Toni Morrison published her debut novel The Bluest Eye at 39-years-old. By this time, she had done the work. The work of reading, listening, thinking and knowing about the history and culture of Black lives.
Before Toni was a published writer, she was an Editor at Penguin Random House and her commitment to publish stories by Black authors for Black readers was boundless. As a Black female publisher, I now follow in Toni Morrison’s footsteps which swallow me whole and, like her, my commitment to authors and readers from all minority groups is inestimable. And like Toni, I also want everyone from every race, gender, ability, class and sexuality to also read the books that I publish.
For most readers, the act of delving into someone else’s life for many hours helps to create a deep sense of empathy. This is why it’s important to read outside of your own image. It’s necessary to foster a sense of understanding of others.
Yes! @StorysmithBooks have lots of stock of THE novel on race, family, belonging you ALL need to read! #TheVanishingHalf by @britrbennett out on 11 June published by @dialoguebooks pic.twitter.com/12FsG1wOo5— Sharmaine Lovegrove #BlackLivesMatter 🖤✊🏾 (@SharLovegrove) June 5, 2020
For Black people there is an added advantage, that we can learn about our history and culture through books by Black authors. We are not taught about Black history (which is part of everyone’s history) in British schools, and so novels are a vital part of helping us to reflect upon what came before - they offer an important window into what our ancestors endured during years of brutality and slavery at the hands of white people; but they also remind us that they overcame and survived in order for us to be here now.
For us, reading novels is doing the work and the great thing is for the price of a book you can do it too.
And to further that end, here are my recommendations for key books by Black authors that may not yet be on your reading lists, but should be...
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
From the bestselling novelist of The Mothers, The Vanishing Half is an important book to understand the role of ‘passing’ in the US, and why someone would choose to live a lie if it means ‘freedom’ to live as white. Powerful and stunning writing by one of this generation’s most important authors.
Remembered by Yvonne Battle Felton
Often compared to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, this celebrated debut gives the essence of the trans-generational trauma experienced by Black people. It reveals how our fight for freedom and equality didn’t end with the abolition of the slave trade – instead there began a new era of freedom fighting that continues to this day.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
This wildly original debut is not for the faint hearted. We follow Jesse, a Black, gay, religious youth as he makes his way to London and becomes a sex worker struggling with identity, freedom and love. Hailed as a voice of a generation - and one that James Baldwin would be proud of - Mendez is vital, fervent and candid while writing beautifully.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
Cold War thrillers are usually written by old, white men but this brilliant new writer takes a fresh perspective on this period. We meet FBI agent Marie Mitchell, and through her journey understand how systemic racism holds a talented Black woman back in her career, and how she is forced to choose between her family, her lover and her country. Picked as one of Obama’s reads for 2019, this is an insightful and urgent read.
The Residue Years by Mitchell S Jackson
Jesmyn Ward calls this novel “wrenchingly beautiful debut” as it charts a mother and son relationship in 1990s America. We encounter their lives as the family struggle to survive under the shadow of poverty, drugs and mayhem. The writing is lyrical and experimental, beguiling and bold.
Queenie by Candice Carty Williams
Queenie is a thoroughly modern millennial navigating her life through toxic relationships, failure at work and finding a suitable home amidst the crushing gentrification of south London, all while trying to live up to her Jamaican family’s expectations and most importantly trying to stay sane. Insightful, hilarious and poignant, this debut marks Candice Carty Williams as a voice of our time.
Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo
This bold novel urges us to think outside of experiences and imagine a totally different world. A world where the slave owners are Black and the slaves are white. A poignant and dramatic story grounded in provocative ideas, Blonde Roots is a genuinely original, profoundly imaginative novel written by the first Black, female Booker Prize winner.
Segu by Maryse Condé
It’s 1797 and we are in the troubled and bloody African kingdom of Segu. Change is coming from all directions bringing new religions, the slave trade, and western ideas threatening to tear the kingdom apart. Epic, and filled with incredible scenes and vivid prose this little-known classic highlights the brilliance of Maryse Condé who won the alternative Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018.
The Bone Readers by Jacob Ross
This stunning crime novel asks how far one should go to protect those they love? Marrying together the very best of crime fiction with the lyricism of Caribbean writing, this novel by an award-winning writer, has richly observed characters and a powerful sense of place.
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