by Tasnim Morrison
It goes without saying that we should all be reading books by Black authors and books centring the experiences of Black people all year round, however, October is Black History Month in the UK which makes it the perfect time to highlight these books and, hopefully, introduce them to a new audience.
With so many to choose from, trying to select which books to share wasn’t easy but I hope the selection below will draw your attention to some truly brilliant books by Black women authors, whose works span a range of genres, locations and experiences.
Come Let Us Sing Anyway & This One Sky Day by Leone Ross
To my mind, Leone Ross is an author who possesses a remarkable ability write within so many genres. Her short story collection, Come Let Us Sing Anyway, is a favourite collection of mine and I truly admire the way she plays with genre to create some of the most imaginative tales I’ve ever read.
Some of the stories are so wonderfully weird, some quietly horrific, and others so incredibly touching. I was captivated by this collection and I haven’t stopped recommending it.
Now, if you’d prefer to experience Leone Ross’ writing in longer form, her novel, This One Sky Day, is truly spectacular. Told over the course of a single day, prepare to be swept away by the lives and loves of the people of Popisho. You’ll be amused by falling pum pums, intrigued by the special power, or ‘cors’, each character possesses, and I guarantee you’ll be captivated by the island and its inhabitants.
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
It really is something to be truly moved by a novel and Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi moved me like no other book I’ve read this year.
Told from the perspective of three central characters- twin sisters, Taiye and Kehinde and their mother, Kambirinachi, it is a story about love, truth, trauma, sexuality, friendship, kinship, and food- so much food! It is a a story about the ways we feed our appetites, either with great care and attention, or gorging insatiably in an attempt to fill those dark, empty spaces.
Ekwuyasi is a truly gifted story teller and, as much as this story will break your heart, I promise you it is worth it.
In 2020, Black British publisher, Jacaranda Books set out to publish twenty books by Black British authors. Quite the undertaking, yes, but the result was pretty incredible. If I Don’t Have You by Sareeta Domingo was one of the books published and, if you’re a romance reader, this is one for you.
Black British artist, Kayla and Brazilian filmmaker, Ren are so well matched, the pacing is excellent, and I really appreciate how Sareeta Domingo has written a story that reminds readers that even though Black people have experienced lifetimes of pain, there is always love and that should be written about, too.
Books centring older women are rarer than they should be, but books centring older Black women are rarer, still. The novella’s protagonist, (almost) seventy-five year old Dr Morayo Da Silva, is a Nigerian woman living in San Francisco and, when an unexpected incident forces her to reckon with a new fragility, she is prompted to reflect on her life and decide for herself what she wants older age to look like.
Dr Morayo is intelligent, quick-witted, sensual and possesses a warmth that’ll make you wish you could befriend her.
Ugandan author, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s most recently published novel, The First Woman, tells the story of Kirabo, a young girl growing up in Uganda.
Raised primarily by her grandparents, as she approaches her teen years, Kirabo begins to feel the absence of her mother more keenly and she sets out on a personal journey to find out about the woman who birthed her.
The First Woman could easily be described as a coming of age story, but it is also the ultimate feminist tale as it questions the ways women will sacrifice themselves, and each other, at the altar of men. Told with Jennifer Nansubga Makumbi’s trademark wit and sharp tongue, it makes for such an enjoyable reading experience.
Corregidora was the first book I read by Gayl Jones and it was the perfect introduction to her work, however, it isn’t one to approach lightly. Gayl Jones immerses the reader in a story that centres the trauma and brutality inflicted on the Black woman’s body and the physical and psychological consequences of this. The result is a haunting, brilliantly written depiction of generational trauma.
From Khartoum to London, Edinburgh and Cairo, these stories written by Scotland based Sudanese writer, Leila Aboulela, depict the experiences of immigrants, often thorough everyday events such as births, marriages and deaths.
These stories consider the idea of ‘home’ and Aboulela perfectly illustrates the emotional impact of not being able to navigate your immediate surroundings with the ease we take for granted when in familiar lands and around familiar people.
Aboulela’s writing is so observant and attentive to the details that punctuate our day to day lives, but there is also something so warm and comforting about her writing style, which makes reading her work such a pleasant experience.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is, perhaps, the most well known volume of Maya Angelou’s seven part memoir and it really as as good as its reputation suggests. It can be read in isolation but I’ve been enjoying slowly working my way through all seven books.
With that said, if you’d prefer a shorter introduction to Maya Angelou’s writing, or you’re just looking to read more of it, I’d also recommend A Letter to My Daughter. Comprised of short chapters, which really do read like a series of letters, it makes for a perfectly condensed version of the many words of wisdom she imparts in her memoirs, and will give the reader a taste of some of her experiences and the lessons she learned from them.
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa-Daley Ward’s memoir chronicles her experiences as a young British Jamaican and Nigerian woman growing up in Chorley, Lancashire. She is still so young but it is easy to imagine she has lived so many more years than she has. If you’ve read any of her writing- either via her poetry collection, ‘Bone’, her Instagram page, or her newsletter- you’ll already know that she writes with an honesty that entices the reader and a lyricism that’ll keep you coming back for more.
Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri
Irish-Nigerian television presenter takes readers on a journey exploring the history of Black hair from pre-colonial Africa to today’s Natural Hair Movement.
Dabiri considers Black hairstyles, their meanings, cultural origins and so much more, and it reads like both an education and a celebration. Considering discrimination against those with Black hair, especially those who choose to wear it in its natural state, is still so common, this book is a must-read for those with Black hair and those without.
Locating Strongwoman by Tolu Agbelusi.
These poems are something truly special: an ode to the strength of women, a strength we don’t always recognise, but one than we call upon time and time again, both for ourselves and in service of others.
This collection recognises the importance of vulnerability and, more importantly, reminds its reader that vulnerability is, in itself, a strength. It is a collection to read over and over again and one to gift to the women in your life.
Maya Angelou’s poetry is much-loved for a reason and, for the full experience, I’d recommend the complete collection of her infamous poems. I also think these poems accompany her memoirs beautifully. I have several tabs in my own copy because there are some poems I like to return to but I’d encourage you to read this collection for yourself to see which ones speak to you – I imagine they won’t be hard to find.
These poems are as spectacular as the collection’s title and to read them is to be reminded of the importance of recognising and claiming your place in the world, just as you are.
There is an honesty, vulnerability, humour and sweetness to these poems and the way they’re written is so direct and delightfully uncomplicated, making them all the more readable.