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How Reading POC Authors Helped Broaden My Understanding Of Society

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

Reading is a pleasurable hobby for me; it’s always been an act of consciously devoting my attention to someone’s narrative and hard work. Sometimes though, choosing the next thing I’m going to read ends up being an arduous task because I’m constantly bombarded by information and I take a lot of things into consideration when choosing what type of things I’d like to read, which ends up being tricky and tiring, more often than not. So, in a world bombarded by a constant stream of information, how can we be subjective and true to the voices less represented and in need of being heard?

This was the first task I took upon myself when I started broadening my horizons in literature beyond fantasy, romance, and adventure books. I stumbled upon this question when I saw a social media post that asked: How many black creative works do you actually read? That’s how I noticed that my bookshelves tend to have an overflowing perspective of white international authors, but very few Afro-Caribbean or POC authors, outside of the Japanese and other Asian literature I already enjoyed. So, I started gaining some perspective by venturing into literature by POC writers.

Most of their works were truly astounding, but with some of their points of view, I felt completely alienated. Not to say it was in a bad way, but there’s truly some things I will never really understand because of the lasting effects of the casual, oppressive indoctrination of society. Alas, this was an amazing way for me to ground myself in reality, away from my own little bubble and venture into works that have outlooks or views different from my own. I’m aware that POC stands for any race that isn’t white, according to Wikipedia, but I’d like to center this article specifically on black and Afro-Caribbean authors to narrow it down. Otherwise, I’d end up writing an entire book if I were to include a myriad of other writers from different minorities.

Toni Morrison

The first book I’d like to start talking about is Toni Morrison’s Beloved. What a beautiful book! It dawned on me how utterly devastating it is that some history gets overlooked and downplayed daily. This book talks about the protagonist’s journey on the lasting effects of being enslaved. Sethe, the protagonist, was an enslaved woman that managed to escape and, soon after, starts seeing visions of her dead daughter named Beloved. The story proceeds to delve into the effects of slavery in individuals and the communities affected by it. I’ve always considered these types of social traumas to be somewhat of the past, but I’m always humbled by the fact that it couldn’t be further from the truth. The problems Sethe faces are still present and prevalent today. These things are rarely talked about in general spaces where the narrative of white individuals is the norm. It’s claimed to be a “general” space, which implies that it takes everyone into account, but it’s always only one point of view we’re seeing. It’s very telling to me that most, if not all, of the literature that presents these stances and opinions makes white individuals uncomfortable and they rarely seek it out because of this. It’s a shame because most of the writers in POC spaces are phenomenal! The way Morrison explained her trauma allows anyone from any background to understand her pain. Each individual in this novel was beautiful and provided a great way to delve into the psyche of certain ingrained narratives.

Angela Davis

Now, let’s talk about Angela Davis. First of all, what a powerhouse of a woman! She will forever be one of the most remarkable women in contemporary history. She’s a scholar, an activist, and one of the most extraordinary women I’ve ever read about. Personally, I’d describe her as fearless, a quality which I’d love to acquire someday. I read her work titled: Women, Race and Class. This is a book consisting of 13 collected essays where she dives into the root of racism, how white women exclude black women from feminism, and how, basically, many of the societal problems regarding low income communities stem from individualistic and ingrained practices by people in power. What an eye opening book! Even if you’re supportive of black communities, there is so much more you could be doing by simply uplifting these perspectives from POC or adopting a narrative that actually includes them. The bad thing about social change is that it usually excludes a whole lot of problems that HAVE to be addressed in these spaces and, until we broaden our horizons to these collective spaces, we will never truly learn how to get out of the prisons we create and continue supporting. At the end of this book, I realized how important education is and how imperative it is to listen to what doesn’t usually concern us because, at the end of the day, it most definitely does.

Dorothy Bell Ferrer

In the realm of Afro-Caribbean creatives, I want to talk about Dorothy Bell Ferrer. Her author bio states: “She is a writer and doctoral student of Hispanic American literature in the department of Hispanic Studies at the Humanities Faculty of the University of Puerto Rico in the Río Piedras Campus. […] She published her first novel, El culo grande de la muerte, in August 2022. She publishes narrative essays about identity, music, and the body on her page.” I read her work a few days ago and it was AMAZING! I haven’t ventured that much into local authors, especially when it comes to works related to Hurricane María, a disastrous hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico. I have never wanted to recall these tragic events, but this novel captured my heart. Here, you have the stories of different characters that get caught up in the lasting effects of the natural disaster. This work doesn’t only bring attention to societal issues in an exposed essay type of format, but it also does so much more like question the way some interpersonal relationships interact. Personally, my takeaway from this book was that my own preconceived notions about some forms of literature will hinder my ability to be open to some great artistry. If I had alienated myself once again from enjoying this book because it was a POC creator and probably wasn’t made for me in mind, I wouldn’t have been able to experience this phenomenal story. That type of thinking hinders me from being open to more incredible stories. Contrary to my initial opinion, this book was made for anyone and, just like that, I grew a bit as a person after the last page.

Mayra Santos Febres

I absolutely cannot talk about Afro-Caribbean authors without mentioning the legend herself: Miss Mayra Santos Febres. She’s had a number of publications translated and achieved several social accomplishments. I’ll focus on her book Nuestra Señora de la Noche, which centers around the character Isabel “La Negra.” Much to my enjoyment, it focuses more on feminist issues around the time and setting of the novel. Febres presents us with a hero for marginalized people, specifically sex workers and people of color. This historic novel thoroughly discusses Caribbean life and makes a protagonist worth following to the end. The hardships of early Caribbean life are hardly a topic covered in schools. It’s not until you reach university or college that you get exposed to past cultures and a wider range of history. This novel provides the necessary tools to understand a broad variety of social issues. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to expand their knowledge in historical fiction.

As I can’t really make a full article on all of the POC authors available to better your understanding and expose yourself to more diversity, I’ll include some honorable mentions ranging from contemporary to classical:

  • Octavia Butler
  • Tomi Adeyemi
  • James Baldwyn
  • Chimamanda Ngozi
  • Adichie Abdulrazak Gurnah
  • Marlon James
  • Roxane Gay
  • Maya Angelou
  • Zadie Smith
  • Angie Thomas
  • Alice Walker
  • Zora Neale Hurston

These are just a few of the amazing POC authors who have brilliant expositions and stories to offer which anyone can learn from. With this being said, I’d like to conclude that, by getting out of my bubble and venturing into the beautiful world of authors beyond my spectrum, I’ve learned how to be more inclusive, considerate and aware of everyone, especially racial minorities, in society. It makes me glad to have read them because it made me more humane and understanding of perspectives that are currently underrepresented. It showed me that I don’t have to exclusively venture into the warped agenda of normalcy and that, instead, the real normal should be an all inclusive spectrum. There is a world beyond conventional authors who are white and what a world it is!

Krisia Rodriguez is a writer at Her Campus at UPR chapter. She writes articles about a wide variety of topics including skincare, lifestyle, spirituality, books, and culture. Beyond Her Campus, Krisia works as a bookstore employee at Librería Laberinto, where she attends to customers’ needs, gives out recommendations on various genres and topics of books, manages transactions, prepares packages for the mail, and maintains a good environment for the enjoyment of the customers. She is preparing for an internship at Ediciones Laberinto where she will learn the ropes on the process of editing and dealing properly with written works from authors. She is currently finishing her bachelors degree in Creative Writing at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras where she’ll take off on her book writing journey. In her free time, Krisia enjoys running and practicing kenjutsu, and also likes to do research on the best skincare guidance or fashion trends. She loves writing, listening to movie soundtracks, and reading a good fantasy book. While she’s a real spiritual geek, she’s also a hobby hoarder. Her time is well spent when she does the things she loves, may it be giving good advice to friends, spending time with animals, or making the best 80’s playlists.