My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (2021)

At a time of rolling blackouts and terrible storms battering America, the neighbourhood of First Street, Charlottesville comes under attack by violent white supremacists. A group of friends, families and strangers flee together in an abandoned bus and head for the hills above town. They arrive at Monticello, the historic plantation-home of Thomas Jefferson, deserted but for its ghosts. My Monticello is the story of nineteen heart-stopping days of refuge and reclamation. This deeply moving novel is a searing indictment of racism past and present, and a powerful vision of resistance, community and hope.

Sugar by Bernice McFadden (2000)

Young and confident, with a swagger in her step, Sugar arrives in the southern town of Bigelow hoping to start over. But soon Bigelow is alight with gossip and suspicion. She meets Pearl, her next-door neighbour, who is also trying to forget her own traumas. In a small town with a long memory, will two unlikely friends be able to escape their pasts? Sugar is a classic waiting to be rediscovered.

Carefree Black Girls by Zeba Blay, with foreword by Clara Amfo (2021)

In 2013, film and culture critic Zeba Blay was one of the first people to coin the viral term #carefreeblackgirls on Twitter. As she says, it was "a way to carve out a space of celebration and freedom for Black women online." In this collection of essays, Blay celebrates the strength and fortitude of these Black women, while also examining the many stereotypes and rigid identities that have clung to them.

The Queens’ English by Chloe O. Davis, foreword by Paula Akpan (2021)

The Queens’ English by Chloe O. Davis, with a foreword by Paula Akpan, is a landmark reference guide to the LGBTQIA+ community’s contributions to the English language – an intersectional, inclusive, illustrated glossary featuring more than 800 terms created by and for queer culture. This modern dictionary provides an in-depth look at queer language, from terms influenced by celebrated lesbian poet Sappho to the Harlem Renaissance, and from New York’s underground queer ball culture in the 1980s to today’s celebration of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya (2021)

In the autumn of 2018, a young woman moves into a rented room in university accommodation, ready to begin a job as a research assistant at Oxford. Here, she is both outsider and insider, and she can’t shake the feeling that real life is happening elsewhere. Eight months later she finds herself living in London, sleeping on a stranger’s sofa as she works a temp contract at a society magazine for £80 a week. As summer rolls on, England roils with questions around its domestic civil rights: Brexit, Grenfell, climate change, homelessness. Overworked and underpaid, she asks herself: what is this all for? Three Rooms is an incisive, original and brilliantly observed novel exploring the politics of belonging.

Blueblood by Malorie Blackman (2020)

Malorie Blackman retells the story of ‘Bluebeard’ in this feminist take on a familiar fairy tale. Nia has met the man she wants to marry. Marcus is kind, clever and handsome, with a beard so dark it is nearly blue-black. Nia demands a single promise from him – that Marcus will never enter her study in the basement, her private space. But when Marcus’s curiosity begins to mount Nia feels more and more uneasy. Will he betray her? Can he accept that no means no? Can a woman ever have a room of her own?

Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)

'The most important and celebrated novel of Negro life to have appeared in America' said James Baldwin of Native Son, a book that shocked readers when first published in 1940. It tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a young black man living in the Chicago slums, held down by poverty. Unwittingly involved in a wealthy woman's death, he is hunted relentlessly, baited by prejudiced officials, charged with murder and driven to acknowledge a strange pride in his crime. He realises his full individuality only through the confrontation of death.

The Travelers by Regina Porter (2019)

As America recovers from World War Two, two families’ journeys begin. James Vincent climbs the social ladder as a prosperous attorney, and after being pulled over by the police in rural Georgia, Agnes Miller pivots herself into a hasty marriage and new life in the Bronx. Illuminating more than six decades of sweeping change – from the struggle for civil rights and the chaos of Vietnam to Obama’s first year as President – James and Agnes’s families will come together in unexpected, intimate and profoundly human ways.

The Perfect Nine by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (2020)

A dazzling, genre-defying novel in verse, The Perfect Nine is a glorious epic about the founding of Kenya’s Gikuyu people and the ideals of beauty, courage and unity. Blending folklore, mythology and allegory, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o chronicles the adventures of Gikuyu and Mumbi, and how their nine brave daughters become the matriarchs of the Gikuyu clans. Longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2021, this is not one to miss.

A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi (2021)

A Blood Condition is a moving, expansive and dazzling second collection from award-winning poet Kayo Chingonyi. It tells a story of inheritance – the people, places, cultures and memories that form us. Chingonyi explores how distance and time, nations and a century’s history, can collapse within a body; our past continuous in our present. From London, Leeds, and the north-east to the banks of the Zambezi river, these poems consider change and permanence, grief, joy and the painful ongoing process of letting go.

Surge by Jay Bernard (2019)

Jay Bernard’s extraordinary debut is a fearless exploration of the New Cross Fire of 1981, a house fire at a birthday party in which thirteen young black people were killed. Named the ‘New Cross Massacre’, the indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain. Tracing a line from New Cross to the ‘towers of blood’ of the Grenfell fire, this urgent collection speaks with the voices of the past, brought back by the incantation of dancehall rhythms and the music of Jamaican patois, to form a living presence in the absence of justice. Surge shines a much-needed light on an unacknowledged chapter in British history.

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman, foreword by Oprah Winfrey (2021)

On 20 January 2021, Amanda Gorman spoke a message of truth and hope to millions. Aged twenty-two, she delivered a poetry reading at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden. Her poem, ‘The Hill We Climb’, addressed the country and reached across the world: a call for a brave future. This special edition, which includes an enduring foreword by Oprah Winfrey, marks that poem and offers us courage, consolation and the inspiration to make change.

Homie by Danez Smith (2020)

A mighty anthem about the saving grace of friendship, Danez Smith’s Homie is rooted in their search for joy and intimacy in a time where both are scarce. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family – blood and chosen – arrives with just the right food and some redemption.

Homecoming by Colin Grant (2019)

Homecoming draws on over a hundred first-hand interviews, archival recordings and memoirs by the women and men who came to Britain from the West Indies between the late 1940s and the early 1960s. Sharing the stories of hope and regret, of triumphs and challenges, these are stories brimming with humour and wisdom. Together, they reveal a rich tapestry of Caribbean–British lives and illuminate an essential and much-misunderstood chapter of our history.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (2019)

In this rousing and deeply empathetic book, Ibram X. Kendi, one of the world’s most influential scholars of racism, shows that neutrality is not an option: until we become part of the solution, we can only be part of the problem. In the process he demolishes the myth of the post-racial society and builds from the ground up a vital new understanding of racism – what it is, where it is hidden, how to identify it and what to do about it.

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris (2020)

The daughter of immigrants and civil rights activists, Vice President Kamala Harris was raised in a California community that cared deeply about social justice. As she rose to prominence as a political leader, her experiences would become her guiding light as she grappled with an array of complex issues and learned to bring a voice to the voiceless. Now, in The Truths We Hold, Harris reckons with the big challenges we face together. Drawing on the hard-won wisdom and insight from her own career and the work of those who have most inspired her, she communicates a vision of shared struggle, shared purpose, and shared values as we confront the great work of our day.

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