From widely anticipated debuts from new authors, to releases from long-time favourites, 2021 has been a great year for Black British writing.
Below is a list of the best books best curated over the past year – ideal as Christmas presents to the book lover(s) in your life or a treat for yourself.
A River Called Time by Courttia Newland
The Ark was built to save the lives of many, but rapidly became a refuge for the elite. Years later Markriss Denny is granted the opportunity to live inside the Ark after proving his worth. However, his path to future excellence is marred only by a closely guarded secret and the dark reality of life inside the Ark.
Courttia Newland’s long-awaited novel is set in a time where slavery and colonialism never happened and is a timely exploration of social inequality, love, and the search for the truth.
Who’s Loving You: Love Stories by Women of Colour by Sareeta Domingo
Curated and edited by Sareeta Domingo, Who’s Loving You? is a celebration of love in all its guises written by women of colour, with ten original short stories from bold new voices, literary prize-winners, and national treasures.
Two souls come together and are torn apart, lifetime after lifetime. A seed of hope begins to grow out of the ashes of grief, heartbreak, and loss. Romance sparks in the most unexpected of places. And an unbreakable bond is formed that transcends countries, continents, and even the boundaries of time…
Exploring the full spectrum of love in all its messy, joyful, agonising, and exhilarating forms, Who’s Loving You? celebrates and places women of colour at the centre of romance, passion, and desire, these stories burn with an intensity and longing that lingers long after the final page.
The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
This revelatory collection highlights the diverse experiences of sex, sexualities, and relationships of African women and the journeys – both mental and physical – that they have undergone to own their sexuality.
Drawing both from the African continent and the global diaspora, The Sex Lives of African Women uniquely amplifies the voices of individual women from across the African continent and its global diaspora. From finding a queer community in Egypt to living a polyamorous life in Senegal to understanding the intersectionality of religion and pleasure in Cameroon to choosing to leave relationships that no longer serve them, these narratives are as individual and illuminating as the women who share them.
The Sex Lives of African Women is a deep insight into the complex tapestry of African women’s sexuality and bestows upon all women inspirational examples to living a truly liberated life.
Keisha The Sket by Jade LB
Keisha The Sket has lived in the phones and websites of fans for decades, and now in print for the first time, this timeless coming of age story is not just a word-of-mouth sensation but also a British classic in the making.
Keisha is a girl from the ends, sharp, feisty, and ambitious. She’s also been labelled ‘top sket‘ but she’s making it work. When her 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 a traumatic incident and with it a whirlwind of choices threaten to define what kind of a woman she truly wants to be.
Told with the heart and soul of the inner city, with an unforgettable heroine, Keisha The Sket is a revelation of the true, raw, arousing, and tender core of British youth culture.
Hey You by Dapo Adeola
This groundbreaking picture book addresses – honestly, yet hopefully – the experiences Black children face growing up with systemic racism, as well as providing hope for the future, delivering a powerful message to a new generation of dreamers.
Remember to dream your own dreams
Love your beautiful skin. You always have a choice.
Written by award-winning illustrator Dapo Adeola, Hey You is brought to life by some of the most exciting Black illustration talents working today. It’s a lyrical, inspirational exploration of growing up Black with a message that is both urgent and timeless – and offers a rich and rewarding reading experience for every child.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Described as Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada, Zakiya Dalila Harris’s electric debut is about the tension between two young Black women who work together in the starkly white environment of book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and the microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers.
They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events cause Nella to become Public Enemy Number One and Hazel, the Office Darling. Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk telling her to leave the company … Could Hazel be behind these hostile messages? As Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realises that there is a lot more at stake than her career.
Full of twists and turns, The Other Black Girl is a whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs by Jeffrey Boakye, illustrated by Ngadi Smart
Music can carry the stories of history like a message in a bottle. Lord Kitchener, Neneh Cherry, Smiley Culture, Stormzy …
Structured around a playlist of twenty-eight songs by Black British musicians, Musical Truth is a history book with a twist. Tracking some of the key shifts in modern British history, this book explores the emotional impact of the songs and the artists who performed them.
Redefining British history, the Empire, and postcolonialism, Musical Truth invites children, teens, and adults to think again about the narratives and key moments in history taught up to now. This is the book for schools wanting to diversify and decolonise the curriculum
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
The much anticipated debut novel by Caleb Azumah Nelson is about two Black British artists falling in and out of love.
Two young Black British people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – and are trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.
An achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it
We Need to Talk About Money by Otegha Uwagba
Otegha Uwagba explores her own complicated relationship with money in this extraordinarily candid personal account.
An unforgettable blend of memoir and cultural commentary, We Need To Talk About Money is a vital exploration of stories and issues that will be familiar to most. This is a book about toxic workplaces and misogynist men, about getting pay rises and getting evicted. About class and privilege and racism and beauty. About shame and pride, compulsion and fear.
In unpicking the shroud of secrecy surrounding money – who has it, how they got it, and how it shapes our lives – this bold, honest account of Otegha’s journey upturns countless social conventions, and uncovers some startling truths about our complex relationships with money.
Three Rooms by Jo Hamya
Autumn 2018, a young woman moves into a rented room in university accommodation, ready to begin a job as a research assistant at Oxford. Living and working in the spaces that have birthed the country’s leaders, she is both outsider and insider, and she can’t shake the feeling that real life is happening elsewhere.
Eight months later she’s in London working as a temp contract at a society magazine and paying £80 a week to sleep on a stranger’s sofa. Summer rolls on and England roils with questions around its domestic civil rights: Brexit, Grenfell, climate change, homelessness.
Meanwhile, tensions with her flatmate escalate, she is overworked and underpaid, and the prospects of a permanent job seem increasingly unlikely until finally, she has to ask herself: what is this all for.
Three Rooms is the story of a search for a home and for a self. Driven by despair and optimism in equal measure, the novel also poignantly explores politics, race, and belonging, as Jo Hamya asks us to consider the true cost of living as a young person in 21st-century England.
All the books mentioned in this list are available from Hive and other online retailers and bookstores.