No matter where books sit on your list of cultural consumption – our
TV watch list is full, knowing where to start with podcasts is impossible and how does anyone make time for the cinema these days – there’s no denying how impactful they are when you do eventually get to reading.
Somewhere in the farthest region of your mind is the memory of the first time you were completely consumed by a book. You’ll remember finding a little piece of yourself in someone else’s words and that’s no minor thing. Even more so if accurate representation isn't something you’re used to.
That’s why we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate the books by black British authors who did that for us. Whether it's the rogue Christmas gift that turned out to be a capsule of knowledge about unfamiliar lives, the book recommended by a thoughtful primary school teacher or the recent bestseller that generations below us will be talking about in years to come, these are some of our favourite books by incredible black British writers. Hopefully, they’ll resonate with you, too. Tell us about your favourites in the comments below.
Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson
It's Dorothy Koomson's thrillers that have solidified editorial assistant Eni Subair's love of the author. "
Tell Me Your Secret
is one of those investigative whodunnit novels where the reader is consistently trying to work out what's going on and who the killer is," she explains. "In this case, it's about Pieta, who was kidnapped 10 years ago but managed to escape her abductor. It gets complicated when the guy behind the kidnapping is suddenly at large again and determined to hunt down his previous captives – Pieta in particular. I love how Koomson manages to intertwine storylines. There's also a policewoman, Jody, who's hiding a secret about the serial kidnapper who goes by the name 'The Blindfolder' (terrifying, no?)."
Small Island by Andrea Levy
I went through a phase in my teens where my stepdad would buy me three books for Christmas. There was no anticipating what sort of thing he’d gift me and I’d kind of grown resentful of the tradition – until he gave me
If my teenage self had known that it was about racial dynamics in the UK in the aftermath of the Second World War, I probably (definitely) wouldn’t have read it. What I inadvertently came to discover was a moving story about Hortense and Gilbert, a Jamaican couple who rent a room with Queenie, a white woman aware of the divide between black and white people on the surface but unwilling to acknowledge any of it further. Re-reading it as an adult it only hit harder, but at its core is a gripping human story full of highs, lows and a lot of heartaches.
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
says she was recommended the soon-to-be-televised
Noughts and Crosses
series by her primary school teacher. "She had to ask for my mother’s permission because the content was above my age, but she wanted me to read literature by black writers that would give me a better understanding of the world I’d be growing up in as a young black female. The series (and that teacher) opened my eyes profusely."
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
One of my favourite books of the last couple of years has to be this gem by Diana Evans. And I think it's the one that has been most recommended, gifted and spoken about among my friends, too. It picks up in south London, 2008, on the night of Barack Obama's inauguration as president of the United States. From that huge moment, we zoom in on two regular couples inconsequentially navigating life in its aftermath. It's a beautifully structured novel about the fragility of love and the internal, external and emotional pressures we carry as, well, ordinary people.
Happiness by Aminatta Forna
Aminatta Forna's fourth novel introduces us to Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist who's come to London after his wife dies. Jean is in London after leaving her husband and grown-up son in America and is now studying the urban foxes (a thing, apparently). They cross paths by chance and from there become united in a heartfelt but impactful story about the pain of lost love and our resilience in spite of it, all within a moving exploration of where we tend to place value in modern society. You'll mull this one over for a while without even realising why.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
For a timeless celebration of black womanhood, look no further than this Booker Prize nominee. "I'd been wanting to read more but wasn't sure where to start," says creative assistant Serena Brown. "My friend recommended
Girl, Woman, Other
which is a novel but split up into short stories about black women in Britain over four generations. It's a cool way to speak to women of different ages about times they didn't live through but also it's just a good book on its own."
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward
There aren't many coming-of-age memoirs that will hit you in the gut
heart in the best possible way, but Instagram poet and author Yrsa Daley-Ward's does. It takes you through all the good and, yes, terrible things that happened in her childhood in northwest England. There's strength and powerlessness; sex, drugs and frustration; and a smart, honest perspective that I wish I'd read earlier.
Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
"Afua’s memoir-cum-history book tackles Britain’s tortuous relationship with race. It gives voices to those made to feel less British when asked, 'Where are you really from?'" says R29 contributor
. It's at the top of many a 'must-read' list but "you should also read
if you’ve ever asked that question, and/or if you’ll never have to answer it."
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
It would be outrageous not to include one of the most hotly anticipated and widely celebrated books of 2019, and the accolades are completely justified. In
, Candice Carty-Williams gave us an effortlessly smart and resonant story about love, identity and black womanhood in the UK through keenly observant millennial eyes.
NW by Zadie Smith
Isolating one Zadie Smith book for recommendation is a difficult and terrifying task. My best friend swears by
while Eni's go-to is
"My sister first introduced me to her books. One day I 'borrowed' (never returned)
. It really stuck with me and one of the characters reminded me of one of my friends," she says.
My seemingly controversial pick is
for its humour for one. Secondly, for its ability to completely lose me as it switches between narrative styles before gripping me just as quickly with something so distinctly relatable in its portrayal of friendships strained by social class.
The Confessions Of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
Sara Collins takes us back to 1826 where crowds are gathering to watch former slave Frannie Langton go on trial for murder. Her story starts on a plantation in Jamaica and travels all the way to a big house in Georgian London where she is now telling her lawyer her life story – her confessions – so that he can build a defence for her trial. It's harrowing but brilliant.