In a month dedicated to observing Black history, there’s no better place to turn than literature to celebrate. Presented here: our list of fiction, graphic novels, essays engaging with black lives and stories, past and present, here in the UK and around the world.
Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials & the Meaning of Grime by Jeffrey Boakye
(Influx Press, 9781910312414, p/b, £9.99)
This new edition of Hold Tight features new chapters for 2018, a brand new introduction from Boakye and a brand new cover – making it the most up to date book on Grime in 2018. Celebrating over sixty key songs that make up Grime’s DNA, Jeffrey Boakye explores the meaning of the music and why it has such resonance in the UK. Boakye also examines the representation of masculinity in the music and the media that covers it. Both a love letter to Grime and an investigation into life as a black man in Britain today, Hold Tight is insightful, very funny and stacked with sentences you’ll want to pull up and read again and again. Read our review.
Freedom Bound: Escaping Slavery in Scotland by Warren Pleece
(BHP Comics, 9781910775127, h/b, £19.99)
Black History Month is as much a time to observe the events and figures at the forefront of the African diaspora as it is to shine a light on its less well-documented past. Freedom Bound, from veteran comics artist Warren Pleece, explores Scotland’s uncomfortable and little-known connections with the history of slavery. Depicting the story of several slaves brought to Scotland in the 1700s, it is a powerful historical tale of an enslaved people seeking freedom. Over 12,000 copies of Freedom Bound have been distributed to Scottish schools across the nation, in an ambitious bid to educate young readers on this difficult chapter of the country’s past.
Maroon Comix edited by Saul Quincy
(PM Press, 9781629635712, p/b, £13.99)
In another illustrated account of black struggle against emancipation, Maroon Comix brings together the work and words of activist artists, speakers and leaders in a tome designed to inform and empower today’s generation. Described by many as an antidote to our turbulent times, this graphic novel from PM Press highlights the anti-colonial struggle of the “maroons”, Africans who escaped slavery in the Americas to form their own settlements with its indigenous peoples. A graphical exploration of how “maroons made miracles in the mountains, summoned new societies in the swamps, and forged new freedoms in the forests.”
Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker
(Feminist Press, 9781936932375, p/b, £14.99)
In the early 1900s, mostly in the southern US, ‘training schools’ taught black people practical skills in the hopes of making the world easier to navigate. There, young women were trained to follow society’s rules. Then, they would be safe. Then, they would be free… But, especially when you’re black and female, society’s rules were never meant to make you safe or free. The characters in the short stories of Training School for Negro Girls live in different parts of Washington DC, in different decades, but they all have to navigate the same uncertain path through the world – they think they have learned the rules necessary to live their lives, until they discover that these rules are always changing. That’s when they have to stop being who they have been trained to be and start finding a way to just be.
Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang
(World Editions, 9781642860009, p/b, £11.99)
The best memoirs perfectly encapsulate and balance both the ordinary and extraordinary, and Always Another Country does exactly this. Growing up in exile from her native South Africa, Sisonke Msimang’s story of her relationship to both people and place is an incredible interrogation of the meaning of home and how it impacts identity. With her freedom fighter parents and two sisters, she moves from Zambia to Kenya, then to Canada and the US, before finally returning, for a time, to South Africa. The evocation of elation and disenchantment experienced by many returning South Africans really resonates, as do Msimang’s arresting depictions of life as a perennial outsider. Suffused with politics, philosophy, family, womanhood, race, love, and humour – Msimang’s narrative is forthright, compelling, heartbreaking and rousing.
Passage by Khary Lazarre-White
(Seven Stories, 9781609807832, p/b, £14.99)
A short, stark, eerily beautiful Ulysses-esque novel, Passage is set in a past, and yet somehow dystopian, New York in which there are giants, ghosts and wolves which howl and stalk the streets whilst drums sound. Figures from black mythology and folklore – ancestors and gods – emerge and interrogate Warrior, the young everyman hero. The streets are barren and uneasily quietened by snow, which covers the city but cannot quite smother the always-simmering tensions between police, public and black communities. Even the simplest of journeys across town are fraught with terror; racism is rampant amongst the ‘blue soldiers’ (police) as well as the general public. These journeys become a pilgrimage in which mere survival is a full-time occupation.
An Unkindness Of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
(Akashic Books, 9781617755880, p/b, £11.99)
An incredibly written, brilliantly imaged novel that defies notions of gender, sexuality and race. Author Rivers Solomon has been deservedly compared to Octavia Butler and China Miéville, but really this novel is in a league all of its own. Set aboard the HSS Mathilda, a colossal space ship that’s segregated by race and class – like the Antebellum south – this book tells the story of medical officer Asta as she struggles to overcome the confines of birth and solve the mystery of her mother’s death.
Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett
(Haymarket Books, 9781608468935, h/b, £21.99)
Michael Bennett is a Super Bowl Champion, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, a fearless activist, a feminist, a grassroots philanthropist, an organiser, and a change maker. He’s also one of the most scathingly humorous athletes on the planet, and he wants to make you uncomfortable. Bennett adds his unmistakable voice to discussions of racism and police violence, Black athletes and their relationship to powerful institutions like the NCAA and the NFL, the role of protest in history, and the responsibilities of athletes as role models to speak out against injustice.
Incognegro by Mat Johnson & Warren Pleece
(Dark Horse, 9781506705644, h/b, £16.99)
First published by DC Comics imprint Vertigo in 2008, Mat Johnson’s Incognegro told a radical story on race relations in 1930s New York. Reporter Zane Pinchback is sent to investigate the arrest of his own brother, charged with the brutal murder of a white woman in Mississippi. With a lynch mob closing in, Pinchback must exploit his light skin to go “incognegro” as a white man in an attempt to uncover the truth. Drawing on his own experiences as well as the activities of NAACP Chief Executive Walter White, who investigated lynchings by passing as white, Johnson’s Incognegro is both a detective mystery and a window into the racial history of 20th century America.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
(Melville House, 9781911545224, p/b, £9.99)
A collection of essays from poet and cultural critic, Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us looks our world today through the lens of music and culture in a way that so often veers into enlightening discussions on race. From exploring the everyday threats to the lives of black Americans to the racial collide between black and white rap music, Abdurraqib, like Michael Bennett, provides a much-needed education on the recent history and experiences of black Americans, and how it continues to inform the present.