Books by Wellesley Alumnae Writers of Color to Add to Your Reading List

June 26, 2020

As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country, reading lists and recommendations for stories that center on the experiences of Black people and people of color are being shared widely. In an industry that is still 80 percent white, the Wellesley alumnae of color listed below are part of an emerging force—consider adding some of their books, on topics ranging from science fiction to representations of race to romance, to your reading list.

Patrice Caldwell ’15,  Crystal Fleming ’04, Jasmine Guillory ’97, TJ Jarrett ’95
From left to right: Patrice Caldwell ’15, Crystal Fleming ’04, Jasmine Guillory ’97, TJ Jarrett ’95. Image credit: authors’ websites.

A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell ’15
This 2020 anthology features 16 tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic. Fans of Octavia Butler will appreciate this book’s range—it takes the reader on a journey from folk tales retold to futuristic societies, covering plenty of ground in between. A Phoenix First Must Burn earned starred reviews from Kirkus Books, which called it “luminous reading,” as well as Publishers Weekly, which noted that “each of these 16 stories demonstrates the power, resiliency, and determination of the lead female character” and praised the anthology for “an evenness to its stories, unique characters, and a wide range of tales.”

How to Be Less Stupid About Race, Crystal Fleming ’04
Fleming’s book is an “essential guide to breaking through the half-truths and ridiculous misconceptions that have thoroughly corrupted the way race is represented in the classroom, pop culture, media, and politics,” according to the publisher’s website. A professor of sociology at New York’s Stony Brook University and an author, Fleming and her book have been featured in the media recently. She has weighed in on discussions about the capitalization of the ‘B’ in Black in the New York Times, and in an interview with CBS News she said, “I feel the collective anguish of centuries and generations of Black people who have had to survive this and have had to deal with people celebrating these myths of what our country is, right? The myth that this is a country of freedom, when we know that we have been unfree for so long.”

Party of Two and The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory ’97
The recently released Party of Two is the fifth title in Guillory’s rom-com series, and chronicles the relationship of a young lawyer who moves to Los Angeles and an up-and-coming politician. “As the new couple don disguises and try to trick the ever-curious press, their game quickly spirals out of hand, and what was once a secret may explode, hilariously, into the public eye,” according to a review in Bustle.

The Proposal, a New York Times bestseller and both a Reese Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine Book Club pick, is a hard-to-put-down romance novel that The Atlantic hailed as a standout in the genre because it addresses consent. BuzzFeed noted its “sharp banter” as well as its “well-rounded cast of characters and plenty of swoony scenes,” calling Guillory “one of the most exciting rom-com writers out there.”

Zion, TJ Jarrett ’95
Jarrett, a computer engineer, explores the civil rights movement across three generations of one family in this 2014 collection of poems. “Jarrett has a deft but forceful style that combines with potent subject matter to create poems of great intensity. She makes masterful and subtle use of imagery, but the power of these poems lies more in her gift for conveying directly some of the most elusive truths of the human heart,” wrote one reveiwer. In an interview with The Atlantic, Jarrett said, “I’m always putting myself in someone else’s shoes and trying to see the world as they see it. I see the world as a system, many parts coming together to make the whole work.”

Patricia Powell ’88, Sejal Shah ’94, Malinda Lo ’96, Sumita Chakraborty ’08
Patricia Powell ’88, Sejal Shah ’94, Malinda Lo ’96, Sumita Chakraborty ’08. Image credit: authors’ websites.

A Small Gathering of Bones, Patricia Powell ’88
Powell, professor of English and director of creative writing at Mills College, is the author of four novels; this is the one Octavio González, assistant professor of English at Wellesley, teaches in his classes almost every year. Published in 1994, A Small Gathering of Bones is set in Jamaica in 1978 and tracks the first days of AIDS, documenting Jamaican society’s struggle to accept the dignity of gay love. The New England Review of Books called it “a rare portrayal of literary fiction as an artistic whole.”

This Is One Way to Dance, Sejal Shah ’94
In her debut memoir, Shah writes of race, belonging, and the intersection of the two through place. With this collection of essays, Shah, who grew up in western New York and is the daughter of Gujarati immigrants, explores what it means to make oneself visible through writing in a country that struggles with race, and maps herself as an American, a writer of color, and a feminist.

A Line in the Dark, Malinda Lo ’96
Lo is known for her book Ash, a retelling of Cinderella in which Cinderella is a lesbian. In A Line in the Dark, Lo created what NPR called “a fresh approach to the teen thriller,” where two friends, Jess Wong and Angie Redmond, explore the line between being best friends and something more: “Malinda Lo has made a career of examining various genre subsets of [young adult] literature through a queer lens.” As lies and secrets come to the surface of their word of wealth and privilege, Jess and Angie’s friendship is tested.

Coming soon:

Arrow, Sumita Chakraborty ’08
Arrow, which will be available in September 2020, is a collection of poems to look forward to. Chakraborty, the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry at the University of Michigan, is releasing this debut collection with the noted poetry publisher Alice James Books, and it is already making waves. The literary magazine The Rumpus has chosen it for its upcoming monthly poetry book club, and Ilya Kaminsky, a 2019 National Book Award finalist, has called it a “powerful and endlessly mysterious collection of poems.”