Expanding the Canon in AP Literature

BIPOC, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islanders, Native American, and world authors are not new to the scene. They are not “trendy.” They’ve been around for ages. Unfortunately, many teachers (myself included) have not been concerned enough over their representation in the literary canon or the AP* Lit curriculum in general.

For many of us, that changed in the summer of 2020.

I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. The murder of George Floyd was an eye-opener to the oppression of black people for many residents in my area and around the world. This is especially true as his murderer, officer Derek Chauvin, used to live just down the road from my own home. I spent the summer of 2020 summer reading and researching racial oppression in my country, both in the past and in the present. It’s true, I am a white woman and that this may be unknown territory for me. However, I have teachers who look to me for guidance. I want to do right. I want to be helpful. This is my best attempt.

*AP® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this website.

Inclusivity in AP® Lit: 2nd Installment

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This is the second installment in a six-part series on inclusivity in AP® English Literature. I use “inclusivity” to refer to both the authors in the curriculum and the students in the classroom, but I’ll expound more on that in a later post. Week 1 focused on re-defining the meaning of “AP® Worthy” when it comes to choosing books. You can read that post here.

This article is simply a hub to record fiction, plays, novels, poetry, and nonfiction by authors for AP® Lit who are not white. You can use this list to expand your reading list beyond white authors, both personally and for your students. Furthermore, you can use it to explore more works by some of your favorite authors. For example, did you know Zora Neale Hurston wrote stories, poems, and nonfiction? There’s more to most authors than their 1-2 famous works!

Here are some of the best recommendations I can offer, and I will continue to update this list in the future. I’ve included Native American and indigenous authors, Latinx authors, and other authors from Asia, Africa, and around the world.

To clarify, I have not read all of these texts (can anyone?). However, they are based on the recommendations of AP® English Literature teachers, titles from released AP® English Lit exams or the College Board website. I’ve gathered recommendations from admirable movements and organizations, including #disrupttexts, #thebookchat, and #teachlivingpoets. I’ve also included links to any resources on my TpT site that I have available to help teach these authors if you’re interested.

Novels

  • Abulhawa, Susan – Mornings in Jenin
  • Acevedo, Elizabeth – The Poet X and Clap When You Land (novels in verse, both personal favorites)
  • Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart
  • Adeyemi, Tomi – Children of Blood and Bone
  • Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi – Purple Hibiscus or Americanah
  • Allende, Isabel – House of Spirits
  • Almada, Selva – The Wind That Lays Waste
  • Alvarez, Julia – How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents or In the Time of the Butterflies
  • Anaya, Rudolfo – Bless Me, Ultima
  • Baldwin, James – Giovonni’s Room, Another Country, or Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Bennett, Brit – The Vanishing Half
  • Butler, Octavia – Parable of the Sower or Kindred
  • Cao, Lan – Monkey Bridge
  • Cisneros, Sandra – The House on Mango Street or Caramelo
  • Chang, Jung – Wild Swans
  • Clarke, Breena – River, Cross My Heart
  • Cleage, Pearl – What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi – The Water Dancer
  • Danticat, Edwidge – Breath, Eyes, Memory, The Farming of Bones, The Dew Breaker
  • Desai, Kiran – The Inheritance of Loss
  • Díaz, Junot – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • Dimaline, Cherie – The Marrow Thieves
  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee – One Amazing Thing (excerpt used in 2020 AP® Lit exam)
  • Edugyan, Esi – Washington Black
  • Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man
  • Eng, Tan Twan – The Gift of Rain (excerpt used in 2020 AP® Lit exam)
  • Erdich, Leslie – Love Medicine, Tracks, or Round House
  • Esquivel, Laura – Like Water For Chocolate
  • Gaines, Ernest – A Gathering of Old Men or A Lesson Before Dying
  • Gyasi, Yaa – Homegoing (personal favorite)
  • Haley, Alex – Roots: The Saga of an American Family

“I am increasingly convinced that AP® English Literature and Composition by its very nature privileges whiteness and a white view of literature. I would argue similar problems plague most Advanced Placement® classes.” – Arthur Chiaravalli

  • Hami, Mohsi – Exit West
  • Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins – Iola Leroy (also called Shadows Uplifted)
  • Herrera, Yuri – Signs Preceding the End of the World
  • Hosseini, Khaled – The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Hughes, Langston – Not Without Laughter
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Kamali, Marjan – The Stationary Shop
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo – The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go
  • Kim, Richard E. – The Martyred
  • King, Thomas – Green Grass, Running Water
  • Kingston, Maxine Hong – The Woman Warrior
  • Ko, Lisa – The Leavers
  • Kogawa, Joy – Obasan
  • Jen, Gish – Typical American
  • Jin, Ha – Waiting or A Free Life: A Novel
  • Johnson, James Weldon – The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (excerpt used in 2020 AP® Lit exam)
  • Jones, Tayari – An American Marriage
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa – The Namesake
  • Lalami, Laila – The Other Americans (excerpt used in 2020 AP® Lit exam)
  • Larsen, Nella – Passing or Quicksand
  • Lee, Chang-Rae – A Gesture Life or Native Speaker
  • Lee, Min Jin – Pachinko (personal favorite)
  • Murakami, Haruki – Kafka on the Shore or Norwegian Wood
  • Marquez, Gabriel García – 100 Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera, or Chronicle of Death Foretold
  • Marshall, Paule – Brown Girl, Brownstones or Praisesong for the Widow
  • Mathis, Ayana – The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
  • Mbue, Imbolo – Behold the Dreamers
  • McKay, Claude – Home to Harlem
  • Momaday, N Scott – House Made of Dawn

Another AP® Lit teacher discusses the underrepresentation of Latinx authors in this excellent blog post.

  • Morrison, Toni – Beloved, Song of Solomon, Sula, or The Bluest Eye (personal favorite: Beloved)
  • Mukherjee, Bharati – Jasmine
  • Mustafah, Sahar – The Beauty of Your Face
  • Naipaul, V. S. – A Bend in the River
  • Naylor, Gloria – The Women of Brewster Place, Mama Day or Linden Hills
  • Ng, Celeste – Everything I Never Told You or Little Fires Everywhere
  • Ng, Fae M. – Bone: A Novel
  • Nguyen, Viet Thanh – The Sympathizer
  • Okada, John – No-No Boy
  • Olivarez, José – Citizen Illegal
  • Orange, Tommy – There, There
  • Petry, Ann – The Street
  • Rao, Shobha – Girls Burn Brighter
  • Roy, Arundhati – The God of Small Things
  • Rulfo, Juan – Pedro Paramo
  • Rum, Estaf – A Woman is No Man
  • Rushdie, Salmon – Midnight’s Children or Free Radio
  • Saadawi, Ahmed – Frankenstein in Baghdad
  • Sanchez, Erika L. – I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
  • Sapphire – Push
  • Saramago, José – Blindness
  • Selvon, Sam – Moses Ascending
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon – Ceremony
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Syal, Meera – Anita and Me (excerpt used in 2020 AP® Lit exam)
  • Tan, Amy – The Bonesetter’s Daughter or The Joy Luck Club
  • Thurman, Wallace – The Blacker the Berry
  • Villarreal, Jose Antonio – Pocho
  • Vuong, Ocean – On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
  • Walker, Alice – The Color Purple
  • Ward, Jesmyn – Sing, Unburied, Sing or Salvage the Bones
  • Whitehead, Colson – The Underground Railroad or The Nickel Boys (personal favorites)
  • Wideman, John Edgar – Sent For You Yesterday
  • Wright, Richard – Black Boy and Native Son
  • Yapa, Sunil – Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist

Plays

  • Baldwin, James – Native Son
  • Cruz, Nilo – Anna in the Tropics
  • Fuller, Charles – A Soldier’s Play
  • Hall, Katori – Mountaintop
  • Hansberry, Lorraine – A Raisin in the Sun (personal favorite)
  • Hudes, Quiara Alegria – Water by the Spoonful
  • Hughes, Langston – Black Nativity
  • Jacobs-Jenkins, Branden – Appropriate, An Octoroon, Gloria, or Everybody
  • Jones, Leroi (also known as Amiri Baraka) – Dutchman
  • Levy, Andrea and Helen Edmundson – Small Island
  • Milner, Ron – Checkmates
  • Nottage, Lynn – Sweat
  • Orta, Marisela Treviño – Shoe
  • Parks, Suzanne-Lori – Top Dog/Underdog
  • Sanchez-Scott, Milcha – Roosters
  • Shange, Ntozake – For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf
  • Smith, Anna Deavere – Fires in the Mirror or Twilight (Los Angeles, 1992)
  • Valdez, Luis – Zoot Suit
  • Wilson, August – Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson (personal favorite: Fences)

Poems

  • Alexie, Sherman – “Evolution” and “On the Second Anniversary of My Father’s Death” (personal favorite: “Evolution”)
  • Angelou, Maya – Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (collection of poems) “Phenomenal Woman” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
  • Asghar, Fatimah – “If They Should Come For Us”
  • Baldwin, James – “Untitled”
  • Braithwaite, Edward Kamau – “Ogun”
  • Brooks, Gwendolyn – “We Real Cool,” “The Bean Eaters,” “Kitchenette Building,” or “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed” (personal favorite: “We Real Cool”)
  • Brown, Jericho – “Dear Dr. Frankenstein” or “Say Thank You Say I’m Sorry”
  • Clifton, Lucille – “mulberry fields,” “won’t you celebrate with me,” “forgiving my father,” and “sorrows” (personal favorite: “mulberry fields”)
  • Coleman, Wanda – American Sonnets (poetry collection)
  • Cullen, Countee – “Incident”
  • Diaz, Natalie – “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation”
  • Dixon, Melvin – “Heartbeats”
  • Dove, Rita – “Ars Poetica”
  • Dunbar, Paul Laurence – “We Wear the Mask,” “The Paradox,” or “Douglass”
  • Giovanni, Nikki – “Nikki-Rosa”
  • Handal, Nathalie – “Caribe in Nueva York”
  • Harjo, Joy – “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War”
  • Harper, Michael S. – “American History”
  • Harvey, Yona – “Hurricane”
  • Hayden, Robert – “Those Winter Sundays” or “Middle Passage”
  • Hayes, Terrance – “We Should Make a Documentary About Spades”
  • Hughes, Langston – “Theme for English B,” “I, Too, Sing America,” “Cross,” “Harlem,” “Mother to Son,” or “Song For a Dark Girl” (Personal favorite: all of them)
  • Johnson, James Weldon – “A Poet to His Baby Son”
  • Joseph, Allison – “Thirty Lines About the ‘Fro”
  • Komunyakaa, Yusef – “Facing It”
  • Lee, Li-Young – “A Story” and “I Ask My Mother to Sing”
  • Lorde, Audre – “Coal”

Click here to read my top 10 poems to teach in AP® Lit.

  • May, Jamaal – “There Are Birds Here” or “A Brief History of Hostility”
  • Nelson, Marilyn – “How I Discovered Poetry” or “Bedside Reading”
  • Neruda, Pablo – Any poem!
  • Nezhukumatathil, Aimee – “Baked Goods”
  • Nye, Naomi Shihab – “Defining White” and “My Father and the Fig Tree” (personal favorite: “My Father and the Fig Tree”)
  • Olivarez, José – “I Walk Into Every Room and Yell Where the Mexicans At”
  • Randall, Dudley – “Ballad of Birmingham” (personal favorite)
  • Rankine, Claudia – Citizen: An American Lyric (book-length poem), “Coherence in Consequence” or “Weather”
  • Rushdin, Kate – “The Bridge Poem” or This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
  • Sanchez, Sonia – “This is Not a Small Voice”
  • Senior, Olive – “Plants”
  • Shakur, Tupac – The Rose That Grew from Concrete (poetry collection)
  • Shire, Warsan – “Backwards” or “The House”
  • Smith, Clint – Counting Descent (poetry collection) or “The Drone”
  • Spriggs, Bianca Lynn – “What Women Are Made Of”
  • Trethewey, Natasha – “Incident” or “Miscegenation”
  • Troupe, Quincy – “Flying Kites” or “Poem For My Father”
  • Truth, Sojourner – “Ain’t I a Woman?” (personal favorite)
  • Walcott, Derek – “Omeros” (epic poem) or “XIV”
  • Walker, Alice – “Women”
  • Walker, Margaret – “Childhood,” “For My People,” or “Lineage”
  • Wheatley, Phillis – “On Being Brought from Africa to America”
  • Woodson, Jacqueline – Brown Girl Dreaming (novel told through poetry)

Short Stories/Short Fiction

  • Achebe, Chinua – “Dead Men’s Path”
  • Alvar, Mia – “The Miracle Worker”
  • Alvarez, Julia – “Antojos”
  • Angelou, Maya – “Steady Going Up”
  • Baldwin, James – “Sonny’s Blues” or “Exodus”
  • Bambara, Toni Cade – “Talkin bout Sonny,” “Maggie” or “The Organizer’s Wife”
  • Bennet Jr., Lerone – “The Convert”
  • Boehm, Lucille – “Condemned House”
  • Bontemps, Arna – “A Summer Tragedy”
  • Brown, Frank London – “A Matter of Time”
  • Brown, Sterling – “And/Or”
  • Butler, Emma E. – “Polly’s Hack Ride”
  • Butler, Octavia – “Bloodchild”
  • Dorsey, Gertrude H. – “An Equation”
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. – “The Comet,” “Jesus Christ in Texas” or “On Being Crazy”
  • Chestnutt, Charles W. – “The Passing of Grandison,” “Uncle Wellington’s Wives” or “The Goophered Grapevine”
  • Chokshi, Roshani – The Gilded Wolves
  • Choo, Yangsze – The Night Tiger
  • Cisneros, Sandra – “Eleven,” “My Name,” or Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (collection of short stories) (personal favorite – “Eleven”)
  • Clarke, Breena – “The Drill”
  • Clarke, John Henrik – “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black”
  • Collier, Eugenia W. – “Marigolds”
  • Danticat, Edwidge – “New York Day Women”
  • Davis, Arthur P. – “How John Boscoe Outsung the Devil”
  • Davis, John P. – “The Overcoat”
  • Due, Tananarive – Ghost Summer (collection of short stories)
  • Dunbar, Paul Laurence – “The Scapegoat” or “The Lynching of Jube Benson”
  • Ellison, Ralph – “Afternoon”
  • Eng, Tan Twan – The Gift of Rain or The Garden of Evening Mists
  • Erdich, Louise – “Red Convertible”
  • Evans, Danielle Valore – Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (collection of short stories)
  • Fajardo-Anstine, Kali – “Sugar Babies” or “Remedies”
  • Fauset, Jessie – “Mary Elizabeth”
  • Fisher, Rudolph – “The City of Refuge”
  • Fuller, Hoyt W. – “The Senegalese”
  • Gains, Ernest J. – “The Sky is Gray”
  • Hairston, Loyle – “The Winds of Change”
  • Hamer, Martin J. – “Sarah”
  • Himes, Chester – “Mama’s Missionary Money”
  • Hughes, Langston – “Feet Live Their Own Life” or “One Friday Morning”

Did you know? Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was the first black woman to publish a short story back in 1859.

  • Hurston, Zora Neale – “Muttsy” or “The Gilded Six-Bits”
  • Jones, LeRoi – “The Screamers”
  • Jordan, Jennifer – “The Wife”
  • Kelley, William Melvin – “Cry For Me”
  • Killens, John O. – “God Bless America”
  • Kincaid, Jamaica – “Girl” (personal favorite)
  • King, Thomas – “Borders”
  • la Guma, Alex – “The Lemon Orchard”
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa – The Interpreter of Maladies (collection of short stories)
  • LaValle, Victor – “The Ballad of Black Tom” or Slapboxing with Jesus (collection of short stories)
  • Liu, Ken – “The Paper Menagerie”
  • Lowe, Ramona – “The Woman in the Window”
  • Marquez, Gabriel Garcia – “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, “One of These Days,” or “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”
  • Marshall, Paule – “Reena”
  • McBride, James – Five Carat Soul (collection of short stories)
  • McCay, Claude – “He Also Loved” or “Truant”
  • McPherson, James Alan – “On Trains”
  • Moore, Alice Ruth (also called Alice Dunbar Nelson) – “A Carnival Jangle”
  • Morrison, Toni – “Recitatif”
  • Murakami, Haruki – “Samsa in Love”
  • Murray, Albert – “Train Whistle Guitar”
  • Nettel, Guadalupe – Bezoar (collection of short stories)
  • Nichols, Laura D. – “Prodigal”
  • Offord, Carl Ruthven – “So Peaceful in the Country”
  • Orozco, Daniel – “Orientation”
  • Packer, ZZ – “Speaking in Tongues”
  • Penso, Kia – “The Gift”
  • Petry, Ann – “The Bones of Louella Brown” or “Solo on the Drums”
  • Ries, Adeline F. – “Mamma: A Story”
  • Robotham, Rosemarie – “Jesse”
  • Schweblin, Samantha – Fever Dream or Mouthful of Birds (short story collections)
  • Senna, Danzy – “The Care of the Self”
  • Shawl, Nisi – “Black Betty” or “The Water Museum”
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon – “Tony’s Story”
  • Smith, John Caswell – “Fighter”
  • Suarez, Virgil – “A Perfect Hotspot”
  • Tellez, Hernando – “Lather and Nothing Else”
  • Tervalon, Jervey – “Picture This”
  • Toomer, Jean – “Becky”
  • Vroman, Mary Elizabeth – “See How They Run”
  • Walker, Alice – “Flowers,” “Elethia,” or “Everyday Use” (personal favorite – “Everyday Use”)
  • Wang, Xuan Juliana – Home Remedies (collection of short stories)
  • West, Dorothy – “The Typewriter” or “Mammy”
  • Wright, Richard – “Uncle Tom’s Children” or “Bright and Morning Star”
  • Yerby, Frank – “The Homecoming”
  • Yu, Charles – Sorry Please Thank You (collection of short stories)

Memoirs

  • Angelou, Maya – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Ashe, Arthur – Days of Grace
  • Eire, Carlos – Waiting for Snow in Havana
  • Fisher, Antwone – Finding Fish: A Memoir
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – Dust Tracks on a Road
  • Laymon, Kiese – Heavy: An American Memoir
  • Mathabane, Mark – Kaffir Boy
  • McBride, James – The Color of Water
  • Mchado, Carmen Maria – In the Dream House
  • Momaday, N. Scott – The Way to Rainy Mountain
  • Noah, Trevor – Born a Crime (personal favorite)
  • Satrapi, Marjane – Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
  • Tan, Amy – “Mother Tongue”
  • Ung, Luong – First They Killed My Father
  • Wideman, John Edgar – Brothers and Keepers
  • Yang, Kao Kalia – The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot* (this author is white, but the subject and discussion on oppression and disregard for the Lacks family and black Americans in general makes it worthy of inclusion)

Nonfiction

  • Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi – We Should All Be Feminists
  • Baldwin, James – The Fire Next Time, Notes of a Native Son, or “Nobody Knows My Name” (essays)
  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi – Between the World and Me
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. – The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, The Souls of Black Folk, or The Emerging Thought of W. E. B. Du Bois: Essays and Editorials from “The Crisis”
  • Edim, Glory (editory) – Well-Read Black Girl (collection of essays)
  • Ellison, Ralph – Shadow and Act
  • Haley, Alex – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Hughes, Langston – “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – “I Love Myself When I am Laughing and Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive”
  • Kendi, Ibram X. – How to Be an AntiRacist or Stamped From the Beginning
  • Joseph, Peniel E. – Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America
  • Lorde, Audre – Sister Outsider
  • Luiselli, Valeria – Tell Me How it Ends or Sidewalks
  • Morrison, Toni – Playing in the Dark or What Moves at the Margin
  • Naipaul, V. S. – Middle Passage
  • Reynolds, Jason and Ibram X. Kendi – Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning
  • Roberts, Dorothy – Fatal Invention
  • Stevenson, Bryan – Just Mercy
  • Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta (editor) – How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective
  • Walker, Alice – “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”

Misc.

  • Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi – “The Danger of a Single Story” (TED Talk)
  • Collins, Kathleen – The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy and Losing Ground (film narratives)
  • DuVernay, Ava – 13th (film)
  • Glover, Donald (aka Childish Gambino) – “This is America” (music video)
  • Haley, Alex – Roots (television miniseries)
  • Hannah-Jones, Nikole – The 1619 Project (interactive website by The New York Times)
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – Barracoon – (collection of interview questions)
  • King, Martin Luther – “I Have a Dream” speech
  • Peck, Raoul – I am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin documentary)
  • Smith, Clint – “How to Raise a Black Son in America” (TED Talk)

This list took me a full week to compile but I’m sure I missed some great additions. Please comment below or email me with suggestions of other authors for AP® Lit and I’ll add them to the list!

6 thoughts on “Expanding the Canon in AP Literature”

  1. This list is extensive, and I love how it includes poetry and short stories, too. Thanks for doing this work that I’m sure others will benefit from. I’ll likely pull from your poetry and short stories here.

    And wow that Medium essay you linked to — eye opening. Reading about the historical and social context of New Criticism really drives home the inherent racism of the AP Lit exam and the authors/writing styles it privileges. That was written 2 years ago, and the only place I see a chance is in the new rubric awarding “broader context” with a sophistication point.

  2. Wow! This is THE list! Thank you so much for all the time and energy and love you pour into your work.

  3. Amazing list! I especially appreciate the short stories and poetry titles.

    (Isn’t Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro? not Murakami?)

  4. Do you have an alternative? I actually researched the term for the title and debated it for quite a while but can’t find any clearer way of explaining it.

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