Black History Month Reading List

For Black History Month, we’re showcasing some important books by brilliant black authors to add to your list this October.

 

The Fire Next Time
James Baldwin

The landmark work on race in America from James Baldwin, whose life and words are immortalized in the Oscar-nominated film I Am Not Your Negro.


James Baldwin’s impassioned plea to ‘end the racial nightmare’ in America was a bestseller when it appeared in 1963, galvanising a nation and giving voice to the emerging civil rights movement. Told in the form of two intensely personal ‘letters’, The Fire Next Time is at once a powerful evocation of Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and an excoriating condemnation of the terrible legacy of racial injustice.

 

The Sellout
Paul Beatty

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality–the black Chinese restaurant.

The Sellout has been published to huge acclaim: it was the Winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction, and named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times Book Review and the Wall Street Journal.

 

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

 

 

 

Known and Strange Things
Teju Cole

A blazingly intelligent first collection of essays from the award-winning author of Open City. With these pieces on politics, photography, travel, history and literature – many of which have become viral sensations, shared and debated around the globe – Cole solidifies his place as one of today’s most powerful and original voices. On page after page, deploying prose dense with beauty and ideas, he finds fresh and potent ways to interpret art, people and historical moments.

Persuasive and provocative, erudite yet accessible, Known and Strange Things is an opportunity to live within Cole’s wide-ranging enthusiasms, and a chance to see the world in surprising and affecting new frames.

 

Black & British: A Forgotten History
David Olusoga

Black and British offers readers a rich and revealing exploration of the extraordinarily long relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa from award-winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga. It reveals that behind the South Sea Bubble was Britain’s global slave-trading empire and that much of the great industrial boom of the nineteenth century was built on American slavery. It shows that Black Britons fought at Trafalgar and in the trenches of the First World War.

Unflinching, confronting taboos and revealing unknown scandals, Olusoga describes how black and white Britons have been intimately entwined for centuries. Black and British is a vital re-examination of a shared history.

 

Homegoing
Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. As each chapter offers up a new descendant, alternating between Effia’s and Esi’s bloodline right up to the present day, a chasm of experience and the differing legacies of chance are brought starkly to light.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.

 

 

House of Lords and Commons
Ishion Hutchinson

Ishion Hutchinson’s collection of poems is a profound engagement with culture and landscape, seascape and language, inheritance and race. It speaks to a pursuit of justice and rebalance of a world in which lords and commoners must live side by side. House of Lords and Commons is a skilfully crafted and tender expression of human experience in a world of prejudice and danger that is also a world of intense colour, remarkable music, indefatigable love.

 

 

 

We Were Eight Years In Power
Ta-Nehisi Coates

Powerful and necessary, a state-of-the-nation portrait of America under Obama from the prize-winning, bestselling author of Between the World and Me.

From 2008-2016, the leader of the free world was a black man. Obama’s presidency reshaped America and transformed the international conversation around politics, race, equality. But it attracted criticism and bred discontent as much as it inspired hope – so much so, that the world now faces an uncertain future under a very different kind of US President. In this essential new book, Coates takes stock of the Obama era, speaking authoritatively from political, ideological and cultural perspectives, and draws a sophisticated and penetrating portrait of America today.

 

 

What Is Yours Is Not Yours 
Helen Oyeyemi

Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret–Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side.

Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift, or an invitation? What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours captivates as it explores the many possible answers.

 

 

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou

The first and best-known of Maya Angelou’s extraordinary seven volumes of autobiography is a testament to the talents and resilience of this extraordinary writer. As a Black woman she has known discrimination and extreme poverty, but also hope, joy, achievement and celebration.

Here, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American south of the 1930s. She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother’s lover. Reviewing the book in 1970, The Washington Post wrote ‘There isn’t any easy, which is to say false line in the book…She is outside and inside at the same time, looking at all of it with double vision.’

 

Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning ‘Americanah’ is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.

 

The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain
Ron Ramdin

In this classic, pioneering history, Ron Ramdin traces the roots of Britain’s disadvantaged black working class. From the development of a small black presence in the sixteenth century, through the colonial labour institutions of slavery, indentureship, and trade unionism, Ramdin expertly guides us through the stages of creation for a UK minority whose origins are often overlooked. He examines the emergence of a black radical ideology underpinning twentieth-century struggles against unemployment, racial attacks and workplace inequality, and delves into the murky realms of employer and trade union racism.

 

Your Silence Will Not Protect You 
Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde (1934-92) described herself as ‘Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’. Born in New York, she had her first poem published while still at school and her last in the year of her death in 1992. Her extraordinary belief in the power of language – of speaking – to articulate selfhood, confront injustice and bring about change in the world remains as transformative today as it was then, and no less urgent. Your Silence Will Not Protect You is the first British edition of Lorde’s writing and brings Lorde’s essential poetry, speeches and essays together in one volume for the first time, with a preface by Reni Eddo-Lodge and an introduction by Sara Ahmed.

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