Diversity in Nonfiction – TSS 101

Posted 16 November, 2014 by Trish in Reading Nook / 24 Comments

Tags: ,

Sunday Salon


Someone explain to me how it’s halfway through November! After having a quite warm October, we are currently freezing this month. I can’t remember having a colder November–our lows are some days lower than we often get all winter (into the 20s).

The good news is we still have half a month left of Nonfiction November (hosted by Kim, Becca, Lu, and Katie). I just finished my first nonfiction read for the month (Crimes of Paris) and my nonfiction wishlist is exploding from all of the suggestions. If you haven’t joined in yet, it’s not too late! This week we are talking about diversity in nonfiction and there’s been great discussion all month on twitter using #NonficNov.

nonfiction november

Diversity in Nonfiction

Becca from Lost in Books asks: What does diversity in nonfiction mean to you? Is it about the topic or theme of the book? Or is it the race or ethnicity of the author? Do you have any recommendations for diverse nonfiction books? Are there any topics that you’d like to see written about and/or read more widely?

When I was putting together my list of potential reads for this month, I started to realize how little diversity exists on my nonfiction shelf. Most of the authors on my shelf are male (except for the memoirs which lean more towards females), and because I’m not as familiar with the individual authors I have no idea what race and ethnicity most of them are (except for the memoirs).

Because nonfiction reading is so topic/theme driven, I suppose I’ve never paid attention to the diversity of authors other than when specifically seeking out diverse topics/memoirs. I don’t pay a ton of attention to diversity when picking fiction books either, but I am familiar with a wide variety of authors from different races and ethnicity so reading diversely comes fairly naturally in fiction without my trying too hard. I am, however, more aware of diversity with fictional readings.

Any time you’re talking about diversity, it becomes a bit complicated–do you read what you want to read and all of those folks just happen to be white men? Or do you make an effort and give up some of your comfort reads? I’m of the mind that every reader should read what she wants to read, but being aware only helps. I feel as though I’m talking in circles a bit. Though I do think it’s interesting that most of my historical nonfiction reads are written by men (I didn’t look up all of the authors to check race, but I’m going to go ahead and assume most of them are white).

One area where my nonfiction reading does lean toward diversity is in the autobiography/memoir section. I LOVE reading memoirs about individuals from different countries, especially countries and cultures that I am not as familiar with. Below are some of the more memorable memoirs I’ve read–all from the Middle East or Africa.

Nonfic diversity

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah – Ishmael was forced into a life as a soldier as a child in Sierra Leone. His memoir was my first real introduction to boy soldiers in Africa and the story was heartbreaking and horrifying. (My thoughts)

A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirached – Zeina and her brother were just children during the Lebanese Civil War and her family lived along the danger zone in Beirut. Her memoir, in beautiful graphic format, tells of a night when she and her brother are left with family and friends while her parents leave home to check that all is well with the grandparents across town. It’s a story of loss and heartache that made me want to learn more about the Lebanese Civil War. (My thoughts)

My Father’s Paradise by Ariel Sabar – Sabar is searching for his Jewish roots in Kurdish Iraq where a tiny fraction of the country is comprised of Jews. Sabar discusses the mass exodus of Jews from Iraq to Israel in the 1940s and 50s as well as the idea of Zionism, linguistics, Isreali, and Iraqi history. I highly recommend this deeply moving story and history. (My thoughts)

Spirit Boy by Paul Apowida – Also set in Africa, this time Ghana, Paul Apowida tells his story of his childhood amongst villagers who thought he was possessed by the spirit of demons and continually tried to kill him or rid their community of him. His story is not an isolated one and he is currently trying to raise awareness in his home village as well as with other Ghanan villages. See more on AfriKids website.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – Probably the most popular title on this list, at least amongst bloggers, The Complete Persepolis is still one of my favorite discoveries in the past several years. Persepolis is Satrapi’s memoir (told in gorgeous black and white graphics) about growing up during the revolution in Tehran and later growing up as a Iranian teenager in France. So many great things going on in this book! (My thoughts)

The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah – Many moons ago when I was a student teacher at Texas Tech, this was our assigned reading for all of the freshman students. Even if I had to read more essays about Afghanistan than I ever cared to, reading The Storyteller’s Daughter was a wonderful eyeopening experience to so many of the students. Shah is a British journalist and she traveled to her father’s homeland in Afghanistan in search of the jem of a country she remembers from childhood stories. (More on Goodreads)

I would LOVE to hear suggestions for other memoirs written by authors outside of the United States!

What are your views on Diversity in Nonfiction?

Happy Reading!


24 Responses to “Diversity in Nonfiction – TSS 101”

  1. Great post! I rarely ever pay attention to diversity when I’m choosing books and just read what I’m interested in. But, I find that my nonfiction reading ends up being pretty diverse anyway…which I think is the best thing (ending up with diversity when you’re just picking what’s interesting or looks the best).
    I chose 4 books for Nonfiction November without thinking about diversity and ended up with: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy (Civil War, written by a white woman)
    Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim (North Korea, written by a native S. Korean woman)
    My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (American literature & NYC, written by an American woman)
    Striking Gridiron by Greg Nichols (football, written by a white male)
    I liked that I ended up with really diverse topics and 3 female authors by just choosing what I wanted to read.

  2. I had my 9th and 10th graders choose a non-fiction book for class one year and one boy chose read the Ishmael Beah book. He was an older student who was a good kid but not someone I typically managed to get interested in much of anything in English class, but I can remember he came up and thanked me for recommended that particular book and told me how much he appreciated it. That’s good reading!

  3. I am a big fan of Marjane Satrapi’s books. Her Persepolis, Embroideries, and Chicken with Plums were all such good reads! I haven’t read any of the other books in your list though A Game For Swallows looks very interesting – I will have to look it up.

  4. I’ve noticed the same trends in my nonfiction reading — lots of memoirs by women and people of color, but fewer “regular” nonfiction books from those groups. I wish there were more women, especially women of color, writing popular history books, that seems like a real void to me.

  5. MJ

    I tend to think of diversity in my reading as books by women and people of color (and women of color, lol). However, I do like to read books outside of my regular content-comfort zone, too.

    Right now I’m reading “The Places that Scare You,” by Pema Chödrön. She’s an American Buddhist nun. I have no idea where I heard of this book, but I must have stumbled across it on a list somewhere and thought it sounded interesting. It. Is. Amazing. I’ve read a bit about Buddhism, but this book is different. It’s a self-help book, I guess, and there’s no way for me to describe it without sounding super cheesy and cliched, but there it is. I don’t read self-help, and I don’t read religious books, but maybe I need to diversify in that direction a bit.

    I do have to say that from what I’ve read so far, her take on Buddhist principles would be completely compatible with Christianity (at least the Christianity I was raised on) – if that matters to anyone :-)

  6. I’m not a huge non-fiction reader, preferring fiction in various forms.

    For a non US writer, how about Primo Levi who survived the concentration camps of WWII and wrote many books about it after.

    I haven’t done anything in depth to see how diverse my fiction reading is, but I do know I have a reasonable split between men and women, and many a book written in and about India and the Far East.

    For anyone who would like to read more book written by women, then check out Persephone books, based in London, who concentrate on books previously published but that have slipped into obscurity.

  7. I read a lot of memoirs and just looked through my list on Blogger to see if I have any recommendations for you. Sadly, none of mine fit the diversity in nonfiction category! Shame on me.

  8. I usually think of diversity as being “different from me” in identity or in experiences. My reading tends to be naturally diverse, but there are definitely skimpy areas or gaps, for sure! Love this post!

  9. The Translator by Daoud Hari is another good book. I read it around the same time I read A Long Way Gone and if I’m remembering correctly I read it first and actually liked it a little more.

  10. I loved A Long Way Home and Persepolis! And I just picked up A Game of Swallows from the library the other week. I haven’t busted into it yet, mostly because i am already reading a military nonfiction and it seemed like a little overload for war stories to read them together. But I am excited about getting to it!

  11. Great list! I’ve only read A Game for Swallows and Persepolis so I’ll be checking out the rest of those books.

    One of my favourite books ever is Totto-Chan, a Japanese woman’s childhood experiences in a Tokyo school before WWII. It’s sweet and funny and so very endearing.

  12. Jay

    Spirit Boy keeps popping up in blogs I read. Maybe its time to give it a try. My old book club read the Ismael Beah book, but I was kinda lukewarm about it. My recent African reads have been “The Queen of Katwe,” and “The Fear” about Mugabe & Zimbabwe.

  13. Ever read “What is the What”? While written by Dave Eggers, it is in collaboration with Valentino Achak Deng, the book’s subject. Excellent book.

  14. It’s tough to find non-fiction writers who aren’t male and white!

    I’ve read or heard of most of the books you mentioned but I might have to look into The Storyteller’s Daughter. It’s new to me!

  15. I’ve never really made an effort to read nonfiction diversely but I think when you’ve got diverse interests, you’re bound to read, at least to some extent, diversely.