We’re about a week into Black History Month 2020 in the UK and to celebrate, I asked some avid readers of literature by black authors to recommend their must-read books for Black History Month!
From Half of a Yellow sun to Love in Colour, the books in this list show how varied the creative expressions of black people can be. Keeping it to only 8 books for adults was tough and it’s almost impossible to read all 12 this month. But don’t worry! Although October may be over in a blink of an eye, these books are vital works to enjoy no matter the month!
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8 Black History Month books for Adults
1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Contributed by Annabel from The Woman in Transit
What is a list about ‘Must Read’ Black authors without mentioning the incomparable Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie? Adichie’s novel Americanah means a lot to me because it single handedly revolutionised the way I engage with literature. It was the first book I ever read where I saw myself, my family and my community depicted so realistically. It made me empathise and appreciate the journey my parents, and many like them, made to make a home in the West.
Americanah is about several things. Adichie is skilled in her ability to write about various topics simultaneously without it becoming overwhelming and overly ambitious. At its core, this is a love story about two young Nigerians who are separated by their quest to create a better life outside of the country. Their experience living abroad, particularly for our female protagonist Ifemelu, is an eye-opener about race, politics and identity. I could go on and on about how much I love this book but I won’t. All I’ll say is head to your nearest bookseller and purchase! You won’t regret it.
2. The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
When Clemantine was six years old, her world was turned upside down by the Rwandan genocide. Her, along with her sister Claire, were forced to flee their home and seek refuge from harm’s way. They spent six years seeking refuge and travelling through eight different countries. Eventually, Clementine and Claire were granted refugee status in America and then began a whole new journey for them.
For me this book taught me about just how far colonialism sunk its fangs into Africa and also made me reconsider the ‘victim’ label. It’s an honest and very profound story of a girl’s struggle to survive and how she creates a new life for herself.
3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Contributed by Adaeze from That Tall Lady
Half of a Yellow Sun is one of my must read books for Black History Month. It gives a gripping account of the Nigerian civil war – the Biafra war (1967 – 1970). Before reading Half of a Yellow Sun, my understanding of the war was limited to a few first-hand stories from my father. For me, the book was eye opening. As a Nigerian, from the region that used to be known as Biafra, it was an insightful read wrapped in a story of love, resilience and hope. It is a beautifully written story that was the start of my quest to understand more about the war; stories that sometimes remain untold. Chimamanda Adichie tells our story in a way that humbles, informs, and ensures that these stories are not lost in history. I’d recommend Half of a Yellow Sun to everyone!
4. Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola
Contributed by Ibey Agbaje (@ibey_a on Instagram)
This book is basically a constellation/collection of Love short stories from old and modern mythology that have been remastered by the author.
Loved this book because I love love, mostly from afar though. I love romantic movies and these collections of stories are the same, in that you know how it ends; but you just love to see/ be part the journey. I found characters in there that resonated with me and I’m sure you will too.
For me the only negative is that some stories lack the same punch as others but I would recommend if you are a sucker for love.
5. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
I am one of those (un)/fortunate people who collect books that sit unread yet, cannot walk past a bookshop without having a mental fit that ends up with a few more tomes finding their way to my house. This meant that Stay With Me, the book I’m recommending with all my heart, sat on my bookshelf for nearly two months, gathering dust and imbuing the everlasting smell of Deep Heat that permeates the room of an injured runner. But when the shelf came crashing one morning under the weight of hundreds of books, it spilled Ayobami Adebayo’s masterpiece in my direction. As if the universe was compelling me to dive into its pages. The universe is never incorrect.
Stay with Me was not an easy read. I picked it up at 9am on a Thursday planning to read only a chapter before my friend’s wedding. I didn’t stop reading until I had finished it, missing the church service completely, and barely making the reception. However, I had to close the book at several moments to pause and deal with the cacophony of thoughts it generated in my mind. I thought of the pains and travails of infertility (especially in an African home), of infidelity, of tired abandonment, of a deep – the deepest kind of deception.
I thought of the chastening feeling of guilt, the thin blurred line that separates love and hate; two brothers bound by blood, even in the darkest of conflicts – another theme that ran through this book. I thought of forgiveness, of the winding and seemingly impossible road to redemption. Never has the title of a book been so appropriate: the theme ‘Stay with Me’ was evident all through a marvellous and consummate work. It is piece of fiction that would leave indelible emotions in the reader, and a story that has stayed with me ever since.
6. The SellOut by Paul Beatty
Contributed by Kelechi Osunwa (@thamagnificentse7en)
There is a problem when you’re studying economics for the first time in your thirties. Not economics in itself, that’s incredibly interesting and you wonder why you hadn’t done it earlier. What’s annoying is you find yourself re-reading almost every paragraph trying to make sense of it all thinking “yo what the hell did I just read, I gotta double back over that.”
Well that’s what Paul’s Beatty’s The Sell Out is like but in the most hilarious and unapologetic way. The Sell Out is a sophisticated insight into post racial America through the lens of a man who is black, kinda sorta has a slave and wants to re-segregate his town of Dickens.
Yep – you read that sentence correctly.
The book won the Man Booker prize in 2016 (a year that none of us will forget I’m sure) has a beautiful rhythm and flow and really strips bare how far Post Racial America has or hasn’t come while being utterly playfully ridiculous.
2020 has been a rough year for us all and reading The Sell Out will no doubt bring you levity and joy while helping you see the beautiful and funny side of this beautiful struggle that is being black so that you may end up being able to answer the all important question. Who am I? and how may I best become myself.
Please note – if you are easily offended and don’t like intro and extrospection about how we talk about race – this probably isn’t for you.
7. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Contributed by O’Larry
Girl, Woman, Other is the interconnected story of 12 characters, most of them black British women, moving through the world in different decades as they tell stories of their families, friends, lovers and learning how to be. Each character has a chapter, telling their own unique stories. Within the chapters their lives share a commonality, but their experiences, backgrounds and choices are quite different.
Girl, Woman, Other is the story of the black British experience. It is about struggle, but also about love, joy, and imagination. It presents us with a broad and diverse spectrum of black women’s voices, from differing backgrounds, ages, roots, class, occupations, and sexuality.
Bernadine Evaristo portrays the complexity of life while still able to communicate compelling and emotionally affective stories.
8. What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
This collection of stories explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another.
The women in this collection of stories find themselves in extraordinary situations: a woman whose mother’s ghost appears to have stepped out of a family snapshot, another who, exhausted by childlessness, resorts to fashioning a charmed infant out of human hair, a ‘grief worker’ with a miraculous ability to remove emotional pain – at a price. And what unites them is the toughness of the world they inhabit, a world where the future is uncertain, opportunities are scant, and fortunes change quicker than the flick of a switch. Evocative, playful, and incredibly human, this is a black history month must read.
READ MORE | TRAVELLING SOLO AS A BLACK WOMAN
4 Black History Month books for Young Adults and Children
9. Young, Gifted and Black: Meet 52 Black Heroes from Past and Present by Jamia Wilson
This beautifully graphic book celebrates a range of 52 of black trailblazers, historical and present day, to inspire children to discover their potential. Written as “a love letter to our ancestors, and to the next generation of black changemakers,” ; this book illustrates the achievements of black people in the face of adversity and hardship. While the book celebrates well known icons like Michelle & Barack Obama, it also celebrates lesser known icons like Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel to space!
As the introduction says, “all children deserve to see themselves represented positively in stories” and this book does that. Get this for your children, cousins, nieces/nephews or any kid you want to inspire!
10. Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment by Jessica & Parker Curry
When Parker visited the National Portrait Gallery and saw Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama, her jaw dropped in awe. Someone in the museum took a picture and it became a viral moment all over the internet. This visit inspired Parker and her mother to tell the story of a young girl, whose trip to a museum with her family becomes an extraordinary moment.
It’s a great read for both boys and girls because of the possibility and hope given to Parker by seeing herself in Michelle Obama. It captured her imagination and filled her with inspiration. And as Jessica Curry said, “anything is possible regardless of race, class, or gender.”
11. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
“The author draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.”
After leaving Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration. Leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all by herself.”
“Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realises that freedom isn’t free. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?”
12. Little Leaders: Exceptional Men In Black History by Vashti Harrison
This book shares all about exceptional black men who broke barriers and fought injustice to realise their dreams and make the world a better place. It allows kids to uncover stories of black men from all fields, including: Thurgood Mashall, Louis Armstrong, Activist Paul Stephenson, Architect Sir David Adjaye, Comic book author Dwayne McDuffie and so much more! The little people in your life will surely be inspired after reading about these exceptional men!
Like I said earlier, it’s impossible to read all these books this Black History Month but you don’t have to! You can pick one to read every month of the year! Black literature has range, it can be funny, inspiring, dark, insightful, dramatic, everything you think literature should be. Do yourself a favour and start reading more literature by black authors! What books would you recommend to read this black history month? Please leave a comment with your recommendation
Also a BIG thank you to my contributors to this post! My gratitude to you is immense!
Until Next Time xx