October is Black History Month and in today’s blog, we’re featuring some of our favourite books by black authors from around the world. We can’t fit all of the books we’d love to feature in a single blog so have a browse through the book lists on our ‘Inclusive Reads‘ page for even more reading ideas for both this month and throughout the year.
Here are the recommended reads by members of Warwickshire Libraries’ staff.
Incredibly moving and affecting, ‘The Nickel Boys’ tells the story of young Elwood Curtis, wrongfully arrested in the early 1960s and sent to the Nickel Academy, a “reform school” in Florida, USA. Elwood’s resilience in the face of the abuse he suffers and his attempts to hold on to the teachings of Dr Martin Luther King are by turns inspiring and heart breaking. A tough read, but extremely worthwhile, and while there are upsetting scenes there are no graphic descriptions of violence. The Nickel Academy is based on a real reformatory that operated in Florida from 1900 to 2011.
‘The Killing Moon’ by N.K. Jemisin. (physical copy)
A beautifully vivid fantasy novel set in a land inspired by ancient Egypt. The story follows Ehiru and Nijiri, two “Gatherers” who are tasked with harvesting dream magic from the inhabitants of their city. The setting, characters, and story are all wonderfully realised and I really can’t recommend it enough to anyone with even a cursory interest in fantasy. (I picked this title in particular from this author, but I also recommend her Broken Earth trilogy and her short story collection ‘How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?’)
‘The Crossover’ by Kwame Alexander (physical copies)
12-year-old twins Josh and Jordan are their school’s star basketball players. This verse novel follows them as they navigate school and family life; a quick, fun read aimed at young teens and perfect for reluctant readers.
I also recommend the following novels which are available on BorrowBox, some as eBooks, some on eAudio (they may also be available in physical copy too so search our catalogue to find out).
‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. The classic novel of an escape from slavery and its lingering effects.
‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’ by Marlon James. An epic fantasy novel based on African myths and legends, ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’ is a thrilling and engaging mystery. A man known only as Tracker is hired to find a boy who went missing three years earlier. Extremely violent and gory, this definitely will not be for everyone. I found that an audiobook was the perfect format for this novel; had I been reading it for myself, I suspect I may have struggled, but hearing it read aloud I was gripped the whole time.
‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston. A deeply touching story of love and resilience in early 20th Century America. This is another novel that I found wonderful to listen to; it is written in the dialect the characters speak in which can make it difficult to read or off-putting for some readers. “If you kin see de light at daybreak, you don’t keer if you die at dusk. It’s so many people never seen de light at all.” Beautiful imagery throughout which is a joy to listen to.
‘We Need New Names’ by NoViolet Bulawayo. A young girl growing up in a Zimbabwean shanty town finds herself out of place when she moves to the United States with her aunt. Out of step with her American cousin and losing touch with her friends in Zimbabwe, she struggles to find where she belongs.
This is the memoir of a girl who had to flee her home when she was 6 years old, along with her older sister Claire, to escape the genocide in Rwanda. It illustrates the psychological impact of the war on a young child who lacks the understanding of what is happening too her, and the lifelong effects of the trauma. It made me question my assumptions on what it means to be a refugee, the human kindness and cruelty they experienced in the numerous refugee camps they fled from and the difficulties in adjusting to a new life in America. I found it profoundly moving.
There are a number of American writers I’d recommend you to explore: Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, WEB DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston and Maya Angelou.
Other titles to look out for include ‘Between The World And Me’ by Ta-Nehesi Coates (physical copies, eBook, eAudio), ‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead (physical copies), and ‘Rainbow Milk’ by Paul Mendez (physical copy). I also recommend ‘Poor‘ by Caleb Femi and ‘The Book Of Echoes’ by Rosanna Amaka (physical copies, eBook, eAudio)
This was the first book I read that made me think about race. As a young teenager I had never thought of anyone as ‘different’ or treated them differently. This book made me realise that some people do and, of course, have always.
Here’s a list of titles you could try:
- Roy McFarlane‘s poetry
- ‘Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children’ – edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff.
- ‘How To Argue With A Racist : History, Science, Race and Reality‘ by AdamRutherford
- ‘Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias’ by Pragya Agarwal
- ‘Biased: Uncovering The Hidden Prejudices That Shape Our Lives’ by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
- ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ by Akala
- ‘No Win Race: A Memoir of Belonging, Britishness and Sport’ by Derek A. Bardowell
- ‘On the Other Side of Freedom: Race and Justice in a Divided America‘ by DeRay Mckesson
- ‘Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto For Change’ by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi
- ‘Harlem 69: The Future of Soul’ by Stuart Cosgrove
- ‘I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter‘ by David Chariandy
- ‘Heavy: An American Memoir’ by Kiese Laymon
- ‘Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves‘ – edited by Glory Edim
- ‘The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah: The Autobiography’ by Benjamin Zephaniah
- ‘Black Poppies: Britain’s Black Community and The Great War‘ by Stephen Bourne
My pick would be ‘Call Me Auntie‘ by Anne Harrison, which details the authoress’ life as a young black girl growing up in the care system.
From the library catalogue blurb: “A story of life in and after care. An account of trans-racial fostering which focuses on identity, family history and loss. ‘Call Me Auntie’ adds to the literature of post-Windrush 1950s Britain and tells of ‘Heartbreak House’ care homes.”
I would recommend this title. At over 12 hours on eAudio, it was a bit long but worth pursuing (perhaps it would be better to read it rather than listen to?). A great twist at the end!
I read ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race‘ by Reni Eddo-Lodge a couple of years ago (it’s time for a re-read I think) and also ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks‘ by Rebecca Skloot, both of which I highly recommend. These were followed by ‘Natives: Race & Class In The Ruins of Empire’ by Akala, ‘The Good Immigrant‘ by Nikesh Shukla and ‘Hidden Figures‘ by Margot Lee Shetterley, which were all excellent.
I wanted more non-fiction so I read ‘Kill The Black One First‘ by Michael Fuller and ‘I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You’ by David Chariandy but I also wanted more than non-fiction so I read ‘Don’t Call Us Dead‘ by Danez Smith and ‘Surge‘ by Jay Bernard.
Fiction is important too and one of my recent highlights is ‘The Nickel Boys’ by Colson Whitehead. I’m looking forwarding to reading ‘The Vanishing Half‘ by Brit Bennett and ‘The Water Dancer‘ by Ta-Nehisi Coates soon.
I read this book a couple of months ago because I love a good story and also always want to read and learn more about the heritage and history of black people in the USA. It did not disappoint.
Yaa Gyasi (pronounced Yar Jessie) starts her story in Ghana with an Asante woman called Maame. Maame has two daughters: one who is sold as a slave, and the other who marries the Governor of the British Cape Coast Castle. Each following chapter tells a different tale from each generation. Each story has sadness and joy but put all together, Gyassi weaves a larger tapestry of the story of modern Americans who identify their origins from Africa and gives insight into how American politics is why it is so today.
I know I’ve got so much more to learn, but if like me, you’re trying to better your understanding of the history that we weren’t taught at school, and enjoy a really good yarn at the same time, this is a good place to start.