Updated: Aug 30
Check out our list of books to read and enjoy during this year's Black History Month UK that includes fiction and non-fiction titles.
Britons Through Negro Spectacles by Augustus B.C. Merriman-Labour
Our book of the month and the perfect companion to this year’s Black History Month UK theme of ‘Before Windrush,’
Part of the Black Britain, Writing Back Complete Collection curated by Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo. Merriman-Labour book was originally published in 1909. It’s a riotous, witty travelogue documenting the authors’ experience in Britain in the early 1900s, from an African perspective.
In his book, Augustus narrates a day spent accompanying a newly arrived African friend around London. Part travelogue, part reverse ethnology, and part spoof of books by ill-informed ‘Africa experts.’ He slyly subverts the colonial gaze usually place on Africa, and introduces readers to the citizens, culture and customs of Britain with a mischievous glint in his eye.
His jokes at the expense of the British attracted condemnation, and the book’s commercial failure push Augustus into bankruptcy.
This incredible work of social commentary feels a century ahead of it time, and provides unique insights into the intersection between empire, race and community at this important moment in history.
That Reminds Me by David Owusu
The debut novel of David Owusu and the first novel to be published by Stormzy’s publishing imprint, Merky Books, tells the story of K, a boy born to Ghanian parents in London.
Baby K is place in foster care and grows up relatively happily, he thinks in the countryside. When K is eleven, he returns to his birth family, and to a very different context of working-class British Ghanaian life in 1990s Tottenham. Slowly he finds friends. Eventually, he finds love. He learns how to navigate the city. But as he grows, he begins to realise that he needs more than the city can provide. He is a man made of pieces. Pieces that are slowly breaking apart.
That Reminds Me is the story of one young man, from birth to adulthood, told in fragments of memory. It explores questions of identity, belonging, addiction, sexuality, violence, family and religion. It is a deeply moving and completely original work of literature from one of the brightest British writers of today.
Keisha the Sket
by Jade LB
In 2005, a 13-year-old with no internet wrote a series of stories about life in London’s ends that ended up going viral – then, she disappeared. Now in print for the first time, Keisha the Sket tells the story of sharp, feisty and ambitious girl who been labelled ‘top sket’ but she’s making it work. When childhood crush and long-time admirer, Ricardo, finally wins her over, Keisha has it all: power, a love life and the chance for stability. But trauma comes knocking and with it a whirlwind of choices that will define what kind of a woman she truly wants to be.
Complete with essays from esteemed contemporary writers Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Femi and others, this is the complete and defining edition with edits and additional content from the author, perfect for readers - existing and new - to read and fall in love with over and over again.
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa Daley-Ward’s book, The Terrible (subtitled as a ‘storyteller’s memoir’) does not run across the pages like a traditional work of creative nonfiction. She has devised a form that combines first and third person, poetry and prose, upside-down printing, and streams-of-consciousness about sexuality and physicality that sometimes make for difficult reading.
Essentially, this is the story of Yrsa, the child of a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father who grows up in a northern English market town with her beloved brother, Little Roo. Early on, she realises that her body is dangerous, and she and Roo are shipped off to live with their Seventh Day Adventist grandparents – something to do with a blue nightdress, and Marcia’s latest boyfriend. The power of sex, and the fear of it, are palpable.
The Terrible is a coming-of-age story that follows Yrsa from childhood to the loss of her mother, her love of her brother, her coming out, and her recognition of the ways trauma has caused her to zoom in and out of presence. For those who’ve experienced PTSD, the splits of narrative into poetry make intuitive sense. They enact the experience of being fragmented by something larger than yourself. Of occupying the world as an Other.
That Moment When: Life Stories from Way Back Then by Mo Gilligan
You might know Mo as the critically acclaimed stand-up comedian, BAFTA-winning presenter, Masked Singer judge and social media mega star. But do you know the moments that really made him? Opening up on the turning points, the good times, the challenges and the lessons learned, this is Mo as you've never seen him before.
Journeying through childhood memories in South London, Mo reminisces about school days and old-school raving, and takes us behind the scenes of his first comedy gigs, the creation of the original Geezer, selling out national tours and becoming one of TV's most in-demand stars. Share the moment that Mo decided he wanted to be a comedian, the moment he went viral, the moment he realised he was famous (and how to deal with it), the moment his Netflix special dropped, the moment he won his BAFTA and the moments he still has to come.
In among the laugh-out-loud observations, life lessons and candid storytelling, there lies the bigger influences in Mo's life - the unsung heroes of the Black British comedy scene, the power of community and the feel-good legacy he wants to create.
by Zadie Smith
Renowned writer Zadie Smith latest work is her first historical novel and is loosely based around the famous Tichborne Trial of the early 19th century. It’s an interweaving tale of Scottish housekeeper Mrs Eliza Touchet, a once famous novelist William Ainsworth, and star witness Andrew Bogle.
Mrs Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.
Andrew Bogle meanwhile grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor. And that people are more easily manipulated than they realise. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story.
The 'Tichborne Trial' captivates Mrs Touchet and all of England. Is Sir Roger Tichborne really who he says he is? Or is he a fraud? Mrs Touchet is a woman of the world. Mr Bogle is no fool. But in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what is real proves a complicated task.
Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London by Jimi Famurewa
Daniel Kaluuya and Skepta; John Boyega and Little Simz; Edward Enninful and Bukayo Saka - everywhere you look, across the fields of sport, business, fashion, the arts and beyond, there are the descendants of Black African families that were governed by many of the same immutable, shared traditions. In his book Jimi Famurewa, a British-Nigerian journalist, journeys into the hidden yet vibrant world of African London. Seeking to understand the ties that bind Black African Londoners together and link them with their home countries, he visits their places of worship, roams around markets and restaurants, attends a traditional Nigerian engagement ceremony, shadows them on their morning journeys to far-flung grammar schools and listens to stories from shopkeepers and activists, artists and politicians. But this isn't just the story of energetic, ambitious Londoners. Jimi also uncovers a darker side, of racial discrimination between White and Black communities and, between Black Africans and Afro-Caribbeans. He investigates the troublesome practice of 'farming' in which young Black Nigerians were sent to live with White British foster parents, examines historic interaction with the police, and reveals the friction between traditional Black African customs and the stresses of modern life in diaspora. This is a vivid new portrait of London, and of modern Britain.
Just Sayin’ by Malorie Blackman
Malorie Blackman OBE is one of Britain's best loved and most widely-read writers. For over thirty years, her books have helped to shape British culture, and inspired generations of younger readers and writers. The Noughts and Crosses series, started in 2000, sparked a new and necessary conversation about race and identity in the UK, and are already undisputed classics of twenty-first-century children's literature. She is also a writer whose own life has been shaped by books, from her childhood in south London, the daughter of parents who moved to Britain from Barbados as part of the Windrush Generation, and who experienced a childhood that was both wonderful and marred by the everyday racism and bigotry of the era. She was told she could not apply to study her first love, literature, at university, in spite of her academic potential, but found a way to books and to a life in writing against a number of obstacles. This book is an account of that journey, from a childhood surrounded by words, to the 83 rejection letters she received in response to sending out her first project, to the children's laureateship. It explores the books who have made her who she is, and the background to some the most beloved and powerful children's stories of today. It is an illuminating, inspiring and empowering account of the power of words to change lives, and the extraordinary life story of one of the world's greatest writers.
Wahala: Three friends, three ‘perfect’ lives. Here Comes Trouble by Nikki May
Ronke, Simi and Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London. They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English, though they don't all choose to see it that way.
Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their 30s, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her 'urban vibe' yet again.
When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past, arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them.
Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.
This is Not America: Why Black Lives in Britain Matter by Tomiwa Owolade
Across the West, racial injustice has become a matter of urgency. Terms like 'critical race theory' and 'intersectionality' are everywhere and, in the rush to get it right, Britain has followed the lead of the world's dominant political power: America. But what if we've been looking in the wrong place?
In This is Not America, Tomiwa Owolade argues that too much of the debate around racism in Britain is viewed through the prism of American ideas that don't reflect the history, challenges and achievements of black communities at home.
Humane, empirical and passionate, this book promises to start a new conversation around race and, vitally, shed light on black British life today.