The shifting 'canon' of multicultural lit

It's not easy to assemble a reading list of books dealing with racial discrimination. For many years, for instance, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee had an unquestioned place in classrooms. The 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel portrays the trial of a black man in a southern town and offers an unqualified condemnation of racism. Yet today, some say it is patronizing. The writer is white, the narrator is white, and a noble (and educated) white man defends an innocent (but uneducated) black man.

Recently, memoirs have become popular. Students are often drawn to books like "Down These Mean Streets," by Piri Thomas, the true story of a Puerto Rican growing up in East Harlem who struggles as he learns what it means to have black skin in America. But many parents object to the book's tales of drug use and homosexual prostitutes.

Despite these difficulties, teachers are working hard to craft reading lists. Here is a sampling of literature that teachers use in their classrooms today.

Classics that are now often challenged:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain (1885)

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee (1960)

Black Like Me

by John Howard Griffin (1960)


by William Howard Armstrong (1969)

Works considered classics today, but once challenged:

Native Son (1940)

Black Boy (1945)

by Richard Wright

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (1952)

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison (1952)

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown (1970)

'New classics' on black-white relations, by black writers:


by Toni Morrison (1987)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou (1970)

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston (1937, 'rediscovered' in the late '60s)

First-person nonfiction accounts by black authors:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845)

The AutoBiography of Malcolm X (1964)

Manchild in the Promised Land

by Claude Brown (1965)

Down These Mean Streets

by Piri Thomas


Black Ice

by Lorene Carey (1972) Kaffir Boy

by Mark Mathabane (1989)

Gifted Hands

by Ben Carson with Cecil Murphy (1990)

Makes Me Wanna Holler

by Nathan McCall (1994)

Books focusing on struggles over racial identity as experienced by various racial and ethnic groups:

Farewell to Manzanar

by Jeannie Houston and James Houston (1983)

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan (1989)

Woman Hollering Creek and other stories

by Sandra Cisneros (1991)

Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.

by Luis T. Rodriquez (1993)

An American Brat

by Bapsi Sidwha (1993)

Monkey Bridge

by Lan Cao (1997)

The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child

by Francisco Jiminez (1997)

The Bean Trees


by Barbara Kingsolver

Books for young children:

Amazing Grace

by Mary Hoffman (1991)

My Folks Don't Want Me to Talk About Slavery

by Belinda Hurmence (1984)

In a Circle Long Ago: A Treasury of Native Lore from north Americas

Retold by Nancy Van Laan (1995)

Books that are being reexamined for their potential to address race:

Uncle Tom's Cabin

by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)


by Herman Melville (1851)

Works that pair well with Shakespeare:

The Outsiders

by S.E. Hinton


("Julius Caesar")


by Maria Hinojosa (1995)

("Romeo and Juliet")


August Wilson (1987)

("King Lear")

Anthologies/ resource books:

Welcome to Your Life: Writings for the Heart of Young America

edited by David Haynes and Julie Landsman


American Dragons: Twenty-five Asian American Voices

edited by Lawrence Yep


Dealing with Differences: Taking Action on Class, Race, Gender, and disability

by Angele Ellis and Marilyn Llewellyn (1997)

Coming of Age in America

edited by Mary Frosch (1994)

Online resources:

(Links to bibliographies and lesson plans created by specialists in the School District of Philadelphia)

(Asian-American literature),1946,ACQ-111402-1402,00.shtm

(Hispanic culture and children's literature)

(Annotated bibliography of Arab fiction)

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