Good news, everyone! The NYT nonfiction bestseller list is FULL of books on anti-racism and Black experiences in our culture. It is amazing to see so many people engaging in this moment.
It’s not just nonfiction that’s having its day, fiction stories by and about Black people are also commanding bestseller lists. F-BOM leans toward genre fiction, so I thought this would be a perfect time for an overview of award-winning author, and my favorite weirdo, Helen Oyeyemi.
Oyeyemi’s works fall under the “speculative fiction” umbrella. Similar to the genre of magic realism, her characters exist in worlds where the fantastical bleeds into the mundane, and nothing is quite what it seems. I first read The Icarus Girl when I was pretty young, and it still gives me an unsettled feeling when I think about it.
Let’s take a look at some of Oyeyemi’s works. Remember, buying from Amazon never helps marginalized people! F-BOM is an affiliate at Bookshop, which better supports a healthy ecosystem for authors and indie booksellers. I’ve provided links to buy on Bookshop so you can support F-BOM, or your local bookstore, with your purchase.
Boy, Snow, Bird
Probably Oyeyemi’s most famous novel, this story of a white woman who unwittingly marries into a pass-for-white black family explores themes of beauty and race. When Boy becomes stepmother to beautiful Snow, she must grapple with her own perceptions of beauty, family, and belonging. If that sounds pretty straightforward, just know Oyeyemi has a dreamy style all her own. While the plot may meander, the character insights are always cutting.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
This is a collection of short stories, and I find I like Oyeyemi’s short stories more than her novels. Here, she can explore themes in a more poetic way, without having to tie up the plot. Be prepared to treat these stories more like poems. My favorite story involves a stepfather helplessly watching as his stepdaughter slowly loses confidence in her favorite pop star’s innocence in a sexual assault allegation.
While I said I prefer short stories, Mr. Fox is actually one of my favorite novels of all time. In it, a male author is haunted by an ex-girlfriend, who is trying to convince him to stop killing off the female characters in his stories.
I love this because it’s a great example of systemic sexism. Like the systemic racism we are grappling with now, systemic sexism can be harder to see, leading to gaslighting of individuals who experience it. This novel calls out sexist tropes for what they are, and validates women’s lives, fictional or not.
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