Equity and the Evanston Public Library Collections: Contemporary Fiction

June 8, 2017

Libraries nationwide have been reassessing their collections through the lens of diversity and equity.  As Julie Stivers and Sandra Hughes-Hassell wrote on the YALSA blog in 2015, ” focusing on diversity is not an extra facet of our job. It is central to what we do.” Evanston Public Library is no different but coming up with an accurate assessment can be tricky. Historically no library has ever kept track of the race of the authors and illustrators of books on the shelves in a systematic manner.  We can eyeball the collection but locating strict numbers about how inclusive a collection is requires more hard dedicated work.  That said, it is imperative that collections reflect the needs and wants of their communities, aligning with  social justice efforts, and we here at the library MUST strive to do everything we can to improve the number of diverse titles purchased on a daily basis.

One of the many ways I’ve been assessing the collection is to look at other libraries and what they’re doing.  The Madison Public Library has been a leader in these efforts.  As they say on their website:

In 2014, the City of Madison undertook a deliberate, focused and organized effort called the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative (RESJI).  One of the guiding principles of the City’s RESJI is authentic, ongoing public engagement and participation, with the goal of changing the culture of our city – including addressing institutional racism. The city, and the library, are committed to supporting and aligning with other racial equity and social justice efforts – including the work being done by community organizations.

As part of that effort, Madison created an extensive and exhaustive list of Racial Equity Resources. I am pleased to announce that on this blog we’ll be launching a new series where we identify different lists in total and note where you can find them at Evanston Public Library (with links to our catalog).  Today we examine the Contemporary Adult Fiction list found on Madison Public Library’s Racial Equity Resources website. How many have you read?

by Suzanne Feldman
ISBN: 9781627794534
Year: 2016

A spellbinding debut about half sisters, one black and one white, on a 1950s road trip through the American South

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
ISBN: 9780307271082
Year: 2013

From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

by Jacqueline Woodson
ISBN: 9780062359988
Year: 2016

Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything–until it wasn’t.

by Barbara Hambly
ISBN: 0553102583
Year: 1997

Start with the first in the Benjamin January series, A Free Man of Color


by Otto Penzler
ISBN: 9781605980577
Year: 2009

The best of mystery and crime fiction produced by African-American writers.

by Sherman Alexie ; Sam Redman (Editor)
ISBN: 9780802120397
Year: 2012

A bold and irreverent observer of life among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the daring, versatile, funny, and outrageous Alexie showcases all his talents in his newest collection, Blasphemy, where he unites fifteen beloved classics with fifteen new stories in one sweeping anthology for devoted fans and first-time readers.

by James Hannaham
ISBN: 9780316284943
Year: 2015

Held captive by her employers–and by her own demons–on a mysterious farm, a widow struggles to reunite with her young son in this uniquely American story of freedom, perseverance, and survival.

by Leslie Marmon Silko
ISBN: 0684811545
Year: 1999

A magical combination of childhood idyll and bitter reality eloquently depicts the jungles of Brazil, and the great cities of the East. A child of an ancient Indian tribe, Indigo is orphaned when soldiers raid and destroy her town. She is adopted by an American family, but the white education forced upon her clashes with the centuries-old wisdom of her people.

by Toni Morrison
ISBN: 9780307594167
Year: 2012

The story of a Korean war veteran on a quest to save his younger sister. Frank Money is an angry, broken veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars.

by Sandra Cisneros
ISBN: 9780679734772
Year: 1984

The story of a young girl, Ezperanza, growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, whose neighborhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn’t want to belong, not to her run-down neighborhood, and not to the low expectations the world has for her. Capturing her thoughts and emotions in poems and stories, she is able to rise above hopelessness and create a quiet space for herself in the midst of her oppressive surroundings.

by Octavia E. Butler
ISBN: 0807083690
Year: 2003

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

by Mat Johnson
ISBN: 9780812993455
Year: 2015

Warren Duffy has returned to America for all the worst reasons: his marriage to a beautiful Welsh woman has come apart; his comic shop in Cardiff has failed; and his Irish-American father has died, bequeathing to Warren his last possession, a roofless, half-renovated mansion in the heart of black Philadelphia. In the face of a teenage girl he meets at a comics convention he sees the mingled features of his white father and his black mother, both now dead. The girl is his daughter and she thinks she’s white. Warren sets off to remake his life with a reluctant daughter he never knew.

by Chang-rae Lee
ISBN: 1587242893
Year: 1995

A clash of ethnic and professional loyalties is the subject of this novel. The protagonist is a Korean-American who works for a private intelligence service and is assigned to spy on a rising Korean-American politician. To blow the whistle on a fellow ethnic would hurt his tribe, on the other hand there is his professional reputation to consider.

by Natalie Baszile
ISBN: 9780670026135
Year: 2014

A mother-daughter story of reinvention–about an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana.

by Victoria Christopher Murray
ISBN: 9781476792996
Year: 2015

Janice Johnson’s 16-year-old son was murdered and the shooter hasn’t been arrested. Shelly Vance’s husband is facing murder charges for shooting a teenager who he says attacked him in a parking lot. This tragedy is magnified by the racial divide it has created. She wants to stand by her man, but she’s keeping a secret that could blow the case wide open. Alax Wilson is the jury foreman. Faced with a dramatic trial that has turned into a media frenzy, Janice, Shelly and Alax are forced to face their own prejudices.

by Sherman Alexie ; Ellen Forney (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780316013680
Year: 2007

Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

by David Wong Louie
ISBN: 0399146032
Year: 2000

 “In a tale that alternates between black comedy and out-and-out slapstick, David Wong Louie explores the painful alienation between a Chinese-American man and his immigrant father–a conflict that is deepened by the son’s decision to become a chef instead of a doctor.” Source: Ingram

by Junot Diaz
ISBN: 9781594489587
Year: 2007

D’az immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss.

by Peter Ho Davies
ISBN: 9780544263703
Year: 2016

The Fortunes recasts American history through the lives of Chinese Americans and reimagines the multigenerational novel through the fractures of immigrant family experience.

by Heidi W. Durrow
ISBN: 9781565126800
Year: 2010

After a family tragedy orphans her, Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., moves into her grandmother’s mostly black community in the 1980s, where she must swallow her grief and confront her identity as a biracial woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

by Edward P. Jones
ISBN: 0060557540
Year: 2003

An ambitious, luminously written novel that ranges seamlessly between the past and future and back again to the present, The Known World weaves together the lives of freed and enslaved blacks, whites, and Indians — and allows all of us a deeper understanding of the enduring multidimensional world created by the institution of slavery.

by Yvvette Edwards
ISBN: 9780062440778
Year: 2016

A beautiful, engrossing novel that illuminates some of the most important and troubling issues of our time, The Mother is a moving portrait of love, tragedy, and survival–and the aftershocks from a momentary act of cruel violence that transforms the lives of everyone it touches.

by Mohsin Hamid
ISBN: 9780151013043
Year: 2007

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite “valuation” firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past.

by Louise Erdrich
ISBN: 9780062065247
Year: 2012

When his mother, a tribal enrollment specialist living on a reservation in North Dakota, slips into an abyss of depression after being brutally attacked, 14-year-old Joe Coutz sets out with his three friends to find the person that destroyed his family.

by Paul Beatty
ISBN: 9780374260507
Year: 2015

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality–the black Chinese restaurant.

by Jason Overstreet
ISBN: 9781496701763
Year: 2016

For college graduate Sidney Temple, the Roaring Twenties bring opportunities even members of his accomplished black bourgeois family couldn’t have imagined. His impulsive marriage to independent artist Loretta is a happiness he never thought he’d find. And when he’s tapped by J. Edgar Hoover to be the FBI’s first African-American agent, he sees a once-in-a-lifetime chance to secure real justice.

by Joseph Boyden
ISBN: 0670034312
Year: 2005

Set in Canada and the battlefields of France and Belgium, Three-Day Road is a mesmerizing novel told through the eyes of Niska—a Canadian Oji-Cree woman living off the land who is the last of a line of healers and diviners—and her nephew Xavier.


Looking for more resources?  Then check out the UNC’s Equity in the Library list of presentations, notes on Building an Inclusive Library, Social Justice in Libraries, and a list of book lists that I was delighted to discover includes my own African-American Experience Children’s Literary Reference Guide (2010-2015).


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

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