Ordinary People 

Diana Evans

‘You can take a leap, do something off the wall, something reckless. It’s your last chance, and most people miss it.’

Published earlier this year, Diana Evans perfectly blends honest domesticity and notions of 'celebrity' in her brilliant portrait of love, parenthood, sex and grief, set against the backdrop of Barack Obama’s historic election victory.

Race (Vintage Minis)

Toni Morrison

What good is a man’s life if he can’t even choose what to die for?’

Including excerpts from the books Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Toni Morrison, in this searing, remonstrative book, race is unravelled through the stories of those debased and dehumanised because of it. A young black girl longing for the blue eyes of white baby dolls spirals into inferiority and confusion. A friendship falls apart over a disputed memory. An ex-slave is haunted by a lonely, rebukeful ghost, bent on bringing their past home. Strange and unexpected, yet always stirring, Morrison’s writing on race sinks us deep into the heart and mind of our troubled humanity.

 

Cuz

Danielle Allen

In my heart’s locket, five gangly brown- skinned kids, cousins, will be forever at play in a pair of crepe myrtle trees bathed in beneficent June sunshine.’

Beautifully written and tragic in its comment on loss, Danielle Allen’s Cuz is a memoir on the author’s cousin, Michael Allen. Michael Allen was 15 when he was arrested for an attempted carjacking, tried as an adult and sentenced to 12 years and 8 months in prison. He was released at the age of 26 only to return a year later. When he was released finally, aged 28, he was shot and killed less than a month later. Cuz is the devastating analysis of a broken system that, sadly, continues to keep men like Michael Allen trapped by a fate assigned to them by the state.

 

Brit(ish)

Afua Hirsch

'You’re British. Your parents are British. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking where you’re from?'

Afua Hirsch's look ay Britain's denial of its imperial past and a look at the racism that plagues its present, that went straight to The Sunday Times Bestseller list when it was released earlier this year.

 

On Black Sisters’ Street

Chika Unigwe

‘Never give up if your heart and your head tell you are right. People can disappoint you, but your heart and your head will never. Make them your best friends.‘

Four very different women have made their way from Africa to Brussels. They have come to claim for themselves the riches they believe Europe promises but when Sisi, the most enigmatic of the women, is murdered, their already fragile world is shattered. Drawn together by tragedy, the remaining three women - Joyce, a great beauty whose life has been destroyed by war; Ama, whose dark moods manifest a past injustice; Efe, whose efforts to earn her keep are motivated by a particular zeal - slowly begin to share their stories. 

 

Native Son

Richard Wright

Your Honor, remember that men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread!’

'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.

 

Kumukanda

Kayo Chingonyi

'My agent says I have to use my street voice./ Though my talent is for rakes and fops I’ll drop / the necessary octaves, stifle a laugh / at the playwright’s misplaced get me blud and safe.'

Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, here is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.

 

Stamped from the Beginning

Ibram X. Kendi

Fooled by racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people.’

Dedicated to ‘the lives they said don’t matter’, this is the definitive history of racism and the must read book that won the National Book Award for non-fiction. Stamped from the Beginning details exactly where racism came from, and where it’s going. Its deeply researched and fast-moving narrative chronicles the journey of racist ideas from fifteenth-century Europe to present-day America through the lives of five major intellectuals, showing how these ideas were developed, disseminated and eventually enshrined in American society.

 

Don't Call Us Dead

Danez Smith

'Some of us are killed / in pieces / some of us all at once.’

Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality – the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood – and an HIV-positive diagnosis.

 

Small Country

Gaël Faye

'War always takes it upon itself, unsolicited, to find us an enemy. I wanted to remain neutral, but I couldn't. I was born with this story. It ran in my blood. I belonged to it.'

For ten-year-old Gabriel in 1992 Burundi, life in his comfortable expat neighbourhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister, Ana, is something close to paradise. But dark clouds are gathering over this small  country, and soon their peaceful idyll will shatter when Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda are brutally hit by war and genocide. Gaël Faye is a French-Rwandan author, composer and hip hop artist who also lived through Burundi's civil war, and his writing is a haunting and luminous at tragedy, but also to the bright days that came before it.

 

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

'You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.'

This is the true story of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 - and this text was key in helping to secure its eventual abolition. After his escape in 1838 he became an ardent abolitionist, and his autobiography was an instant bestseller upon publication in 1845. In it he describes with harrowing honesty his life as a slave – the cruelty he suffered at the hands of plantation owners; his struggles to educate himself in a world where slaves are deliberately kept ignorant; and ultimately, his fight for his right to freedom.

 

26a

Diana Evans

‘The future has already happened, just like the past. And one day you will see that there are no answers, only the places we make.’

Identical twins, Georgia and Bessi, live in the loft of 26 Waifer Avenue. Their Nigerian mother puts cayenne pepper on her Yorkshire pudding and has mysterious ways of dealing with homesickness; their father angrily roams the streets of Neasden, prey to the demons of his Derbyshire upbringing. Forced to create their own identities, the Hunter children build a separate universe. It is when the reality comes knocking that the fantasies of childhood start to give way. How will Georgia and Bessi cope in a world of separateness and solitude, and which of them will be stronger?

 

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