By Ila Ananya
It’s a fascinating app that works as a growing directory of books by people of colour, with books that depict characters of colour in different and complex ways. We have Kaya Thomas, a student of computer science from Dartmouth College, to thank for this.
Thomas started the app back in 2014 after learning to code in a Black Girls Code hackathon in her first year as an undergraduate in college, because she remembered how strange and invisible it made her feel to read books that had no characters of colour.
“But where were the books with girls like me? Black girls who loved books, learning and tinkering,” she writes on Medium, before launching straight into a detailed description of what many of us have often done—“Why did I constantly have to imagine myself as a white teen girl with blonde or brown hair and blue eyes?” Thomas then goes on to say that the books she found from the long time she spent at her library often also had stereotypical depictions of young women of colour—essentially black teens dropping out of school, getting pregnant, and selling drugs.
Her writing reminds me of the odd feeling I couldn’t shake off me when I was in school and studying for my 12th standard Literature board exams. Every single poet in our book was a white man—there was nothing by a woman, let alone something Indian, or by anybody of colour, and if nothing else, everything only felt unfamiliar.
I was reminded this when I read what Thomas had told Huffington Post in an email interview: “Young people should be able to see themselves represented in literature, so they know that their stories are important and that there are authors who […] celebrate their background and show the real lives of people like them.” And it isn’t only about representing people of colour—Thomas’ work is also a reminder of what can happen if we have a diverse group of people making software.
Ever since Thomas began, the app now has over 600 titles, with more than 1600 titles being suggested by the over 15000 iPhone users. Now she has launched a campaign for funding in the hope of updating her app. As of now there isn’t an Android version yet, but we hope it comes soon.