10 Contemporary Books That Challenged White, Male Literary Dominance

Last week, we published a list of 10 essential books of the past 25 years. It was one of our most popular posts of all time, as well as one of our most contentious, racking up over 100 comments. Much of the argument has focused on the list’s lack of diversity: of the 10 books, eight were written by white men.

Since best-of lists can’t help but be subjective and flawed, and because there have been so many game-changing books by women and people of color in the past 25 years, we’ve put together an alternate top 10 list. Don’t think of it as an affirmative action move or a consolation prize, but rather as proof that you could make an equally strong list of the past few decades’ greatest literary achievements without including a single American- or British-born white guy. The highbrow novels, page-turning bestsellers, and one particularly inspired graphic novel after the jump all challenged the received wisdom that literature is or should be dominated by white dudes.

Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

Toni Morrison has spent the past four decades writing challenging and insightful novels featuring black characters. Among the most powerful of these is Beloved, about a slave woman named Sethe and her daughter Denver, who live and work on a plantation in the wake of their failed escape from slavery, and are haunted by the ghost of a baby known only as Beloved. Morrison was inspired by the real-life story of the escaped slave Margaret Garner, who killed her daughter because she couldn’t bear to see her return to the plantation. Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, and ten years later, Jonathan Demme directed a film adaptation, which famously starred (and was produced by) Oprah. It’s also won a spot on English syllabi in high schools and colleges around the country.