Diversifying your bookshelves and amplifying black voices
By Stephanie Hanlon
With the Black Lives Matter movement reiterating that black voices must be heard, many of us have realised that the media we consume is not diverse. Too often, black voices go unheard, lost in the sea of white and non-black stories. The world of literature is no different.
The Booker Prize has been running since 1969 yet only four of the winners have been black, with the first black, female winner Bernadine Evaristo, sharing the prize with Margaret Atwood last year.
So why are our bookshelves lacking in diversity? Black authors face more difficulty getting published – recent Twitter hashtag #PublishingPaidMe showed that black authors tend to be paid much lower for their work than their white counterparts. Once published, they face further problems in being promoted by mainstream media. Richard and Judy’s Book Club, for example, has only featured one book by a black author in 2020, despite numerous publications being available.
But the main reason our bookshelves are not as diverse as we’d hope is simply that we are not buying diverse books. Since the BLM protests, sales of anti-racist writing have soared with Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge selling out across many platforms including Amazon and WHSmith. But now we must look to the novels of black authors, to the fiction and non-fiction, which celebrates the diversity and the beauty of black lives and experiences.
It can be a daunting task, gazing at our bookshelves and realising just how few books by black authors you read, but it is a task which must be done. Educate yourselves. Black authors are prevalent in every genre and all it takes is your willingness to find them. If you are looking for recommendations, however, below are five examples of incredible writing by black authors, ranging from young adult to historical fiction.
- Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
This young adult series follows a romance blossoming in a Britain divided into the black elite and the white underclass. Now a BBC television series starring Stormzy.
2. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
A high-fantasy series which is steeped in West African mythology and tells the story of oppression, magic and friendship.
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Following local wrestling hero Okonkwo, this piece of historical fiction deals with colonialism, community and African identity.
4. The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison
This is a series of essays, speeches and meditations which deal with contemporary issues for the modern reader such as identity, race and the power of the arts.
5. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
A Pulitzer Prize winner, Nickel Boys is based on a real reform school in Florida and the horrors that the children sent there were subjected to.