UK Black History Month
First marked in the UK in October 1987, as part of African Jubilee Year, Black History Month is a recognition of the heritage, culture, and achievements of Black Britons. With the theme ‘Time for Change: Action not Words,’ Black History Month 2022 focuses on amplifying Black voices, allyship and activism, and sharing the stories and diverse legacies of Black people in the UK.
We have compiled a list of Black authors everyone should be familiar with and read their works.
Octavia E. Butler
Butler known for her contributions to science fiction, and her niche of blending it with African American spiritualism. From vampirism to post-apocalyptic worlds, Butler’s stories will appeal to readers in search of diverse characters. ‘Kindred’, a fascinating and horrific novel, tells the story of young 26-year-old Dana, who is repeatedly transported back in time to a 19th-century Maryland plantation, offering contemporary perspective on a crucial moment in Black history.
Leilani’s literary fiction debut, Luster, follows the life of 23-year-old Edie, a protagonist struggling with the everydayness of finding her place in the world, it’s not only beautifully written, but explores relatable themes such as mental health, financial hardship, sexual empowerment and more.
Peace Adzo Medie
Medie’s debut novel, His Only Wife, is a book that will inspire a love for new African literary voices. When young, poverty-stricken Afi Tekple marries wealthy businessman, Elikem Ganyo, she expects a life of ease and luxury ahead. However, upon starting her new life as a married woman, Afi is soon to learn that love is never enough. Between the novel’s scandalous plot and engaging characters, Peace establishes herself as a master of humorous contemporary fiction exploring Ghana and Ghanaian culture.
Girl, Woman, Other from critically acclaimed author and academic Bernadine Evaristo delves into the ups and downs of twelve character’s lives, most of whom are Black British women. Winner of the British Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year 2020 and joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019, each story explores relationships between friends, family and lovers across different years and locations.
Sunday Times Bestseller Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola is a collection of reimagined love stories from around the world. Drawing on history and mythology from West Africa, the Middle East and Greece, Babaola’s debut book beautifully brings to light conceptions of love from unlikely places.
Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
With Trinidad and Tobago as its backdrop, ‘When We Were Birds’ is a love story that tells the mythical tale of two individuals connected through death. Banwo’s debut novel explores loss, inheritance and the healing power of love.
Things I Have Withheld by Kei Miller, the award-winning writer and poet, explores the experience of racial discrimination through the idea of silence; how many important truths are hidden in the silence and what do we risk when we breach it?
Akuch Kuol Ayinieth
Unknown: A Refugee’s Story is a deeply moving memoir from Ayinieth delves into the harsh realities of fleeing South Sudan during the country’s civil war. Moving from South Sudan, to Kenya, then Australia, Akuch finds herself unravelling the complexities of loss and violence while facing challenges of racism in her new found home.
The Master of Chaos and Other Fables by Pauline Melville, who is of British-Guyanese descent. She started life as an actor and comedian and is also very well-travelled, so she does multiculturalism with ease. This collection of 14 short stories starts in Guyana, and takes you around the world via Syria and Russia. There is love, politics, compassion, magic, and humour, which all ends with a very touching story of a homeless man who stumbles across the horror at Grenfell Tower.
Mohamed’s ‘The Fortune Men’ paints a cinemascope vision of early 1950s Tiger Bay, and she unearths the hidden history of a great miscarriage of justice. She wonderfully describes the racism and colonial arrogance of the day.
‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is Maya Angelou’s autobiography, describing the early years of her life, the book is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma.
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer prize-winning book ‘The Color Purple’ tells the story of Celie, a Black teenager raised in rural Georgia and separated from her family at an early age. As she narrates her life through letters to her sister, we read on as she faces trauma, physical and emotional abuse.
‘Beloved’ is a powerful piece of literature from the Nobel Prize winning author, Toni Morrison. The protagonist, Sethe, escaped slavery, but she is very much not free – her house is haunted by the destructive ghost of her nameless baby. Often referred to as the best horror novel the genre never claimed, this is a truly haunting read that can be examined through many different lenses.
Queenie is a bestselling debut by Candice Carty-Williams which portrays the life of Queenie Jenkins, whose world is falling apart. She’s self-destructive, messy and makes a multitude of mistakes, something which Black protagonists are rarely given the space to do in literature. Queenie is a novel that covers a lot of ground: complicated families, cultural difference, and mental health.
Mama Can’t Raise No Man by Robyn Travis provide an eye-opening exploration of Black masculinity and the incarceration system. The protagonist is Duane, who despite trying his best has once again found himself in prison. He’s been charged with intent to supply drugs and domestic violence but things are not as black or white as they seem. Told through letters and made up of distinct characters, this is a book that is deeply thought provoking and brutal, while still providing moments of hilarity.
James Baldwin is a vital voice within Black literature. All of Baldwin’s works have changed the world in some way but in ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, he presents a poignant story about love and injustice. In the novel, Baldwin tells the story through Tish, a 19-year-old mother to be – but her love and the father of her child has been falsely imprisoned. Tish and her family set out to clear his name. The emotional journey is filled with despair, love and hope and makes an urgent call for a more just future.