October is Black History Month and after a year which has seen the re-emergence of Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the globe and growing publicity and awareness around historic and current racial injustices, we have an abundance of works by black creators to share with you.
In the wake of the protests there were campaigns to get black authored works to number one in the best seller charts, social media was full of vibrant personal recommendations and there was a real surge towards hearing black voices and rectifying the white bias within the publishing industry. Many different groups and publications have published their own reading lists, highlighting a fertile field of exciting new black voices, as well as the amplification of amazing, established writers who for too long have been marginalised and lacked exposure. One example is Bernadine Evaristo, who gained a whole new audience for numerous and exceptional previous works, after being the first black woman to win the Booker prize in 2019. This year’s Booker prize shortlist is the most diverse in the prize’s history, with four out of six nominees being writers of colour.
https://www.facebook.com/BrightonandHoveCityLibrariesWith the weather turning more autumnal, why not join us in spending Black History Month and beyond exploring and celebrating the growing range of books, eBooks and eAudio books by writers of colour available through our libraries? Below are some reviews of our library staff’s favourites, with further recommendations from our stock by genre to get you started. Of course, there are many more reads available on the catalogue and new stock is being added both to our libraries and to the BorrowBox and RBdigital apps throughout the year (crucially not just during Black History Month!) so keep browsing. If you have any favourite read by a black author you want to shout about please email us at Libraries@brighton-hove.gov.uk with the details of the book, a photo of the book cover(if you can) and a few reasons you love it and we can promote it through our social media channels. You can also find further recommendations from our staff by following us on Twitter and Facebook.
Want to be educated? Challenged? Inspired? Entertained? We have a Black History Month book for that!
There are links to further reading lists and recommendation at the end of the article. Enjoy!
Justine recommends: Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved‘
This Pulitzer-winning novel is a deeply important witnessing of the history of the unforgotten. It is luminous, furious and shocking, lyrically written by one of the greatest writers in the English language. Morrison uses the ghost story to explore the trauma and dislocation – both physical and mental – of slavery and white supremacy and, ultimately, the curative power of love. It’s a milestone in the story of black people in America and a tale that will haunt you. As it should.
Jessica recommends: Jay Bernard’s ‘Surge’
This poetry collection centres around two fires: the New Cross fire of 1981, which killed 13 young black people at a party, and the Grenfell fire of 2017 where almost 80 people died. Bernard uses the archives from what came to be known as the ‘New Cross massacre’ to immortalise the voices and document the fallout of what was commonly believed to be the silencing of a racist attack. Part history, part activism, part memorial device, they show us how the past echoes loudly in the present. Surge is passionate, powerful, angry and utterly heart-breaking and these poems have been haunting my dreams for months. Bernard is an urgent new voice of brilliance.
Benjamin Zephaniah’s ‘The Lives and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah’
If you love Benjamin Zephaniah’s poetry, and even if you don’t, his autobiography is a brilliant read, with the author’s life being closely entwined with the social history of Britain, and the various struggles of the day. A child of Windrush generation parents, he paints a compelling picture of everything from a working-class childhood in Birmingham, to his experiences of prison, police brutality, racism, activism and, eventually, success as one of the nation’s most well known poet. Being used to experiencing Zephaniah as a performance poet, I listened to the audio book, which he reads himself. He is also releasing a book in the ‘voices’ series in November called Windrush Child, bringing the narrative of the Windrush generation to children’s literature.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s ‘Friday Black’
This hard-hitting debut short-story collection is an often uncomfortable read –but in a good way. With stories tackling racism, violence and the soul sucking effects of unbridled capitalism, Adjei-Brenyah presents a futuristic, yet unsettlingly recognisable dystopia, interspersed with glimpses of hope. A few of the stories particularly stand out: the opening story The Finkelstein 5 is a sharp and bloody satire of the institutional racism routinely experienced by black youths, and the title story Friday Black perfectly portrays a world where whole lives are taken over by extreme consumerism. Friday Black is bleak for sure, but it is also surreal, original, funny and full of humanity.
Writing Our Legacy’s ‘ Hidden Sussex: A New Anthology for Sussex –Fiction, Non-fiction and Poetry from the Black and Ethnic Minority Experience‘
Writing Our Legacy was established in 2012 with the aim to, in their words, “raise awareness of the contributions of Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) writers, poets, playwrights and authors born, living or connected to Sussex and the South East”. Hidden Sussex is their first publication and it is a wonderfully diverse anthology of BAME writing from all over Sussex. Its 27 pieces range from poetry to memoir, fiction to essays and they all give a unique perspective of the place we all call home. Writing Our Legacy put on frequent events and workshops and their website (https://writingourlegacy.org.uk/latest/ ) is well worth a visit.
James Baldwin’s ‘I am not your Negro’
I am not your Negro is the unfinished manuscript Baldwin intended to be a personal recollection of his three friends, the civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, who were all assassinated within five years of each other. Along with excerpts from his other published works, as well as various television appearances, the text from this book is used to narrate the powerful and critically acclaimed documentary of the same name by Raoul Peck. Although Baldwin died before he completed it, his words create (as ever) a radical, powerful and poetic work on race, as relevant today as it was then.
Bernadine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other‘
I loved this novel for many reasons, not least because it bends the form of the novel in a really exciting way by giving us not one but twelve very different co-protagonists, who all share an equal footing and whose stories intersect in beautiful and sometimes subtle ways. Dominant racist ideologies have worked to trap and fix Black people and Black experience under a monolithic definition of race, so by providing such a rich multiplicity of Black British women, Evaristo’s novel celebrates some of the possibilities of who and what Black women can be, thereby pushing against stereotyping and invisibility. I particularly fell in love with Amma and her Black lesbian feminist politics.
David Olusoga’s ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History‘
This book is a vital and timely re-examination of the long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa, reaching as far back as Roman Britain. These histories and narratives have long been silenced, and it is this lack of information and education that play a huge part in racism in the UK today. Black British history is woven into the cultural and economic histories of the nation, and it is imperative that we are taught about British colonial history and our leading role in the oppression of Black and Brown people. However, it is equally important to learn that colonialism is not the only story: Black British people were pioneers, inventors, soldiers, queens, and icons and this book works towards uncovering some of this rich history. It was accompanied by a brilliant four-part documentary with the same name, presented by the author.
Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart‘
Things Fall Apart is a ground-breaking masterpiece that reshaped both African and world literature. Published in 1958, Things Fall Apart is the first in a landmark trilogy of works chronicling the fate of one West African community, continued in Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. These were/are seminal because they look at the brutality of colonisation from the viewpoint of the colonised, featuring a highly complex tragic hero, Okonkwo. It was the first novel to explore the break-up of tribal life from an African perspective, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it spurred a revolution in modern African literature. Paving the way for a new generation of African writers, like the brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to write about Africa and what it is to be African.
Further reading recommendations:
Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad
Bernadine Evaristo – Mr Loverman
Derek Owusu – That Reminds Me
Fran Ross – Oreo
Ralph Ellison – Invisible Man
Andrea Levy – Small Island
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Water Dancer
Tsitsi Dangarembga – The Mournable Body
Maaza Mengiste – The Shadow King
Kiley Reid – Such a Fun Age
Brandon Taylor – Real Life
Elizabeth Jane Burnett – The Grassling
Lemn Sissay – My Name is Why
Audre Lorde Zami – A New Spelling of my Name
Roxane Gay – Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body
Maya Angelou – I know why the Caged Bird Sings
Martin Luther King – The Autobiography of Martin Luther King
Lemn Sissay – Listener
Langston Hughes – The Collected Works of Langston Hughes
Jackie Kay – Bantam
Linton Kwesi Johnson – Selected Poems
Grace Nichols – I have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems
Danez Smith – Homie
Raymond Antrobus – The Perseverance
Attica Locke – Bluebird, Bluebird
Oyinkan Braithwaite – My Sister, the Serial Killer
Dorothy Koomson – Tell me Your Secret
Rachel Edwards – Darling
Chester Himes – Cotton Comes to Harlem
Walter Mosley – Trouble is what I do
Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race
Ibram X. Kendi – How To Be An Antiracist
Ijeoma Oluo – So You Want to Talk About Race
Akala Native -s Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire
Paul Gilroy – There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation
Layla F. Saad – Me and White Supremacy
Afua Hirsch – Brit(ish)
Robin Diangelo – White Fragility
Nikesh Shukla (Ed) – The Good Immigrant: 21 Writers Explore What It Means To Be Black, Asian, And Minority Ethnic In Britain Today
Michael Fuller – Kill the Black One First
Sam Selvon – The Lonely Londoners
Colin Grant – Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation
Wesley Lowery – They Can’t Kill Us All
Johnny Pitts – Afropean: Notes from Black Europe
Glory Edim – Well-read Black Girl
Tade Thompson – Wormwood Trilogy
Octavia B Butler – Kindered
Nnedi Okora – For Who Fears Death
N. K. Jemisin – The Inheritance Trilogy
Samuel R Delany – Dhalgren
Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Dark Star Trilogy book 1)
Alexandra Sheppard – Oh My Gods
Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance
Malorie Blackman – Noughts and Crosses (series)
Patrice Lawrence – Orangeboy
Angie Thomas – The Hate you Give and On the Come Up
Dean Atta – The Black Flamingo
Benjamin Zephaniah- Refugee Boy
Nic Stone – Dear Martin
Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam – Punching the Air
Atinuke – Anna Hibiscus series and Too Small Tola
Malorie Blackman – Grandpa Bert and the Ghost Snatchers
Sharna Jackson – High-Rise Mystery
Jason Reynolds and Selom Sunu – Ghost
Joseph Coelho – Poems Aloud
Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins – Young, Gifted and Black
Vashi Harrison – Bold Women in Black History
Vashi Harrison – Exceptional Men in Black History
Helaine Becker, Dow Phumiruk – Counting on Katherine
The series Little People, Big Dreams has got numerous publications covering black people from history, from Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks to Ella Fitzgerald.
Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola – Look up! and Clean Up!
Mo Farah – Ready, Steady, Mo!
Ken Wilson – Max Astro Girl
Nadia Shireen – Billy and the Beast
Hannah Lee – My Hair
Atinuke Baby – Goes to Market
Further reading and inspiration
Many, many outlets have created their own reading list of black authors for you to explore. Here are just a few examples to get you started.
Adult reading lists:
The Jhalak prize –Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour. A browse through their website and long lists from previous years will guide you towards many gems and the new ‘Books we Love’ section will be updated with recommendations