

First published to both critical and popular acclaim in 1955, Pedro Páramo represented a distinct break with earlier, largely "realist" novels from Latin America. Rulfo's entrancing mixture of vivid sensory images, violent passions, and inexplicable sorcery--a style that has come to be known as 'magical realism"--has exerted a profound influence on subsequent Latin American writers, from Jos' Donoso and Carlos Fuentes to Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.



Originally Published: 1956


Synopsis: In the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality.


David is a young American expatriate who has just proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Hella. While she is away on a trip, David meets a bartender named Giovanni to whom he is drawn in spite of himself. Soon the two are spending the night in Giovanni's curtainless room, which he keeps dark to protect their privacy. But Hella's return to Paris brings the affair to a crisis, one that rapidly spirals into tragedy.


David struggles for self-knowledge during one long, dark night--"the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life." With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin's now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a deeply moving story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.



If you have read any of these books before or plan to let me know which ones down below in the comments.



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