This booklist was compiled for Black History Month, and is updated yearly. It covers African, British, Caribbean and American writing, both old and new. Most of the books are fiction, but there are also sections on biography & autobiography, poetry and the subject of slavery.
The earlier generations of Caribbean born writers, and Black American authors with a heritage of slavery and the struggle for emancipation, have been supplemented by a new wave of Black British and African-American authors whose writing reflects the social issues and lifestyles of contemporary multicultural Britain and the United States. This booklist aims to cover a representative selection of the variety available in Westminster libraries. Also included is some of the contemporary writing from African authors, either based in their homelands or living in the West.
2007 was a significant year in Black History as it marked the 200th anniversary of the 1807 Parliamentary Act to abolish the British slave trade. Slavery itself was not abolished in the British colonies until 1834, with full emancipation following in 1838. There is a selection of stories about slavery and the slave trade in this reading list (see link on the left).
Amongst the British authors who have made a big impact in recent years is Mike Gayle. His stories of relationships have been bestsellers and include My legendary girlfriend, Mr. Commitment, Turning thirty, and His 'n' hers. His latest, published in 2008 is The life and soul of the party.
Another author, whose stories of relationships are equally accessible, is Dorothy Koomson. She gained her big breakthrough when My best friend's girl was featured as one of the titles on the Richard & Judy Book Club's 'Summer Read' in 2006. Her latest title is Goodnight, beautiful.
One of the most talked-about novels in recent years has been White teeth, the debut title by Zadie Smith, published in 2000. This was widely tipped by the newspapers to make the Booker Prize shortlist, although in the end this did not happen. She did win the Whitbread First Novel award and the Commonwealth Best First Book award.The paperback version was published in January 2001. Her second book, The Autograph Man, was published in 2002. In 2005, her third book On Beauty was included on the longlist for the Booker Prize even before its publication date in September, and then retained on the short list although it missed out on the top prize.
British author Andrea Levy won the prestigious Orange Prize in 2004 with her novel Small Island which deals with the experiences of the early post-war immigrants to Britain from Jamaica. In 2005 Diana Evans was awarded the newly-created Orange Award for New Writers for her first novel 26A, set in London.
During the 1990s, newly established publishers The X Press and Payback Press were at the forefront in publishing books by new writers featuring the life and lifestyle of contemporary Black British people. Look for the Baby Father series by Patrick Augustus for instance, or Some kind of black by Diran Adebayo. Another up-coming British publisher is Pen Press. - e.g.. Bitter fruit by Roza Chukwumah. Other British authors writing about contemporary life include Dreda Say Mitchell, Courttia Newland, and Alex Wheatle.
Internationally, Black writing has achieved increasing prominence, through the critical and commercial success of writers such as Toni Morrison (the American author of Beloved and Jazz etc), who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. Other notable Black American authors include Alice Walker (The color purple etc), and Maya Angelou whose autobiographical works include I know why the caged bird sings etc. Nigerian author Ben Okri came to world notice when he won the Booker Prize in 1991 with The famished road. His latest title, published in 2007, is Starbook. In 2004, another Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had her first novel Purple Hibiscus both shortlisted for the Orange Prize and longlisted for the Booker Prize. Her second novel, published in 2006 is entitled Half of a yellow sun and deals with a time of civil war in Nigeria.
Other writer's books have reached a wider audience through film and television adaptations. Such an example has been Waiting to exhale by American author Terry McMillan. Her latest is The interruption of everything published in June 2006.
Some other contemporary American authors to look out for include the works of Eric Jerome Dickey, Omar Tyree and Nelson George. The New York Times said of his book One woman short - "It reads like a hip-hop answer to Nick Hornby's High Fidelity"
Some modern classics like James Baldwin Go tell it on the mountain or Chinua Achebe Things fall apart have remained in print more or less continuously since first publication more than thirty years ago. Elsewhere X Press have re-issued books by classic authors of the 19th and early 20th century.
For those who enjoy American crime novels, the leading exponent must be Walter Mosley, with his stories set in Los Angeles featuring his main characters 'Easy Rawlins' or 'Fearless Jones'. Look also for books by Chester Himes. The main British crime writer has been Victor Headley.
If you like contemporary black romance stories, look for the 'Arabesque' series published by BET, and books by Kimani Press, the American Black Writing equivalent of the Mills & Boon titles. You will find them either on the Romances shelves or on the Black Writing shelves at selected libraries (see How to find the books). Dafina Books publish a selection of other American contemporary relationship stories.
Quick Reads are a series of short fast-paced stories by British authors especially designed for reluctant readers and those who have difficulty with reading. A number of prominent authors have written books for this series. Black authors represented include Patrick Augustus, Courttia Newland and Mike Phillips. Quick Reads books can be found on the 'SKILLS' shelves at all libraries.
Some autobiographical works by established writers and others have been featured in this booklist.
Poetry is also represented here by some anthologies and a few individual poets, ranging from St Lucia's Derek Walcott to British contemporary rap or reggae poets Benjamin Zephaniah and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
A limited (but now widening) number of these titles are available in Spoken Word (cassettes or CD), and these have been identified in the list.
List compiled by Malcolm Batten, September 2008
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