In honour of Black History Month in the UK, we thought we’d take the opportunity to amplify some of our favourite black British writers, both from history and today. These books represent a wide range of genres, themes, and styles, but all contribute to the richness of this country’s history and of our cultural fabric. Some of these authors you may know, others may be new, but we hope that there is something on this list that appeals to everybody’s tastes!
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa)
Equiano was born around 1745. He was captured from modern day Nigeria as a child and taken by slave ship to Barbados. After being sold several times and moved around the globe, in 1766 Equino managed to buy his own freedom. This influential autobiography tells the story of his life.
The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole
This autobiographical account of Mary Seacole’s life, mainly focussing on her time as a nurse during the Crimean war. Her struggle to be taken seriously, her bravery, and her determination to act as she chose despite the odds have inspired many in her own time and since.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
Eddo-Lodge’s 2017 debut explores the links between gender, class and race in Britain and elsewhere. It originally began life in blog post form. The book became the first by a black British author to top the UK bestseller list after the murder of George Floyd.
Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
Journalist and former lawyer Afua Hirsch’s book is a ‘hybrid of memoir, reportage, and social commentary’ (Source). Hirsch details her own experiences of racism and her search for belonging, whilst also situating herself in the historical context of British racism, and the lack of education and understanding which has led to the context of the present day.
Afropean by Johnny Pitts
Pitts explores the history of the African diaspora in Europe, looking to the possibility of an ‘Afropean’ identity as a riposte to modern-day nationalisms, and to the idea that European blackness doesn’t have a long, rich history.
Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
This book is part memoir, part polemic, examining the intertwining inequalities of race and class, and how both have shaped both Britain and Akala himself.
I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite
In 2016, Brathwaite started blogging about motherhood, after noticing how white and middle-class our cultural representations of motherhood are. This book is a meditation on black motherhood in Britain, and on scrapping the calls for ‘perfection’ that make many feel there is only one good way to be a mother.
Character Breakdown by Zawe Ashton
Actress and director Zawe Ashton writes about her experiences of modern showbiz, and walking the fine line between inhabiting a character and inhabiting your own life.
The Grassling by Elizabeth Jane Burnett
Inspired by her father’s history of his small west-country village, Burnett writes about how the land shapes us, and what it means to be rooted in times and places of constant change.
Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey by Richard Ayoade
Comedian and director Richard Ayoade meditates on film in conversation with himself in a somewhat genre-defying, description defying way. This interview he did to promote it is perhaps the best place to start.
Fiction and Poetry
Girl, Women, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Evaristo’s eighth novel follows 12 characters—mostly black British women— with interrelated stories as they navigate modern life. The novel won the Booker prize 2019.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
White Teeth was Smith’s debut novel, and focuses on the lives of two wartime friends, Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and Englishman Archie Jones, and their families.
Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola
Babalola takes the most beautiful love stories from history and mythology, spanning West Africa to Ancient Greece and beyond, and rewrites them for a modern audience. This collection of stories is a vivid celebration of romance in all its forms.
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Noughts and Crosses is the first in a series that now spans five novels and three novellas. The series imagines an alternate history, in which Europe was colonised by Africa, and follows the lives of two young people as they try to navigate the racism of their society.
Do You Dream of Terra Two? by Temi Oh
Ten astronauts leave the dying earth behind to go in search of a nearby habitable planet, Terra Two. It will take them 23 years to get there. 23 years with only each other for company, and far from any help.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
This coming-of-age story follows Queenie Jenkins as she navigates different cultures, unpromising jobs, and relationship breakdown. Carty-Williams’ debut novels navigates issues from consent to class and mental health in a story that is by turns both hilarious and heart-breaking.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
The year is 1826. Frannie Langton is Mr and Mrs Benham’s maid; she is also the prime suspect in their murder. If only she could remember whether she’d done it. This gothic novel explores the experience of a black woman in Georgian London.
teaching my mother how to give birth by Warsan Shire
This poetry collection, quoted extensively in Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’, explores the intergenerational experience of womanhood, the horrors that drive and haunt refugees, and the cultural heritage of Islam.
Pen Rhythm by Benjamin Zephiniah
This was Zephaniah’s first published work, but he has since been prolific, writing in every genre from memoir to children’s. Many of his poems are deal with issues of police brutality and racism, though throughout his oeuvre he has covered an incredible array of topics.
Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson
This thriller tells the interlinked stories of two women hunting for a kidnapper. One is a detective who fears she has let him escape; the other is a victim who has never told her story. Can they help each other catch him before it’s too late?