Top 7 books for Black History Month (and every month) that you need to read
Black History Month honours Black excellence from our past and present and credits the contributions people of African heritage have made to the world.
One of the best ways to understand the history and lives of Black people is through the incredible selection of literature available. Our favourites, from classic novels to contemporary memoirs, enable us to better understand Black history and culture, recognising past and present injustices and encouraging conversations about improving our society. Only through this can we break down traditional systems of discrimination such as racism, transphobia, misogyny, or colonialism.
Passing by Nella Larsen, 1929 (fiction)
Nella Larsen’s novel Passing is a great portrayal of racial passing, where a member of one racial group is recognised as a member of another. Best seen in the protagonist Clare Kendry’s attempt to pass as white for her husband, John (Jack) Bellew, who does not accept her African American background. Set in the 1920’s Harlem, New York, Larsen explores her own mixed heritage with her thought-provoking portrayal of race, gender and sexuality. It has also been recently adapted into a film for all you movie buffs to enjoy.
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, 2017 (non-fiction)
Published only in 2017, Reni Eddo-Lodge achieved the incredible accomplishment of becoming the first Black British women to be No. 1 overall in the British book charts. Her writing primarily explores the links between feminism, class and race in Britain and elsewhere using important historical examples such as the Atlantic slave trade and the 1981 riots in Brixton. Her work shows us a better understanding of race within our own society and the urgency in which change is needed. You can read an extract from it here.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, 2019 (fiction)
Bernadine Evaristo’s novel, Girl, Women, Other shadows the lives of twelve characters living in the UK who come from differing backgrounds (race, class, age etc). Bernadine explores complicated questions on identity such as what it means to be a Black person in Britain. It’s a fantastic read so it’s no surprise that it is the co-winner of the 2019 Booker Prize!
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, 2017 (fiction)
Angie Thomas’s novel The Hate U Give educates young adults about the Black Lives Matter movement. It focuses on the fearless Starr Cater, a young black girl from a poor neighbourhood who speaks up publicly about the shooting of her childhood friend, Khalil. Thomas does a fantastic job of enabling the younger generations to see things from Starr’s perspective and excellently embodies the important and controversial movement it is trying to represent. It is another one for cinema lovers too, as it was adapted into the film a year after it was published.
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, 2001 (fiction series)
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if Africans had colonised Europe rather than the other way around? Malorie Blackman’s series for young adults includes six novels and three novellas and answers that very question. Based in 21st Britain the series creates a rich, complex, and highly interesting world which forces the reader to consider thought-provoking questions about our own society.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, 1969 (fiction)
Author and poet Maya Angelou is one of the most famous female Black Americans of the 20th century. Her piece of autobiographical fiction I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a true classic, being one of the most widely read books in America. The book can be unsettling and traumatic at times, but you can take inspiration and empowerment from her journey. Covering the first 18 years of her life, the book deals with issues of race and trauma it gives a clear picture of the difficulties of growing up in 1930’s and 40’s America as a Black woman. Given its critical acclaim and classic status, this book is absolutely a must read.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith, 2000 (fiction)
One of the most complicated issues for modern, multicultural Britain to deal with is its relationship with its former colonies and their people who immigrated to the UK. Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth explores these questions through the lives of best friends Englishman Archie Jones and Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal, who met each other years earlier both serving in World War II. The Guardian ranked this book as the 39th best book of the 21st century and it has been praised for its focus on real people and their experiences.
Learn about these books with your English Literature tutor
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