classic literature

Study: classic reads

This year I've been trying to read one book each week across a variety of genres. This past week I read a Toni Morrison book, Sula.

I have people of color in my stories. And I know that I'm woefully short in reading books by diverse authors. I shouldn't be, because Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are considered classics, right? 

But, when I google classics the top names that come up are white, European, or American. Mostly men--Don Quixote, 1984, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

On one website, there's not a female name mentioned until #10 George Eliot a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880), author of Middlemarch. And #11 lists Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014), the Colombian author of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Out of that list of 99 books, I found more women authors but not until #64 did I encounter another person of color, Sun Tzu (544-496 BC), a Chinese military strategist who wrote The Art of War. Towards the end, a couple of anthologies and short story collections were listed:  Arabian Nights, an anthology of Middle Eastern and South Asian stories, and The Aleph and other short stories by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.  

What makes a classic?  At AbeBooks, their article and video (from 2014) describe a classic as a book: that outlasts time, is historical, is required reading at high school, demonstrates universal themes of life, gets better over time, is colloquial, is educational, and has style.

Perhaps it's time we add other characteristics to our definition of classic literature or at least, to look at themes beyond our customary American and European white-based stories.

What is your definition of classic literature?