What’s good this Black History Month? October is many things, including the start of Autumn and onset of Halloween, but it’s also the month that here in the UK we celebrate Black history. Including a landmark anthology of African literature, and the first and last interviews from the legendary Prince, here are our top reading recommendations for this year.
New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent edited by Margaret Busby (Myriad Editions, 9781912408009, h/b, £30.99)
Following up her ground-breaking 1992 anthology that collected standout work from more than 200 women from the African Diaspora, Margaret Busby’s New Daughters of Africa seeks to showcase the work of writers of African descent for a new generation. Bringing together voices around the world both new and historical, including Roxane Gay, Zadie Smith and Diane Abbott, it’s a mammoth tome containing fiction, poetry, essays, speeches and more. Each piece of writing speaks to black women’s experiences, exploring sisterhood, tradition, romance, race and identity. For a celebration of Black history and Black excellence not just this month but all year round, pick this one up.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Text Publishing, 9781925240702, p/b, £10.99)
With the recent release of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s debut novel The Water Dancer, there couldn’t be a better time to revisit the acclaimed writer’s landmark autobiography. Written in the form of a letter to the author’s 14 year-old son, it places race, America and Black history squarely in its cross hairs. Exploring both America’s fraught racial history and the state of being black in the US today, it combines personal narrative with Coates’s gripping reportage, offering a powerful new framework for understanding America’s current crisis, and a transcendent vision for a way forward.
Boonoonoonous Hair! by Olive Senior & Laura James
(Tradewind, 9781926890227, p/b, £6.99)
From traditional cornrows to Black Panther afros, hair has always made up a significant part of Black history and continues to be a defining aspect of Black identity today. From a Commonwealth Prize-winning Jamaican-Canadian, Boonoonoonous Hair! celebrates black hairstyles for a new generation of black girls, encouraging them to love their difficult-to-manage, but voluminous and boonoonoonous hair.
A Black Woman Did That! by Malaika Adero
(Downtown Bookworks, 9781941367513, p/b, £9.99)
Another picture book aimed at inspiring the next generation A Black Woman Did That! spotlights vibrant, inspiring black women whose accomplishments have changed the world for the better. Combining photography, illustration, biography and storytelling it puts the spotlight on a mixture of well-known historical figures including several names you may not have heard of as well as black women pushing boundaries today.
The Bead Collector by Sefi Atta
(Myriad Editions, 9781912408344, p/b, £8.99)
An award-winning Nigerian author and playwright, Sefi Atta’s coming of age novel set in post-colonial world Everything Good Will Come won Africa’s inaugural Nobel Prize equivalent, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, rendering her an immortalised figure in the history of African writing. In her latest novel, The Bead Collector, Sefi Atta returns to Nigeria six years after the civil war to spin a fascinating tale of international espionage that places the politics of family life at the fore.
Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib
(Melville House, 9781911545446, p/b, £8.99)
An American hip-hop group formed in 1985, A Tribe Called Quest left an indelible mark on the genre by bridging the gap between hip-hop and jazz, as well as creating such masterpieces as The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Following on from his collection of essays on music and culture, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, poet and cultural critical Hanif Abdurraqib returns to form with what’s described as a “love letter” to the group. More than that, it explores the broader rap landscape of the 1990s and Afrocentric music that continues to be such an important part of Black history today.
Twenty Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing by The Caine Prize & Chris Brazier (New Internationalist, 9781780265568, p/b, £11.99)
A jailer’s love poems ghost-written by a prisoner… Love blossoming between two girls despite the horror of their community… Street kids stick-fighting or stealing guavas from the rich… A dystopian world where women must go naked until they marry… Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Caine Prize for African Writing – often referred to as the ‘African Booker Prize’ – this collection showcases all twenty prize-winning short stories, each with its own unique take on modern African life. Read this for another incredible cross section of modern African writing.
Grandpa Stops A War by Susan Robeson & Rob Brown
(Seven Stories Press, 9781609808822, h/b, £13.99)
Celebrating the global activism and towering achievements of world famous African-American actor and singer, Paul Robeson, Grandpa Stops A War tells the true story of Robeson’s visit to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War. A man of peace and principle who worried about the safety of children and families living in countries at war, he wanted to use his voice to promote social justice all over the world. Though people warned Grandpa Paul that it was too dangerous, he travelled with his friend Captain Fernando to the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War to sing to the soldiers. And then something amazing happened…
Prince: The Last Interview by Prince
(Melville House, 9781612197456, p/b, £12.99)
Even after his passing in 2016, Prince’s immense legacy and influence on contemporary American music continues to be felt today, and he has become a monolithic figure in Black American pop culture in his own right. Continuing Melville Houses’ beloved The Last Interview series, Prince collects the very first, the very last, and the very best interviews conducted with the artist in his nearly 40 year career. In this remarkable collection, the late visionary reflects on his artistry, identity, and the sacrifices and soul-searching it took to stay true to himself with his signature mix of seduction and demur.
Ronnie Scott’s 1959-69 photographs by Freddy Warren
(Reel Art Press, 9781909526631, h/b, £29.95)
One of the most famous Jazz clubs in the world, Ronnie Scott’s played host to a slew of legendary Black artists and musicians including Mile Davis, Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone and many more. Collected here and to feature at the Barbican’s Music Library is the unseen archive of photographer Freddy Warren – a treasure trove of images celebrating the best jazz musicians in the world performing live, or relaxing in unguarded moments in a setting exclusively created for them by jazz lover Ronnie Scott.