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lime Books & Spoken Word feature: Top 50 Black British Books

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Top 50 Black British Books

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Tricia Wombell

Reporter: Tricia Wombell
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For a while I have been wondering what a must read Black British book list would look like.

This Top 50 is the result.


One book - one author and published by a UK-based publishing company. No anthologies or compilations.  It did not have to be literary fiction, but it had to be the written word, so plays, poetry, biographies and even academic publications are included. 


I have opted for the prize winning book, for example Andrea Levy’s Small Island, rather than my favourite – Every Light in the House Burnin’; Dreda Say Mitchell’s celebrated first book Running Hot, won the top crime writers fiction award, and Ben Okri’s Booker prize winning The Famished Road, even though in both the latter cases their more recent work would be considered the much more admired. In other instances, my friends on the project, made strong cases, and so I have I stuck with that selection, for example, Aminatta Forna’s first book, the memoir about her father, rather than the more recent, Commonwealth prize winning, Memory of Love.


I’d heard of Oladiuah Equiano’s book – the oldest on the list, first published in 1789, but I only came across Mary Prince’s book, published in 1831, as I was researching the list. Alex Wheatle’s sequel to Brixton Rock, Brenton Brown is the newest title on the list as it was published last spring.


The “where are they now section?” includes: Buchi Emecheta, Diran Adebayo, Victor Headly and Patrick Augustus. Others, I imagine will always be on lists such as this: Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, or Caryl Phillips. At the same time those that sell huge amounts Malorie Blackman Mike Gayle, Dorothy Koomson & Benjamin Zephaniah are critical to this list, as their books are so widely read. I would say that the ones to watch are Helen Oyeyemi, Yvvette Edwards, Nadifa Mohamed & Diana Evans – and I am looking forward to seeing future work from them. The authors I admire most are the ones who also take the time to nurture and encourage others, while still creating their own work, Courttia Newland, Nii Ayikiwei Parkes, Alex Wheatle and Bernadine Evaristo. I can imagine how hard it would have been trying to get published in George Lamming and Sam Selvon’s days - incredible works, that define the Caribbean experience in 1940s & ‘50s London, but even harder to create the book that Doreen Lawrence has done about the murder of her son Stephen. Doreen’s book describes her life in rural Jamaica and early married life in the London of the 70s and it is so beautifully written.  


Like Doreen, Oona King is not strictly a writer, but I have included her book here, not only because I thought that she was a very good hardworking MP, but because this book is an honest look at the demanding area of British politics at national and local level during the Blair years. As with the Doreen’s book, Oona also details the very private areas of her personal life.


I hope that you will agree that this is a rich and varied list, spanning over 200 years of writing. I think that the sharing of a Black British literature cannon is important and we should make more effort to discuss it and let people know it exists. I believe that this set of books should be available in all public libraries. 


Here are the books in alphabetical order, 


1.    Diran ADEBAYO: Some Kind of Black

2.    Sade ADENIRAN: Imagine This 

3.    Bola AGBAJE: Not Black & White 

4.    Patrick AUGUSTUS: Baby Father

5.    Nii AYIKIWEI PARKES: Tail of the Blue Bird 

6.    James BERRY: When I Dance 

7.    Jean BINTA BREEZE: Riddim Ravings & Other Poems 

8.    Malorie BLACKMAN: Noughts & Crosses 

9.    E.R. BRAITHWAITE: To Sir With Love 

10.       Constance BRISCOE: Ugly 

11.       David DABYDEEN: Black British History 

12.       Fred D’AGUIAR: Bill of Rights 

13.       Yvvette EDWARDS: A Cupboard Full of Coats 

14.       Buchi EMECHETA: The Joys of Motherhood 

15.       Olaudah EQUIANO: The Interesting Narrative & Other Stories 

16.       Diana EVANS: 26a 

17.       Bernadine EVARISTO: Blonde Roots 

18.       Aminatta FORNA: The Devil That Danced on Water

19.       Mike GAYLE: Brand New Friend 

20.       Beryl GILROY: Black Teacher 

21.       Paul GILROY: There Ain’t No Black in The Union Jack

22.       Colin GRANT: Negro with a Hat: Marcus Garvey 

23.       Victor HEADLEY: Yardie

24.       C.L.R. JAMES: The Black Jacobins 

25.       Jackie KAY: Trumpet 

26.       Oona KING: Oona King Diaries: House Music  

27.       Dorothy KOOMSON:  The Cupid Effect

28.       Kwame KWEI-ARMAH: Statement of Regret/Elmina’s Kitchen

29.       Linton KWESI JOHNSON: Tings an’ Times 

30.       George LAMMING: The Emigrants 

31.       Doreen LAWRENCE: And Still I Rise 

32.       Andrea LEVY: Small Island 

33.       E.A. MARKHAM: Hinterland  

34.       Nadifa MOHAMED: Black Mamba Boy 

35.       Courttia NEWLAND: The Scholar: A West Side Story 

36.       Ben OKRI: The Famished Road 

37.       Helen OYEYEMI: The Icarus Girl 

38.       Caryl PHILLIPS: A Distant Shore 

39.       Trevor & Mike PHILLIPS: Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain 

40.       Hannah POOL: My Father’s Daughter 

41.       Mary PRINCE: The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave  

42.       Dreda SAY MITCHELL: Running Hot

43.       Sam SELVON: The Lonely Londoners 

44.       Zadie SMITH: White Teeth 

45.       Debbie TUCKER GREEN: Random

46.       Alex WHEATLE: Brenton Brown

47.      Precious WILLIAMS: Precious 

48.      Roy WILLIAMS: Starstruck

49.   Gary YOUNGE: No Place Like Home 

50.   Benjamin ZEPHANIAH: Refugee Boy