Everyday People: The Color of Life, a Review
by Kukuwa Ashun
Everyday People: The Color of Life (Atria Books, 2018), edited by Jennifer Baker, is more than an anthology that provides space for fourteen writers of color; it’s a testimony. The truth is manifested through craft and technique, in narrative and form, between the writer and their characters. These short stories, rich in subject matter that range from relationships to cultural values to loss, shed light on humanity and the visceral, raw experiences of everyday people.
Baker brought this project into fruition after the passing of Brook Stephenson, the collection’s original producer. She lauds Stephenson in her introduction, giving him credit for being a revolutionary figure during a time when marginalized voices weren’t given space to be visible. “He wanted to see a new collection celebrate PoC (People of Color) voices,” she writes of Stephenson. “He wanted to continue what other writers have cobbled together of not only Black voices but Asian/Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and Latinx ones as well. At a time when ‘diversity’ was used as a buzzword, Brook sought to invest in stories that people may not be seeing.”
Stories such as Courttia Newland’s “Link” and Allison Mills’s “If Birds Can Be Ghosts” respectively encompass a futuristic and spiritual realism, which reveal alternate worlds that their characters attempt to gain authority over. Other stories like Brandon Taylor’s “Boy/Gamin” and Carleigh Baker’s “Moosehide” are anomalies in the collection, bringing white protagonists to the center of their stories through subtle and engaging plots. The overarching alliance that binds these writers and their stories together isn’t solely based on race. Within these pages, readers make pit stops around the globe, immersing themselves in narratives on American soil or in countries such as the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Ghana, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Great Britain. Baker states it best, saying Everyday People should “showcase the larger story and relationships depicted as well as the landscape.”
Overall, Baker’s curation of this anthology is both admirable and proactive, allowing the notion of visibility to be more than just another conversation about needing more diverse books. After Hasanthika Sirisena’s “Surrender,” readers arrive at the book’s bonus segment, titled “Reading List of Contemporary Works by Women, Nonbinary, and Transgender Writers of Color/Indigenous Writers.” While Baker prefaces the following list as “no way comprehensive,” the ability to coalesce these titles under various categories—novels and graphic novels, nonfiction, poetry, anthologies, YA literature—is a remarkable, thirty-five page manifesto that symbolizes how important it is for us to know that representation and inclusivity in literature matters.