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Want to hear a story? Nine recommended books to read for Black History Month

Amna and Rianna sitting on the Bush House courtyard steps smiling at the camera
Rianna John
Final year BSc Children’s Nursing student and Student Knowledge and Content intern

01 October 2022

Hello everyone, my name is Rianna. I am a final year BSc Children’s Nursing student at King’s and I am interning with the Student Knowledge and Content team.

I am writing this article in celebration of Black History Month this October: a month to honour my own heritage but also the Black leaders, authors, academics and others who have made an impact on society.

To celebrate, I have brought you nine books written by Black authors recommended by myself as well as students, family and friends of African and Caribbean heritage, which will make you laugh, cry and keep you warm whilst autumn passes by. 

Two books: Maya Angelou's 'I know why the caged bird sings' and 'Yinka, where is your husband?' by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou

A favourite for American history, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou is a classic autobiography where Maya uses literature to escape the reality of racism and trauma.

Recommended by Bryce Mathurin Lindsay, a new friend, a fellow intern, and a King’s student studying MSc Environment, Politics and Development, he said: ‘It’s hard to encapsulate all that’s great about this book. I think that is because what you take away from this book will differ from person to person. From my perspective, Maya Angelou does an incredible job of transcending time. She brilliantly illustrates racialised understandings of life in the South through the eyes of an African American child. There is something both therapeutic and insightful about the way in which Angelou writes. Although ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ is an autobiography, it remains as captivating as any fiction novel.’

‘Yinka where is your husband?’ by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

This critically acclaimed hilarious, heartfelt, and fictional book is about a young, British Nigerian woman trying to find true love in the dating scene. Along this journey, she also learns to find herself.

Ore, a Computer Science student at King’s who recommended this book, described it as relatable due to it demonstrating how African women navigate a patriarchal society.

Ore said: ‘It shows how the existing patriarchy in African societies can be encouraged by women of older generations. A woman’s worth tends to be attached to her marital status. This then puts pressure on women to focus on getting married whilst simultaneously undermining their own accomplishments.’

Three books: 'Homegoing' by Yaa Gyasi, 'Blonde Roots' by Bernardine Evaristo and 'Cack-Handed' by Gina Yashere

‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi

Recommended by DB, a King’s student studying Religion, Politics and Society and a member of the African and Caribbean Society, ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi is set during the times of the thriving British colonisation and slave trade. It is a book about two half-sisters that were separated by slavery, and it follows them and their descendants in both Ghana and the US. Described by critics as encapsulating ‘impeccable sorrow and soaring beauty’, ‘Homegoing’ will move and educate you about the impact slavery had on families and homes.

DB describes it as ‘realistic because it sheds light on how slavery affected Africa.’

'Blonde Roots' by Bernardine Evaristo

Recommended by my aunty, ‘Blonde Roots’ by Evaristo is a verse fiction, a type of narrative poetry, about an Englishwoman enslaved under Africa. Evaristo creates a discussion about how people would justify the inhumane behaviour and deny the consequences of slavery for Black people, if African’s had enslaved Europeans.

They describe this novel as an ‘Interesting read. Fiction. Bernadine’s version of the transatlantic slave trade in reverse.’

'Cack-Handed' by Gina Yashere

British comedian, Gina Yashere, shares her story about growing up in working-class East London as a child of Nigerian immigrants. From being the first female engineer within a company’s branch to becoming one of the UK’s well-known comedians, Gina’s memoir contains a collection of funny and heartbreaking stories that have shaped the women she has become today.

Recommended by my lovely Mum, ‘Cack-Handed’ by Yashere is her current read. She describes it as ‘interesting, funny and sadness all in a piece.’

Two books: 'Black Girl Finance' by Selina Flavius and 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison

'Black Girl Finance' by Selina Flavius

This book is recommended by Porshia, a Senior Student Services Officer in the Knowledge and Content team at King’s. She describes this book as a self-help guide for Black women on finances as it explains how to save, invest, budget and become confident in finance terminology. It also identifies the financial difficulties Black women can face due to culture and the ethnicity and gender pay gaps.

Porshia found this book extremely informative stating, ‘I love this book as it makes you think about your financial MOT and getting yourself in good financial shape. It's a must read for anyone who wants to make smarter decisions about money.'

'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison

Set in the 1930s, this novel is narrated by a man who has locked himself in a cell deep underground. He shares a story about growing up in Southern USA and living in the North trying to find his identity in a white society. As readers listen to his story, they also begin to learn why he chose to be six feet under.

A close friend of mine, who is studying Film and Media, recommended this novel to me. She claims that the book is ‘very poetic and one of my favourites.’

Two books: 'The Confessions of Frannie Langton' by Sara Collins and 'Children of blood and bone' by Tomi Adeyemi

'The Confessions of Frannie Langton' by Sara Collins

Frannie Langton is a former slave, a servant and now an accused murderer of the Benham family. Frannie is put on trial for murdering her employers in their own home. As the jury judges her conviction, the readers judge her character and her own story that has been kept a secret for way too long.

I recommend this book as it shows how the truth can be twisted and lines can be blurred between good and bad.

'Children of Blood and Bone' by Tomi Adeyemi

Recommended by me, ‘Children of Blood and Bone' by Tomi Adeyemi takes place in Nigeria and follows the journey of a young girl, Zélie, and the complicated history of the Majis and the Kosidáns. When the Maji’s magic disappeared, they feared the Kosidán’s corrupt control. However, when a golden scripture is found, the Kingdom’s glass floor cracks; magic is not too far out of reach and Zélie is chosen by the Gods to bring it back.

This young adult fantasy book certainly kept me on my toes and was a joyous and easy read. It was a lovely distraction from my studies.