The best books about multiracial people

22 authors have picked their favorite books about multiracial people and why they recommend each book.

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The Invisible Line

By Daniel J. Sharfstein,

Book cover of The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America

This book features a trio of true-life stories from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries about families whose ancestors were enslaved but who, by a variety of stratagems, managed to cross the color line and become “white” in the eyes of others – and eventually in the eyes of their own descendants. These stories illustrated for me the actual permeability of racial categories, hinging largely on one’s physical appearance and possessions.  In other words, the lighter your skin and the larger your bank account, the greater the possibility that others will allow you to be whoever you say you are.


Who am I?

I first heard about Melungeons when a babysitter told me they would “git” me if I didn’t behave.  She said they lived in caves outside our East Tennessee town and had six fingers on each hand.  I consigned these creatures to myth and nightmares, until a cousin informed me that some of our shared ancestors were Melungeons and showed me scars from the removal of his extra thumbs.  For the next ten years I visited sites related to Melungeons and interviewed many who claimed Melungeon ancestry, running DNA tests on some. This research yielded my memoir Kinfolks: Falling Off The Family Tree and my historical novel Washed In The Blood.


I wrote...

Washed in the Blood

By Lisa Alther,

Book cover of Washed in the Blood

What is my book about?

The Southeast was not a barren wilderness when the British arrived at Jamestown. It was already inhabited by Native Americans, French, Spaniards, Portuguese, Africans, and others. Extensive racial mixing there produced offspring who often became “British” when their complexions allowed it.

Washed In the Blood features three linked generations of such people. Diego Martin arrives in the Southeast in 1567 as a hog drover with a Spanish exploring party. His leader abandons him to the wilderness, where natives rescue him. In the 19th century, a descendant of Diego’s marries a Quaker from Philadelphia, who runs a school for mountain children. By the 1920s Diego’s descendants have split: The merchants in town deny any kinship to their darker cousins on Mulatto Bald. Will Martin from the Bald falls in love with a town girl, both unaware they are cousins. Reinventing themselves as white citizens in a new industrial town, they are appalled when Will’s illegitimate, dark-complexioned son arrives at their doorstep and falls in love with their daughter.

The Color of Water

By James McBride,

Book cover of The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

I rarely read books a second time, but this book is an exception. McBride writes with charm and humor about his family of twelve children living in the projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn. His mother refused to admit she was white while raising her children with her Black minister husband. Coming-of-age, racial identity, and family secrets are ever-present themes in this powerful and poignant narrative.

Who am I?

I was raised with my seven siblings on Bernard Street in Mill Creek Valley—454 acres in downtown St. Louis, which comprised the nation's largest urban-renewal project beginning in 1959. I started writing short stories about my childhood memories of the dying African-American community after retiring at age 66. The Last Children of Mill Creek was published when I was 70 years old. This memoir is about survival, as told from the viewpoint of a watchful young girl -- a collection of decidedly universal stories that chronicle the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.


I wrote...

The Last Children of Mill Creek

By Vivian Gibson,

Book cover of The Last Children of Mill Creek

What is my book about?

Vivian Gibson grew up in Mill Creek Valley, a segregated working-class neighborhood of St. Louis that was razed in 1959 to build a highway, an act of racism disguised under urban renewal as “progress.” The three rooms of her childhood home were heated by a wood-burning stove; her family had no hot water or furnace, but what Gibson lacked in material comforts she made up for in imagination. A moving memoir of family life at a time very different from the present, The Last Children of Mill Creek chronicles the everyday lived experiences of Gibson’s large family -- her seven siblings, her crafty, college-educated mother, and her hard-working father -- and the friends, shop owners, church ladies, teachers, and others who made Mill Creek into a warm, tight-knit African-American community.

In Gibson’s words, “This memoir is about survival, as told from the viewpoint of a watchful young girl -- a collection of decidedly universal stories that chronicle the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.”

Native Guard

By Natasha Tretheway,

Book cover of Native Guard

Tretheway’s poetry, particularly her sonnets, are stunning and evocative and the main reason that this volume won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007. Some of the most powerful poems are spoken in the voice of a recently emancipated Black soldier who writes letters home for illiterate white prisoners of war. Whose stories are really being told by these poems? “They are cautious, dreading / the sight of us. Some neither read nor write, / are laid too low and have a few words to send / but those I give them” she writes, in “February 1863.”  Such a brilliant, brilliant book of poems.


Who am I?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.


I wrote...

Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

By Hollis Robbins,

Book cover of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

What is my book about?

Forms of Contention tells the story of 250 years of African American sonnet influence: who wrote sonnets and when, who published sonnets, who praised and who opposed the form, who wrote about them critically, how sonnets were included in anthologies, how sonnets have been in and out of fashion, and how sonnet writers contended with each other’s works. The story of the sonnet’s appeal to African American poets from the nineteenth century through the tumultuous twentieth and into the twenty-first, even as sonnet writing remained a vexed pursuit for black poets, for black poetry anthologizers, for Black Arts advocates, and for Black Studies academics, is rich and surprising.

Forms of Contention argues persuasively that the sonnet form should no longer be considered a European form but is in fact an African American poetic form, since some of the best practitioners for the past generations have been Black poets.

Black, Jewish, and Interracial

By Katya Gibel Azoulay,

Book cover of Black, Jewish, and Interracial: It's Not the Color of Your Skin, but the Race of Your Kin, and Other Myths of Identity

Not all Jews are white. Again, there are a number of wonderful books by African American Jews that remind us of this fact, and how often we use the word “Jewish” to refer only to Jews of European descent. Azoulay insists on confronting this unthinking racism head-on by reflecting on her experiences as a Black woman who struggled to feel at home in the Jewish community. Too often “Black-Jewish relations” as a phrase defines two discrete communities. This book reminds us that this distortion of the truth both erases Jews of color and lets white Jews avoid taking responsibility for challenging social systems that privilege whiteness.


Who am I?

I am a professor who teaches and works in the field of African American History. Because I am both white and Jewish, I’ve been repeatedly asked to give talks about relationships between African Americans and white Jewish Americans, and about what “went wrong” to shatter the “grand alliance” of the civil rights movement embodied by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I had no answer, but I suspected that none of the stories that we had been told, whether good or bad, were fully true. So I went back to the sources and uncovered a complex and multilayered history. Black and Jewish collaboration was never a given, and underlying tensions and conflicts reflected the broader realities of race and class in the U.S. In the book I explored how these historical and political forces operated, and continue to resonate today.


I wrote...

Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century

By Cheryl Lynn Greenberg,

Book cover of Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century

What is my book about?

Was there ever really a black-Jewish alliance in twentieth-century America? And if there was, what happened to it?

My book examines the history and significance of what was less an alliance than a tumultuous political engagement. That engagement advanced the civil rights revolution and helped shape the agenda of liberalism, but it also laid bare the realities of racial and class divisions in our society, which divided the two communities even as they tried to make common cause. These tensions and conflicts persist today; my goal in writing this book was to better understand the past so we may learn how better to move forward with that yet unfinished work.

The Garies and Their Friends

By Frank J. Webb,

Book cover of The Garies and Their Friends

Another example of early African American fiction, The Garies and their Friends is the second novel published by a Black American. Following the lives of an interracial couple moving from Savannah to Philadelphia, their middle-class Black friends, and the racism they face, The Garies is one of the first texts to examine free Black life in depth. Writing an anti-racist novel, Webb criticizes the legal structures and extra-legal white supremacist violence that prohibit Black safety and success in the ‘free’ North.


Who am I?

I’m a lecturer at the University of Liverpool who researches 19th century American literature. A year studying in central Pennsylvania sparked my interest in early US writing and led me to a PhD in the subject. I’m fascinated in how American literature of this period both upholds and challenges the founding myths of the nation - liberty, egalitarianism, progress – and how new genres, such as science fiction and the gothic, develop over the century.


I wrote...

Liminal Whiteness in Early US Fiction

By Hannah Murray,

Book cover of Liminal Whiteness in Early US Fiction

What is my book about?

In Liminal Whiteness in Early US Fiction, Hannah Lauren Murray shows that early US authors repeatedly imagined lost, challenged and negated white citizenship in the new nation. Reading canonical and lesser-known writers including Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville, Murray argues that white characters on the borders of life and death were liminal presences that disturbed prescriptions of racial belonging in the early US. Fears of losing whiteness were routinely channelled through the language of liminality, in a precursor to today’s white anxieties of marginalisation and minoritisation.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

By Alix E. Harrow,

Book cover of The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Alix Harrow’s writing in The Ten Thousand Doors of January is as beautiful as the cover. This book was a finalist for several awards, including the Hugo and Nebula, and for good reason. The main character’s name is January–hence the title. January struggles against an antagonist who wants to prevent her from opening the magical doors she finds, undermines her confidence, and eventually has her committed to an institution. This will resonate with many young readers struggling to find their identity and take control of their own powers–and lives. The different worlds beyond January’s doors will delight the imagination and the resolution is satisfying. 


Who am I?

I’m a history instructor and often think about alternate historical outcomes, but you don’t get to choose those. Wish the Spanish Armada hadn’t sunk? Tough luck. But you can take a novel in any direction—kill a character, bring them back, let them fall in love, make them eat an egg salad sandwich… When the book itself is about parallel worlds, it increases those possibilities exponentially. In What Goes Up, Rosa and Eddie have very different backgrounds—Earth is two different worlds for them. What happens when there’s another world out there and they meet themselves in a different place? As one character asks, how much do you trust yourself?


I wrote...

What Goes Up

By Katie Kennedy,

Book cover of What Goes Up

What is my book about?

Rosa and Eddie are among hundreds of teens applying to NASA's mysterious Interworlds Agency. They're not exactly sure what the top-secret program entails, but they know they want in. Rosa has her brilliant parents' legacies to live up to, and Eddie has nowhere else to gohe's certainly not going to stick around and wait for his violent father to get out of jail. Even if they are selected, they have no idea what lies in store. But first, they have to make it through round after round of crazy-competitive testing.

And then something happens that even NASA's scientists couldn't predict...

Pride

By Ibi Zoboi,

Book cover of Pride: A Pride & Prejudice Remix

I’m one of those rare English teachers who was never much of a fan of Austen, but Pride is such an incredibly powerful YA read that it had me looking back at the original with fresh eyes when I finished it. A contemporary, diverse retelling of Pride and Prejudice, it tackles issues of race, culture, heritage, and gentrification head-on, all set against the familiar backdrop of first love. Brilliantly showcasing the power and importance of not only the YA genre, but also the original novel which inspired it, I found Pride to be a massively thought-provoking and hugely important twist on the classic. (If I had my way, I’d make it required reading alongside its predecessor!)


Who am I?

In my previous role as a teacher, I often encountered teens who never, ever read outside of school – and hated having to read in school. Finding YA retellings of the classics became an indispensable tool for me in terms of not only linking the past with the present for the young adults in my classes, but also in terms of helping them see themselves in fiction, finding representation there, and discovering their own importance. It opened up whole worlds for all of us, and offered a pathway to a love of reading that I hope they will never forget!


I wrote...

Under My Skin

By Zoë Markham,

Book cover of Under My Skin

What is my book about?

What if we’re all monsters, on the inside?

Chloe was once a normal girl. Until the night of the car crash that nearly claimed her life. Now Chloe’s mother is dead, her father is a shell of the man he used to be and the secrets that had so carefully kept their family together are falling apart. A new start is all Chloe and her father can hope for, but when you think you’re no longer human how can you ever start pretending?

The Keeper of Night

By Kylie Lee Baker,

Book cover of The Keeper of Night

The Keeper of Night’s protagonist Ren Scarborough is the epitome of a character trapped between two worlds. Half-British Reaper, half-Japanese Shinigami, Ren starts off the book living in London but never quite feels like she belongs there. When she travels to Japan for the first time, she finds out that Japan isn’t quite as she expected it and ends up getting tangled in the affairs of Yomi, the Japanese underworld. Although a bit on the darker side, this is a fantastic book for anyone interested in Japanese mythology, anyone who likes their fantasy a little on the dark side, and anyone who’s felt the frustration of never quite fitting in anywhere. 


Who am I?

I’m half-Filipino and half-Spanish. Growing up in the Philippines, I had to deal with many of the same emotions that the characters on this list go through. My identity made sense to me, but I found that I often had to explain it to other people, and I also found that outside my own house, people made their own opinions about whether I was more Filipino, more Spanish, or something else entirely. I’ve always been fascinated by how characters in fiction deal with this struggle, and I’ve always related more to characters who feel out of place.


I wrote...

Dauntless

By Elisa A. Bonnin,

Book cover of Dauntless

What is my book about?

Seri's world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana.

Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she's ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.

The Dragon Warrior

By Katie Zhao,

Book cover of The Dragon Warrior

Katie Zhao’s Dragon Warrior series features characters from Chinese mythology and incorporates them into our contemporary world in a fun, humorous adventure. Think Percy Jackson meets Journey to the West. You might recognize some of the same characters from Girl Giant and the Monkey King because Vietnamese and Chinese cultures have lots of similarities! I learned so much while reading this book, was delighted by the crossover characters that showed up in both our stories, and was so inspired, I wish there were more books like it.


Who am I?

When I was researching for my own book Girl Giant and the Monkey King, I was disappointed in how few books there were out there on Asian mythology. Not just because that really limited my ability to find legitimate sources for my novel, but because that meant so many readers were missing out on a complex and rich history of so many wonderful cultures. Since then, lots of books have been published and I’m so glad that I’m able to read and share them with so many others, and I’m looking forward to even more of these books coming out in the future that will give readers glimpses into our lives and stories.


I wrote...

Girl Giant and the Monkey King

By Van Hoang,

Book cover of Girl Giant and the Monkey King

What is my book about?

Eleven-year-old Thom Ngho is keeping a secret: she’s strong. Like suuuuper strong. Freakishly strong. And it’s making it impossible for her to fit in at her new middle school. In a desperate bid to get rid of her super strength, Thom makes a deal with the Monkey King, a powerful deity and legendary trickster she accidentally released from his 500-year prison sentence. Thom agrees to help the Monkey King get back his magical staff if he'll take away her strength.

Soon Thom is swept up in an ancient and fantastical world where demons, dragons, and Jade princesses actually exist. But she quickly discovers that magic can’t cure everything, and dealing with the trickster god might be more trouble than it’s worth.

Oreo

By Fran Ross,

Book cover of Oreo

Oreo (originally published in 1974, then out of print, and finally repopularized by Harriette Mullen and republished in 2000), a satirical novel by Fran Ross, a journalist and, briefly, a comedy writer for Richard Pryor, is widely considered to be “before its time.” This aching and hilarious, experimentally structured story is about a girl, Oreo, with a Jewish father and a Black mother, who ventures to New York City to find her father only to discover there are hundreds of Sam Schwartzes in the phonebook, and then goes on a quest to find him.

Who am I?

Much laughter is born out of sadness. Humor can be a way to cope or even reinvent our realities in ways that bring relief—and release. There's a misconception that “serious literature” should be humorless; crack a smile and you’re a fraud. However, the worlds and characters that emerge from this way of thinking do not ring true to me. Who among us hasn’t joked to help deal with sorrow? Or to satirize the outrageous? Or simply because life--however brutal—is also sometimes funny? The more a writer allows laughter to intermingle with tears, the more I believe in the story, and the more I enjoy it. That is why I wrote a “funny-sad” novel, The Australian.


I wrote...

The Australian

By Emma Smith-Stevens,

Book cover of The Australian

What is my book about?

In her humorous and emotionally resonant debut, Emma Smith-Stevens follows the exploits and evolution of a young man - known only as “the Australian” - over the course of a dozen years, from his time posing for tourist photos as Superman to his life in New York, chasing fame and fortune. Married to a woman he barely knows and struggling to forge a relationship with his son, the Australian travels between the U.S. and Melbourne, seeking to reconnect with his deceased parents through his father’s Australian Outdoor Geographic magazines and the Dreaming Tracks, sacred landmarks his mother longed to explore.

The Australian examines the human tendency to fall in love with the idea of another person and the importance of knowing one’s essential nature.

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