Reading list

8 books to celebrate Black History Month

This October marks the 30th anniversary of Black History Month. We've picked out a reading list of amazing novels, poetry and essays to help you celebrate  

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Race

Toni Morrison

If any one writer has earned a place on this list, it's Toni Morrison. Race tells the stories of an impressionable young girl wishing she was white, a pair of estranged friends and a traumatised former slave woman haunted by the ghost of her dead child. Barely a page goes by without an incisive, humane insight into what it means to be a person, a woman, of colour.

The Lonely Londoners

Sam Selvon

Anyone seeking to understand the immigrant experience today can learn a lot from the past. In the wake of the Second World War, thousands of people from the West Indies arrived in the cold and inhospitable place we call London. As newly arrived friends try to carve out a niche for themselves in a city that doesn't know what it thinks of them yet, we follow their trials, tribulations and - eventually - their successes in building a home.

 

Introducing George the Poet

George the Poet

Jump forward sixty years from Sam Selvon's masterpiece, and George the Poet is offering a totally different, equally relevant, picture of London. His snapshots of inner-city life take in part-time jobs, housing, discrimination and more, all underlined by his strong sense of social conscience. The first of many poetry titles on this list, this one is autobiographical, cross-cultural, philosophical and, above all, political.

 

Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi

Slavery tore communities, friends and even families apart, giving rise to so many stories like the one Yaa Gyasi tells here - of two sisters from Ghana, separated against their will and mistreated by colonial white men. One, Effia, marries a wealthy slaver; the other, Esi, is sold into slavery and taken to America. We follow the sisters, and then their descendents, in Africa and America as they flourish and falter through the American Civil War, abolition, poverty and prejudice, right up to the modern day.

 

Kumukanda

Kayo Chingonyi

Kayo Chingonyi's name means 'initiation', and what better way to pass into the world of poetry with this stunning debut? It is an exploration of race, society, culture and identity, all seen through the lens of a young black man living in Britain today - be he British, not-British, or a bit of both. As well as being a hugely gifted performer of his work, Chingonyi weaves his varied cultural references into a rich tapestry on the page - a story of the way he sees the world, and the way it sees him.

 

The Emperor’s Babe

Bernardine Evaristo

Set in Ancient Rome's Londinium, our teenage bride Zeeks is none too happy about her groom-to-be, a disgusting old fat man. For a while she succeeds at playing the game and protecting herself, but when the Roman Emperor notices her beauty, things suddenly take quite a turn. It isn't easy for her, but with her quick wit and resourceful nature, we get the feeling she'll come out on top. Part-song, part-verse, The Emperor's Babe is a celebration of what it means to be a young black girl on the cusp of womanhood.

Changing my Mind

Zadie Smith

This collection of essays from Zadie Smith sees her write about everything from cinema to art, novels to non-fiction, London and libraries, all with a forensic eye and visceral enthusiasm. Smith was already an acclaimed critic when this selection was published nearly ten years ago, but as she turns her attention to the Great Philosophers, President Obama and cheesy movies, we get a glmpse of just how broad her talents are.

 

bone

Yrsa Daley-Ward

This aptly-named book deals with the very building blocks of humanity. With incredible economy of words, poet Yrsa Daley-Ward tells a story, pulls it apart and concludes it - all in just a few lines. Her storytelling is immediate and emotional, and we defy you not to laugh and cry as you make your way through her brutal but somehow also delicate free-verse. Confidently hopping between multiple narrators and threads, she takes us on a journey through modern Britain.

 

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