Black History Month is an annual celebration of the achievements of Black voices and culture – and an opportunity to reflect upon and amplify these diverse legacies.
Our Inclusion and Representation network offer some of their recommended reads to entertain and educate across both fiction and non-fiction – and explain how these stories left their mark.
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Landing a spot on the BBC’s list of Top 100 Novels that Shaped Our World, Yaa Gyasi’s searing debut is a continent-spanning epic. Beginning with Effia and Esi, two Ghanaian sisters – one sold into slavery and one a slave trader’s wife – Homegoing follows their descendants over several generations, constructing a stunning cast of characters, and demonstrating how the impacts of slavery remain entrenched today.
“Equal parts heart wrenching and incredibly hopeful, there were times I thought I couldn’t go on and others I couldn’t let go. Each story leads to the next, each character is intricately connected with the others, ancestors reaching out to touch the life of their progeny. Unreservedly recommended!” – Marina Stavropoulou
Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde
Fifteen essential essays and speeches from legendary writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde. Collecting material delivered between 1976 and 1984, this classic volume is every bit as powerful and resonant now as it was then – and covers topics ranging from imperialism and police brutality to self-love and sexuality.
“Her words are powerful and her insight thought-provoking, as she unapologetically places the discussion of lesbian Black women at the forefront… One of the many lessons to be learnt from this collection is that our differences can be our strength, if we are willing to learn and work collectively.” – Eloise Angeline
Between Starshine and Clay – Sarah Ladipo Manyika
The first book published by Footnote Press, this is an essential collection of conversations with some of the most extraordinary Black minds of our age, discussing race, decolonisation, systemic inequalities, and the climate crisis. Featuring the likes of Nobel Laureates Toni Morrison and Wole Soyinka, and civic leaders first lady Michelle Obama and Senator Cory Booker; Sarah Ladipo Manyika introduces some of the most distinguished Black thinkers of our times.
“Intimate and immediate: every chapter is a chance to eavesdrop on conversations that dovetail between the personal and the profound, and an opportunity to tune in for a fleeting moment to the wavelength of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. So good even Black Eyed Peas legend Will.i.am proclaimed the book ‘a must read’.” – Alex Riddle
Black and British: An Illustrated History – David Olusoga (illustrated by Jake Alexander and Melleny Taylor)
“David Olusoga is a born hi-storyteller and truthsayer. He has a way of making the past, present and alive to all of us. Olusoga’s Black and British: a Forgotten History (2016) is central to our understanding of ‘Britishness’ and the legacy of empire and colonialism. This eagerly awaited 2021 illustrated edition for children is full of beautiful illustrations by Jake Alexander and Melleny Taylor, bringing long-buried histories to light for a new generation of readers in a clear and accessible way. British history should no longer be told in obscurity. We need more books like this – more histories, more truth, more knowledge – to better understand our present.” – Sophie Hallam
The Girl With The Louding Voice – Abi Daré
“Adunni is searching for her ‘louding voice’ so she can speak up for herself, trying to leave her life as servant, wife, object at the age of fourteen and make her way back to a life of education. It’s stunningly written, the main character is funny and curious and heartfelt, I adored it.” – Eleanor Stammeijer
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s startling debut was a literary phenomenal from the word go: White Teeth is a multi-generational family saga that traces the lives of three families in modern London – delivered with wisdom, lithe dialogue and great humour.
“The story of three cultures, three families, over three generations in what is considered an excellent portrait of London and its class-divided neighbourhoods. I personally love books that give you images, tastes & smells of a place so much so that you feel you’re right there. And I might already live in London but seeing it through different eyes than mine is always revealing.” – Marina Stavropoulou
Small Island – Andrea Levy
Levy’s bestselling fictional account of the Windrush generation has become a bonafide modern classic. Bouncing between narrative voices and timeframes, the novel follows two ordinary couples in the wake of the Second World War – as Jamaican husband and wife Gilbert and Hortense take a room in Queenie Bligh’s London home following Gilbert’s exploits for the RAF. Small Island explores weighty themes of empire and prejudice with real humanity.
“A story of love, survival and strength. It explores ideas of race and acceptance but highlights the beginnings of the societal changes in Britain today. It was a great read!” – Blanche Carballo
Soar – Simon Woolley
The memoir of the man who ‘revolutionised British politics.’ Soar tells the story of Simon Woolley’s journey from Leicester’s St Matthew’s Estate to the House of Lords – and a lifelong commitment to political activism and enfranchisement that led to the founding of Operation Black Vote. A deeply personal tale of courage and commitment.
“Lord Woolley’s tireless dedication to activism and political and social change will leave you inspired and fired up after reading. Soar is a story of Black and working-class pride and achievement peppered with moments of joy and real humour throughout.” – Alex Riddle
Small Worlds – Caleb Azumah Nelson
“An incredibly lyrical, stunning book that feels like it could be spoken word poetry. Highly recommend to listen to the audiobook for that full experience to connect to the musicality of the writing. It’s touching and heartfelt, about family and friends and lovers, and ultimately finding yourself.” – Eleanor Stammeijer
Beloved – Toni Morrison
A Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the great novels of modern times. Morrison’s enduring masterpiece follows Sethe, grappling with the horrors she experienced as a slave at Sweet Home. Years later – now in the aftermath of the civil war – Sethe confronts this terrible past and the ghosts that continue to haunt her. Once read, never forgotten.
“The book itself has grabbed such a tight hold on my conscience that I sometimes feel disoriented when I pull myself out of it and see a totally different world in front of me. Beautiful prose and brutal feelings.” – Marina Stavropoulou
The Lonely Londoners – Sam Selvon
Irreverent, profound and often brilliantly funny; The Lonely Londoners shines a light on the Windrush generation and the lives of West Indians in 1950s London. The cult classic – one of the very first books to showcase working class Black lives in Britain – takes us into the heart of this community. Selvon himself left Trinidad for the UK in 1950 and wove many of his own experiences and those of his contemporaries into the novel.
“Despite the harsh realities we witness the immediate sense of community experienced amongst many Caribbeans, which I think was helped by using dialect in the novel, creating an engaging and familiar experience with the characters, their lives, and their humour.” – Eloise Angeline