Black voices need to be celebrated all-year long, not just for the duration of Black History Month, and one fundamental way we can support underrepresented writers is by buying and reading their work. Books have a wonderful way of allowing us to read outside of our own image and explore a lived experience unlike our own. We can always do more to seek out these illuminating stories, amplify marginalised groups and diversify our bookshelves with novels, memoirs and personal essays by and about black people and people of colour.
From the authors who propped open the door for an entire generation of black writers to the exhilarating new voices you need on your radar, discover the literary brilliance of these wordsmiths and start expanding your reading horizons.
Caleb Azumah Nelson
Named by The Observer as one of the 10 Best Debut Novelists of 2021, Caleb Azumah Nelson is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary fiction. His achingly beautiful debut novel Open Water has catapulted him into the literary limelight and with good reason – his remarkable lyrical and multi-genre approach to storytelling is quite frankly chef’s kiss.
Abi Daré grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and has lived in the UK for 18 years. Her best-selling debut novel The Girl with the Louding Voice was born from a creative dissertation that she just couldn’t stop writing after the first 3,000 words. It tells the story of a 14-year-old girl called Adunni born into a rural Nigerian village, who longs for an education but is trapped as a wife and domestic servant. This is her inspiring journey to find her voice, overcome oppression and realise her wildest dreams.
In 2015, Marlon James became the first Jamaican writer to win the Man Booker Prize for fiction for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. Now author of four novels, including Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first volume of his fantasy trilogy, he’s cemented himself as one of the greatest storytellers of his generation. Whatever he pens, simply needs to be read.
Tolani Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez
Best known as the trio behind the chart-topping The Receipts Podcast, Tolani Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez have now turned their talents to writing. Honestly, show us something these women can’t do. Their debut book Keep the Receipts is full of the same trademark candidness, real talk and infectious energy as their podcast. Like the women you bump into on a night out in the girl’s bathroom, this book is unfiltered sisterhood at its best.
Author Yaa Gyasi was born in Mampong, Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. Her first novel, Homegoing, was a Sunday Times bestseller, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best First Novel and was shortlisted for the PEN/ Robert W. Bingham prize for Debut Fiction. In 2019, the BBC selected her debut as one of the 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.
Her follow up novel, Transcendent Kingdom, is our August Book Club pick and has been shortlisted for Women’s Prize For Fiction 2021.
Bennett is both an author and social commentator and has published several non-fiction essays on the Black experience. Bennett’s first novel, The Mothers, was published in 2016 to critical acclaim for its astute handling of poignant themes of race, grief and abortion, and went on to become a New York Times bestseller.
Her second novel, The Vanishing Half, has received just as much buzz and has been shortlisted for The Women’s Prize announced in September, once again cementing Bennett as one of the most exciting new voices in literary fiction.
Forever committed to amplifying the voices of black people, particularly women, Toni Morrison was a towering literary presence in her time and ours. In 1993, she became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, paving the way for many black writers to share their experiences and tell their stories authentically. If you’re new to her writing, dive straight into her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel Beloved and consider yourself hooked on everything she ever penned in her 88 legendary years.
English novelist, essayist and short-story writer, Zadie Smith, is one of the most essential and ambitious literary voices of our time. Her first novel White Teeth became an instant best-seller and modern classic, a particularly extraordinary feat considering she was just 24 at the time of its publication.
After her critically acclaimed debut, she continued to prove herself as a literary powerhouse, gracing numerous Best Novelist lists and winning multiple literary awards including the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize For Fiction. Her latest work, Intimations, is a collection of essays on the lockdown experience and another must-read from her collection.
Born in Lancashire, Yrsa Daley-Ward is a model-turned-poet, performer and storyteller of Jamaican and Nigerian heritage. She began posting her poems on Instagram and self-published her first collection of poetry Bone in 2014 which was later snapped up and republished by Penguin Books in 2017.
She’s best known for her lyrical approach to the messiness of real-life and her work comments on important topics such as race, identity, mental health, femininity and self-empowerment. She was also enlisted to write some of the spoken word elements on Beyonce’s Black is King album, so if that’s not a reason to back her verse in a major way, we don’t know what is.
Colson Whitehead is the master of essential reading and one of the most celebrated novelists in America. The Underground Railroad, a story of a 15-year-old slave who escapes from a plantation in Georgia, made him a household name and with it, he became only the second writer of colour and the sixth writer ever to win both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for the same novel. His follow-up novel The Nickel Boys (2019), is based on the real story of a hellish reform school that operated for 111 years in Jim Crow-era Florida, and further cements Whitehead as one of his generation’s most accomplished American writers.
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