Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Book

Classic Remarks 1

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Recommend a diverse classic.  Or you can argue that a diverse book should be a classic or should be included in the canon.  (Or you can argue that the book should be a classic, but that you don’t want to see it in the canon.)

James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man was published in 1912 and again in 1927, telling the story of a fictional biracial narrator who initially dreams of elevating the status of Black Americans by becoming a great ragtime musician, but ultimately decides to allow society to accept him as white.  His journeys take him across America and to Europe, providing varied depictions of Black Americans and denying  that there is only one way to be Black.  His struggles with identity and acceptance remain relevant today.

Participating this week?  Leave your link in the comments!

Krysta 64

14 thoughts on “Classic Remarks: Recommend a Diverse Book

  1. wadadlipen says:

    My rec is Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were watching God. I first read it in college and it is a defining book for me both as a reader and a writer. Zora’s Janie was a woman seeking to center herself/her happiness at a time when women were expected to be supporting players to a man’s vision and her approach to writing them was unapologetically black – by which I mean she didn’t try to water them down the better to cross over or craft them as archetypes to better hammer home a greater socially-political point. She let them be as they were…and I happen to think that the politics (both racial, and especially gender) came through anyway. Hurston’s anthropologically background (researching black folk tradition across the southern US and the Caribbean) shows in the way she captures her characters’ authentic selves. This (and the fact that her books celebrated black folk and did not approach the writing of them as if their very existence was a problem – she’s rather famous or infamous depending on how you see it for saying “I am not tragically coloured. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul…I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife”) put her at odds with other writers of her time like Richard Wright, author of Native Son, another classic. I value both of their places in the canon. But as a reader Tea Cake was a literary crush and Janie a literary model – right there with other rebel women like Jo March, Scout Finch, Annie John and Lucy among others. As a writer, Zora has been for me by turns both inspiration and cautionary tale – inspiration in terms of how boldly she lived and wrote, cautionary in terms of how unforgiving life can be for a writer (for Zora it was, in the end, truly a hard knock life). A good companion read, touching on the latter point – is Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, a womanist classic, in which she addresses the importance of literary models and her search for models and especially Hurston, a book believed to have led to the re-surfacing of Hurston’s work. I write from a small island and when someone described my book Oh Gad! as “unapologetically Antiguan”, I hugged that as one of my favourite reviews to date because like Hurston, I suppose I approach the writing of my characters not in relation to a greater-other but in relation to themselves, the other is there (that is inescapable) but is not central to their experience of themselves.


    • Krysta says:

      What a beautiful reply! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience of Hurston with us! I think you bring up a good point about the way characters are often juxtaposed with the other, but there are other avenues available for writers to take.


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