I wish there was someone I could have written to after that, someone I could have written to explain how awful it was to have someone touch you, then look at you properly and change his mind.
—  Helen Oyeyemi

Because everyone, regardless of race, orientation, sex, ability, gender identity, age, and background, deserves to see themselves represented in cultural discourse. And if you don’t know where to start, here’s our recommended selection of diverse stories by diverse authors.

(For all our Holiday 2014 gift guides, click here!)

I wish there was someone I could have written to after that, someone I could have written to explain how awful it was to have someone touch you, then look at you properly and change his mind.
—  Helen Oyeyemi | Mr. Fox

Oyeyemi says that she thinks of herself as “ugly but interesting,” and she’s happy with that. “It helps me to think more clearly, if that makes sense.”

I ask why she thinks she ‘s ugly.

"Boys would come up and tell me," she says, matter-of-factly. "I’d be on the bus home, and they would say, "You’re so ugly, do you know that?" And after a while, I would just say, "Yes, thank you." At first I would cry. But I after a while you just think ‘Why does it matter so much?’"

Oyeyemi clearly still carries wounds from her teenage years: “I was suicidal for a long time in my teens and I was so unhappy,” she says. “It was the kind of unhappiness that you know everyone else is feeling, but you don’t care because you’ve dehumanized them, because they’re all monsters and demons and beasts who are out to kill you, so you become a beast and a monster yourself. I regret so much.”

Her fairy tales are not of the happily-ever-after variety: “Sometimes people ask me what I write and I say that I retell fairy tales, and they say, ‘Oh, children’s books!’ And that makes me laugh. People say things like ‘I want a fairy tale existence.’ The Brothers Grimm would be looking at them in this astonished way, like ‘So you would like your whole family to be murdered and then eaten in a pie?’” She laughs delightedly.

"People think they’re soft because they’re these perfect examples of narrative order. There is an ending that is usually happy, and a beginning, middle, and end … In this era where everyone is kind of postmodern and meta, we dissociate in a lot of ways from our circumstance. So I think there’s that sense that they’re so ordered, and therefore orderly, but actually, they’re just completely chaotic."

And fairy tales teach lessons, she says. Lessons like “Everything that you see is not necessarily what it is. You have to find another way to know things. You have to find another way to know things. There is inner vision. And then there’s exterior vision. There are levels of seeing.”

They reveal “some of the hardest and harshest truths about the ways that we live and the ways that we’ve always lived.” She cites a story she found in a book of Czech fairy tales. A princess is being courted by a magician, but she refuses him. In punishment, the magician turns her into a black woman. As Oyeyemi read it, she started crying. “It was awful … The worst thing that the teller of this tale can imagine is being black.” In Boy, Snow, Bird, she writes, “it’s not whiteness that sets Them against Us, but the worship of whiteness.” She tells me, “I feel as if we’re still in that era. There are still lots of ways in which it is horrific not to be the norm.”


The most poignant part of Helen Oyeyemi's interview on NPR where she addresses some very heavy personal issues concerning depression and suicide, race, universal perceptions of blackness and the “worship of whiteness”.

Conversely, the interviewer, Annalisa Quinn, starts off the article by writing, "The first time I met her, it was in a bar so dark that all I could see were her eyes and very white teeth", ignoring the matter that Oyeyemi raised on whiteness and its lack of racial sensitivity.


Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, a reimagining of “Snow White”

From the prizewinning author of Mr. Fox, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity.

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

Once you let people know anything about what you think, that’s it, you’re dead. Then they’ll be jumping about in your mind, taking things out, holding them up to the light and killing them, yes, killing them, because thoughts are supposed to stay and grow in quiet, dark places, like butterflies in cocoons.
—  Helen Oyeyemi, The Icarus Girl
Ten Books For Queers And Feminists To Read This Spring

Ten Books For Queers And Feminists To Read This Spring

I haven’t read these but I’m absolutely dying to. Some are already out. Some are coming out. All look both amazing and also amazingly relevant to your interests.

Essential Spring Reading for Queers and Feminists

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"Women are constantly being killed by their husbands, lovers, brothers, and fathers—it’s reported every day, and in a way, the frequency of the reporting normalizes the murders. Terror and anger and helplessness come when I think of all that goes unreported, either because it’s not known to the media or because it isn’t quite murder yet. When I first started writing Mr. Fox I was interested in something that’s coded into the way these stories are reported: the ever-present potential for violence that seems to lurk within the love men have for women. Is it real? If so, how can we survive it? Can the violence be overcome once and for all, or is it something that dies down and has to be renegotiated every time it flares back up again?”

Helen Oyeyemi speaks about her 2011 novel Mr Fox with Megan O’Grady for Vogue | Ph: Saneesh Sukumaran

“It isn’t magic,” she said. “It’s just that I’m well dressed. You men who try to tell me I’m a scarecrow or try to grab my arm but can’t manage it, don’t you understand that you’re not really addressing me? It’s more as if you’re talking to a coat I’m wearing.”
She was sat on a low chair, shelling beans, and he sat down at her feet and began to help her. “I don’t see what you mean,” he said. “Teach me. Show me.”
“What can I teach you?” she said. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth wide. She stayed like that for one minute, two minutes. He thought she was sleeping and forced himself to place a hand on her shoulder. A snake’s head glided out from between her lips, bright as new chainmail; he saw that its golden coils wound down her throat.
“You’re wrapped around her heart,” the magician said.
“I am the heart,” the snake replied.
He left the farm without looking back. There are few things in life more unpleasant than the laughter of a snake.”

Oyeyemi, Helen. “Boy, Snow, Bird.”

I gobbled up this incredible novel which came out only yesterday. It is full of sentences that will make you gasp and mutter with joy and horror and uncertainty about what is fantasy and what is reality.