25 Featured Books by Authors of Color at BEA

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Jessica Woodbury

Staff Writer

Jessica Woodbury's professional life has taken her to prisons, classrooms, strip clubs, and her living room couch. After years as a Public Defender in the South, she now lives in Boston with her two small children. Cursed with a practical streak, she always wanted to pursue music or writing but instead majored in Biochemistry because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. These days she does absolutely nothing with science or law and instead spends too much time oversharing on the internet. She has a soft spot for crime novels and unreliable narrators. And the strip club gig was totally as a lawyer, she swears.  Blog: Don't Mind the Mess Twitter: jessicaesquire

This year at Book Expo, diversity seemed to be everywhere and yet it was still hard to find. China’s giant pavilion was front and center, awards were given for books in translation, and sessions celebrated diverse authors and books. But it still seemed like a small drop in a very large bucket. Almost all signings were white authors, almost all featured books were by white authors, and I had to make a real effort to try and track down books by authors of color.

There’s still a long way to go until Book Expo shows real diversity, but I can offer these 25 books by authors of color featured at BEA 2015.

Essays by Funny People on TV

Why Not Me by Mindy KalingThis is almost getting large enough to become a real genre. By far one of the biggest draws this year was Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling after the wild success of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (the new book also seems to suggest Mindy’s love for question marks). Kaling navigates friendship, romance, beauty, and celebrity in this collection out in September from Crown.

Right up there in the buzz-building category is Modern Romance by stand-up comic and Parks & Recreation cast member Aziz Ansari. This book on love looks like a mashup of big data (gathered through interviews and work with top sociologists) and Ansari’s biting wit. Modern Romance is out on June 16 from Penguin Press, so best get your pre-order on now.

Kunal Nayyar, better known to millions as Raj on The Big Bang Theory, was all over BEA headlines as the Master of Ceremonies for Thursday’s Author Breakfast. Nayyar’s upcoming book is Yes, My Accent is Real: And Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You which follows him from his New Delhi childhood to his time on the ridiculously popular sitcom. It’s been a pretty great year for comedians and actors of color in publishing with the releases of No Land’s Man from Aasif Mandvi and I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One on TV from Maz Jobrani exploring topics of race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. Nayyar’s book is out in September from Atria Books.

Debut Novels

Food Whore by Jessica Tom has a different kind of sugar daddy relationship. Tia is just another young foodie in the big city until she makes a deal with a legendary restaurant critic. He has lost his sense of taste and he asks Tia to ghostwrite his reviews for him in exchange for a lot of fancy meals and expensive clothes. Tom is a writer and food blogger who brings an insider knowledge to this juicy tale out in October from William Morrow.

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil YapaYou’ll have a long wait for Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa, which doesn’t come out until January 2016. Sadly, it won’t be easy. Yapa’s debut is one of those epic novels that’s being compared to a bunch of other amazing epic novels and the buzz is only going to build. Set during the 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle, it follows several characters, including protesters, police officers, and politicians, as the protests threaten to devolve into chaos.

Robert searches for the enigmatic Vietnamese wife who left him in Dragonfish by Vu Tran. Blackmailed to track her down by her new smuggler husband, Robert’s journey goes from seedy Las Vegas to a Vietnam War refugee camp and uncovers a lot more than he bargained for. Blurbed by superstars like Tom Perrotta, and with equal parts immigrant tale and literary thriller, it’s one for your TBR when it’s out in July.


Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy MDI spent years wanting to be a doctor when I grew up (spoiler alert: it didn’t happen) and I still have an affection for the medical memoir genre, so I was excited to get a copy of Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy, M.D. The extraordinary thing about Tweedy’s book is that it is less about medical anecdotes and more on just how much race matters for doctors and patients. Out in September from Picador.

For another clear-eyed discussion of race in the modern world, there’s Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates, the popular and controversial writer for The Atlantic. Coates is poised to be the definitive voice on race in America so there’s a lot of interest in this new quasi-memoir that deals with Coates’ personal history and the charged racial history of the US. September release from Spiegel & Grau.

There are three more names you may recognize among upcoming memoirs. Actually, you may not recognize the name Sonia Manzano, you probably know her as Maria from Sesame Street. Manzano’s upcoming memoir is Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx. Her memoir covers her difficult childhood through her adulthood as an actress. Out in August from Scholastic, it’s appropriate for adults as well as children 12 and up. Keep A Knockin’ is a memoir out in August from drummer legend Charles Connor full of inside stories from his life in the music business. Finally, well-known character actor John Leguizamo has adapted his Broadway show Ghetto Klown about his life from childhood to Hollywood into a graphic novel with illustrators Christa Cassano and Shamus Beyale, to be released in October.

Pulitzer Prizewinners

Father Comes Home From the Wars Parts 1 2 and 3 by Suzan-Lori ParksPlaywright Suzan-Lori Parks made an appearance to sign the book version of Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3). Parks won the Pulitzer for her play Topdog/Underdog and her newest play was a 2015 Drama finalist and has been called her best work yet even though it’s only the first three parts of a nine-play cycle. The play is set during the Civil War and centers around a slave who is offered his freedom to fight for the Confederacy. Fun fact: just because you win a Pulitzer doesn’t mean you can’t sign a book with little star and heart doodles. Out this month.

Oscar Hijuelos died in 2013 and won the Pulitzer for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love in 1990. His posthumous novel Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise is about the real-life friendship between Mark Twain and explorer-journalist Henry Stanley (the man who uttered the famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) on a trip to Cuba. Hijuelos had worked on the book for years and finished shortly before his death. Out in November.

Recent Releases

fifteen dogsNot all books featured at BEA are upcoming releases. Sometimes publishers celebrate books they’ve just released or books that have been particularly successful. In the former category is Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, one of my favorite books of the year so far, which follows the titular group of dogs after two bored gods make a bet to give them human consciousness. For a book about dogs, it has an awful lot to say about humanity and morality and has a great plot to boot. Out now from Coach House Books.

Cixin Liu is one of the most popular authors in China. Tor is releasing his Three-Body Problem trilogy in translation in the US, with the second novel, The Dark Forest, coming this summer. Liu was at BEA to sign the first book, The Three-Body Problem which includes China’s cultural revolution, a secret cabal, a string of suicides, and a virtual reality game- it was one of Book Riot’s best books of 2014.

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer TsengAnother of our best of 2014 picks that’s recently out in paperback, Everything I Never Told Youbrought author Celeste Ng in for a signing. A huge success that ended up being named Amazon’s Best Book of the Year, there’s no sign of things slowing down for this family drama-slash-mystery that looks at a mixed-race family in 1970s suburban Ohio.

If you worry that you have too many books in your life and not enough adventure, you may want to pick up the new release from Europa Editions, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng. The book follows a middle-aged librarian who’s pulled out of her mundane life and family when she becomes obsessed with a teenage boy and befriends his mother. Billed as a book that’s both erotic and meditative, it’s one I really regret not getting into my suitcase.

Young Adult

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
Everything, Everything
by Nicola Yoon had a line so long I had no chance of getting a copy. I’m a little weary of novels featuring characters with strange diseases who can’t leave their homes, but I’m making an exception for this book. Maddie is allergic to the world. She is also sure she will fall in love with the boy wearing all black who moves in next door. A story told through many media, including diary entries, charts, and illustrations (drawn by the author’s husband), I’m really excited for its release in September from Delacorte Press.

Adi Alsaid made a big splash with his debut, the road trip YA Let’s Get Lost, that got plenty of John Green comparisons. His new novel, Never Always Sometimesfollows a pair of best friends who write down a list of high school clichés and vow to avoid them. Until they decide maybe it would be fun to do them all. I love the premise, since some YA can rely too strongly on those clichés, and I’m excited to see how they get turned on their head. Out in August.

cover of shadowshaper by daniel jose olderBook Riot Live speaker Daniel José Older was at BEA promoting his upcoming book, Shadowshaper, out this month. It features fantasy and graffiti and a Latina heroine and magic and a very, very long list of glowing reviews and blurbs that give it a spot on anyone’s summer reading must list. Buy it. Then see if you can get him to sign it when you’re hanging out with him in November.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera brings a little magical realism to the difficult life of Aaron Soto, a gay, Latino teenager in the Bronx. There’s a new “memory-relief procedure” that could help him forget all the things that have made his life so tough and help him be someone newer and better. But it could also mean he loses his new love interest and even his own identity. Like the other YA titles here, it also comes with impressive blurbs and some great buzz.

Historical Fiction

cover of Queen of the Night by Alexander CheeThe Book Riot crew noticed a lot of big, big books at BEA this year and one of them was The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee. If the thought of 576 pages intimidates you, don’t worry, it’s not out until February so you have some time to prepare. Chee’s second novel is about a French opera star looking back on her unlikely rise to fame as she tries to find out the anonymous author of an opera based on her own life. Also, just look at that cover!

The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo is set during Hurricane Flora in 1960s Cuba. The book centers around Maria Sirena, a storyteller who may be telling her last story during the deadly storm. Her story goes back generations to trace her family and her country through decades of war and trouble. A modern riff on Scheherazade that celebrates the art of the story.


Smaller and Smaller Circles by FH BatacanIt’s not much of a surprise that both of the foreign thrillers on this list are from Soho Crime, an imprint doing a fantastic job finding stellar crime fiction from around the globe. Smaller and Smaller Circles by F. H. Batacan has been called the first Phillipine crime novel. It’s a literary noir set in a community so poor they live in and scavenge off a massive dump site. After a string of murders, the only one who can help is Priest-slash-Forensic-Anthropologist Father Gus Saenz. Now that is a detective I don’t think I’ve seen before. I’m really intrigued. Out in August.

The Gun is the debut novel by Fuminori Nakamura and the fourth that Soho Crime has released. And Soho says there are more novels on the way as they continue to have them translated. The Gun combines the feel of old school noir but places it in a modern world of cell phones and puts a college student at its center. Guns are illicit and dangerous items in Japan, viewed very differently than they are in the US, and when Nishikawa finds one on a dead body, he takes it and it becomes the source of a growing obsession.


I am really excited about so many of the books on this list. But I’d be even more excited to go to BEA next year and see more panels featuring authors of color, and more books by authors of color featured prominently.


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