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Eight Must-Read Books by Black British Women

Eight Must-Read Books by Black British Women

Below is a list of eight fantastic books, along with a brief synopsis of what each one is about, written by black female authors. Each of the books mentioned are available to purchase on Hive and have been linked accordingly. Hive is a website specialising in the sale of books, that gives a percentage of each purchase to independent bookshops around Britain. You can even choose which participating bookshop you want your money to go to. 

1. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

The book follows twenty-five-year old Queenie Jenkins. Queenie is a Jamaican British woman, embracing both cultures but fitting neatly into neither. She lives in London where she works at a national newspaper and is continuously faced with having to compare herself to her white middle class peers. 

A messy breakup leads to a succession of questionable decisions in hope of a quick fix. Queenie’s left wondering who she is, what she wants, and who she wants to be - a difficult task in a world that is constantly trying to define her. 

2. Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World by Bolu Babalola

Reimaginings of mythical tales from around the world, this book is a celebration of romance in all of its complex and wonderful forms. These beautiful and vibrant stories span across different places and time periods and follow characters as they attempt to figure out the most all-encompassing emotion of them all: love. 

3. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth is perhaps Smith’s best known book and follows the lives of two friends who met during WW2, Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and Englishman Archie Jones. We see both men navigate the struggles and challenges that marriage and children can bring. Archie’s second marriage to Clara, his beautiful and much younger Jamaican wife, saw the birth of their daughter Irie. Irie was named after the Jamaican word for ‘no worries’ but doesn’t quite have the personality to match.

Devout Muslim Samad had a pre-arranged marriage to the feisty Alsana. Together they have twin boys, Magid and Millat, who bring with them their own troubles. One is an intolerable science nerd and the other a punk-cum-militant Muslim with a heavy reliance on cannabis. 

Despite their different experiences of the world around them, the pair’s friendship remains a reassuring constant for them both. 

4. Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson

This book follows the lives of two women, Pieta and Jody, both of whom are forced to confront the secrets they’ve carried for the past ten years when a notorious serial killer and kidnapper named The Blindfolder returns and starts hunting down his past victims… 

Pieta was a kidnap victim of the killer, her life was spared after she met his condition of keeping her eyes shut for forty-eight hours. Jody was the policewoman who made such a huge mistake that the killer was able to escape justice...

5. Ordinary People by Diana Evans

This book is set in London in 2008 and the story begins on the night Barack Obama became president. It follows two couples, Michael and Melissa, and Damian and Stephanie, who due to big life events have found their relationships in a fluctuating state. Michael loves Melissa but not enough to remain faithful to her, whilst Melissa is grappling with a loss of identity following the birth of their baby. All Stephanie is after is a happy family life but Damian’s grief following the death of his father, despite his best efforts to not let it affect him, is getting in the way.

6. Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi

For Chelsea and Ore, taking up space was an act of resistance, with both of them experiencing first-hand what it felt like to be a minority in a predominantly white institution - the two of them are recent Cambridge graduates. They wrote this brilliant book as a guide for black girls, a tool to leave them feeling empowered and validated. They also wrote this book for everyone else. The hope being that it will help readers become better teachers, friends and family members to black girls who relate to Chelsea’s and Ore’s experience. 

7. “I Will Not Be Erased”: Our stories about growing up as people of colour by gal-dem

Mental health, activism, gender and race are just some of the important subjects tackled in this heart-warming and thought-provoking collection of essays. Using raw materials from their younger years (diaries, online chats, etc), gal-dem’s writers offer advice to their teen selves and how best to navigate the world around them as they grow. This book isn’t just the work of brilliant black women but of gal-dem’s wider team, who together share the invaluable perspectives of women and non-binary people of colour - an essential read. 

8. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch 

“Hirsch is British. Her parents are British. She was raised, educated and socialised in Britain. Her partner, daughter, sister and the vast majority of her friends are British. So why is her identity and sense of belonging a subject of debate? The reason is simply because of the colour of her skin.” 

An investigation into race, identity and belonging in modern day Britain. Using a blend of historical facts and narratives, along with her own personal experience growing up as biracial woman, journalist and author Afua offers an excellent insight into why Britain has such trouble recognising the downfalls of its past and present when it comes to the topic of race. 

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Eight is just a tiny number of the many brilliant books written by talented black women - we’ve only scratched the surface! We welcome all further recommendations that you might have. 

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