Bernardine Evaristo picks 20 books for International Women’s Day

The Booker Prize-winner highlights contemporary Black British women authors.

Stuart Simpson/Penguin

Booker Prize-winner Bernadine Evaristo has curated a list of 20 books by Black British women, all published in the past two years, to celebrate International Women’s Day.

The author, whose 2019 book Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments in October, chose the titles for a display in the gallery of Bristol’s Waterstone’s store.

Evaristo’s collection spans a range of subjects and voices, from domestic thrillers to upbeat and pertinent millennial love stories.

Many of the books explore race and identity across many aspects of live. In Don’t Touch My Hair, published earlier this week, Emma Dabiri examines the role of black women’s hair in relation to society, tradition, politics and history, arguing that its styling can lead to liberation. In Taking Up Space, Cambridge graduates Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi offer a manifesto for black girls to feel empowered and validated in their lives - and for others to assist them.

Jay Bernard’s Surge, meanwhile, is a collection of poetry published last year that connects the 1981 ‘New Cross Massacre’ - in which 13 young black people were killed in a fire at a house party - with the Grenfell fire. 

There are also memoirs on the list. Actress Zawe Ashton presented a life lived on screen in Character Breakdown, also released in 2019, and in The Grassling Elizabeth Jane Burnett combined a study of grief for her late father’s decline with a study of the Devon countryside in which she grew up.

Historical novel The Confessions of Frannie Langton earned Sara Collins the First Novel prize at the Costa Book Awards earlier this year. The titular heroine is a freed slave whose grandiose life in Georgian London ends in a murder trial.

Malorie Blackman, whose 2001 book Noughts & Crosses is considered a contemporary classic on the issue of race, is included in Evaristo's list for Crossfire, the latest novel in the series.

Speaking about her selection, Evaristo said: 'Each book explores its own individual cultural territory, whether that of the natural world, or a fictionalised memoir of a young actress, or a recalibration of feminism through an African prism.

There still aren’t many of us writing novels or publishing poetry or children’s books, but the commercial and critical success of many of these titles makes me hopeful for the future.'

Here is Evaristo's list in full:

Character Breakdown by Zawe Ashton (Vintage)

Surge by Jay Bernard (Chatto and Windus)

Crossfire by Malorie Blackman (Penguin)

The Grassling by Elizabeth Jane Burnett (Allen Lane)

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (Trapeze)

The Confessions Of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (Penguin)

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri (Penguin)

Darling by Rachel Edwards (Fourth Estate)

The Mother by Yvvette Edwards (Pan)

Ordinary People by Diana Evans (Vintage)

I Will Not Be Erased by Gal-Dem (Walker Books)

Freedom by Catherine Johnson (Scholastic)

Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson (Headline Review)

Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye And Ore Ogunbi (Merky Books)

In Dependence by Sarah Ladipo Manyika (Cassava Republic Press)

Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence (Hodder Children’s Books)

In Search of Equilibrium by Theresa Lola (Nine Arches Press)

Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie (Dialogue Books)

Sensuous Knowledge by Minna Salami (Zed Books)

Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard (Scholastic)

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