reading lists

39 Fiction and Non-Fiction Books by Black British Authors, Recommended by Booksellers and Creatives

Photo-Illustration: retailers

Books by Black writers should be widely read and enjoyed. There’s a wealth of Black British writers building complex fantasy worlds, gripping fiction or relatable life guides that delve into the human experience through individual and collective lenses. From Sareet Domingo’s Who’s Loving You anthology, to Otegha Uwagba’s Little Black Book, the range of topics covered by Black British authors is both broad and deep.

Last year’s protests against racial injustice created a surge in demand for books about the Black experience of racism. While education around this is important, the increased demand can pigeonhole Black writers, fuelling an exploitative consumption culture, in which the disclosure of Black trauma is expected and demanded. Not only is this emotionally taxing on Black writers, it puts the responsibility on the Black community to handhold other groups through their anti-racist education. There’s a wide world of Black writing to read. Doing so creates a more fair, creative, and diverse space for Black artists and readers. We want to put imaginative and inspiring literature by Black writers, across a wide range of genres on your radar —from the abstract to the otherworldly. They deserve recognition in mainstream categories, too. Consider that exclusively reading books from white authors neglects a wide margin of other perspectives. That omission reinforces the discriminatory narrative that white humanity is the overarching standard.

With this all in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best fiction and non-fiction books by Black British authors, as recommended by indie bookshops, clubs, creatives, Bookstagrammers, writers, and editors.

By the way, we have evergreen resources dedicated to Black British history and anti-racism books, too. The books included below don’t necessarily have these as anchor themes. If you’re after diverse and inclusive books for kids, we’ve also covered the best books to read about race to your kids.

For life advice

With two-thirds Black authorship, the hosts of The Receipts Podcast (chart topping, and insatiably addictive), “Tolly T, Audrey” — she’s dropped the “formerly known as” — “and your mamacita Milena Sanchez” are launching a no holds barred everything guide for millennial women. As their relatable, girls-in-the-club-toilets vibe jumps from podcast to the page, readers can expect The Receipts Podcast 2.0. It’s full of comical anecdotes, conversations about sex “they never got to have” as Black women, and reflections on the joy of friendship. Prepare for uncontrollable laughter in public settings (again), and stories within stories that might even top the podcast’s best bits.

Recommended by: Rochelle Dowden-Lord and Soraya Bouazzaoui from the Main Characters podcast (Soraya is also a Strategist contributor).

[Editor’s note: ‘Keep The Receipts’ is due to be released on 8 July 2021, you can pre-order now.]

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After the success of I Am Not Your Baby Mother, Braithwaite’s second book is a witty, honest and transformative collection of essays that the author wished she’d read herself as a young Black girl. From essential guidance for navigating milestones and spaces as women (especially as Black women), to family, money, hair, and fashion advice, expect bold truths, warm embraces, and raw humour throughout.

Recommended by: Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books.

[Editor’s note: ‘Sista Sister’ is due to be released on 8 July 2021, you can pre-order now.]

From the creator of the BAFTA-awarded I May Destroy You, and Chewing Gum before that, writer and actor Coel gets candid about her personal-growth story. Using her Mactaggart lecture at Edinburgh Festival as a foundation, she draws on her experiences and looks back over her life to give insight into shifts in her perspectives, and how this expanded her sense of power and creativity.

Recommended by: Rochelle Dowden-Lord, Katie Packer, and Soraya Bouazzaoui from the Main Characters podcast.

[Editor’s note: Misfits is due to be released on 7 September 2021, you can pre-order now.]

A handbook for navigating the creative industry as a woman, featuring contributions from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Refinery29 co-founder Piera Gelardi, amongst others. From payrise negotiations, crafting a personal brand, and networking like a pro, to pushing back against creative block and finding your rhythm with public speaking, it’s an all-encompassing guide by Forbes “European 30 Under 30” journalist and essayist Uwagba.

Recommend by: Kojo Marfo, Creative Director at My Runway Group.

For love

A collection of ten short love stories by Black and other women of colour, with talented new voices, seasoned writer favourites, and award winners in the mix. You’ll find “The Watchers” by actor, activist, and Say Your Mind podcast host Kelechi Okafor in here, where time and love intersect as “healers.” Capturing the complexity and messiness of love and how it evolves in full, the anthology presents readers with a wide-lensed look at romantic and other types of love through a non-white, feminine lens.

Recommended by: Culture editor at gal-dem, Kemi Alemoru.

Reflecting on her father’s written work about a small Devon village, as his health deteriorates, Burnett weaves nature, history and nostalgia through an emotive landscape, exploring physical, emotional, and family roots. The author reflects on tender, nurturing moments she shared with her father as she explores the intricacies of life after (and before) a significant loved one is no longer there in the same capacity.

Recommended by: Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop.

A thoughtful and honest amalgamation of the writer’s lessons learned in the aftermath of a breakup, this book acts as a roadmap for navigating complicated and conflicting post-relationship emotions, and spotting the subtler red flags in the dating space and beyond. Erasing the stigma around struggling in your romantic life, I Wish I Knew This Earlier lets us in on the experiences that shaped its author. Think of it like a sisterly sharing session meets TED Talk, that readers can refer back to.

Recommended by: Rochelle Dowden-Lord, Katie Packer, and Soraya Bouazzaoui from the Main Characters podcast.

[Editor’s note: I Wish I Knew This Earlier is due to be released on 14 October 2021, you can pre-order now]

Part edited by Black Pride founder Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, this anthology by Black queer women celebrates the joy of same-sex relationships with women of African and Caribbean heritage (including bisexual and non-binary narratives, too). Contributions take the form of biographies, memoirs, fiction, poems, and personal essays, from Andreena Bogle-Walton, Christina Fonthes, Clementine Ewokolo Burnley, Delphine Spencer, Doreene Blackstock, and more. By the way, if you’d like to read more, this is a sister title to the Black & Gay in the U.K. anthology.

Recommended by: Dee from the Black Feminist Bookshop. You can shop the Black Feminist Bookshop (via Bookshop) here, or sign up to their Patreon here.

This Black love tale that starts in a South East London pub. Two artists — who both received (separately) scholarship funded university educations at prestigious institutions, where they grappled with identity, belonging and feeling “othered” — try to grow with each other, while also trying to ascend in the creative world. A love story that moves against a backdrop of society’s indifference and violence towards Black people, and the many facets of Black masculinity, it’s a poignant story about love in a bubble of two, moving through a relentlessly cruel outside.

Recommended by: Rochelle Dowden-Lord, Katie Packer, and Soraya Bouazzaoui from the Main Characters podcast, plus Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop.

For womanhood

Roy tells the story of Gloria, a Black woman hospitalised on a psychiatry ward in ’90s London. With a carefree, energetic, and extroverted personality, and now settled into a comfortable routine, Gloria is joined by another Black woman, Merle, who’s the polar opposite — quiet, nervous, and fearful. With a disconnect between both women and their doctors, Roy builds a story around shared vulnerability and the many faces of “strength,” set against a backdrop of system failures that leave Black women exposed and unprotected. The Fat Lady Sings is part of the Black Britain: Writing Back collection.

Recommended by: Libreria Bookshop.

This book has been co-signed by Angela Davis, who said she was “blown away” after reading Olufemi’s work on intersectional feminism and how it plays into power dynamics. The book takes a wide angle look at the commodification of the feminist movement, and how this conflicts with it as a tool for liberation, arguing the two cannot coexist. Olufemi covers state violence against women, particularly Black women, reproductive justice, the non-inclusivity of TERF ideology (trans-exclusionary radical feminism), sex-worker rights, and the exclusion of Muslim women from from feminist narratives.

Recommended by: Dee from The Black Feminist Bookshop. You can shop the Black Feminist Bookshop (via Bookshop) here, or sign up to their Patreon here.

Braithwaite candidly delves into the full width of what it means to be a Black mother in modern Britain. The book expands on Braithwaite’s campaigning about the devastating statistics around Black maternal death rates in the U.K. (which is five times that of white women), the anxiety that mothers of Black boys face, as they try to raise them in a hostile environment, and the lack of Black voices in the mainstream motherhood conversation in the U.K. Here, Braithwaite walks readers through her motherhood highs and lows, navigating unconscious bias, and microaggressions, with frank realities laid bare, all wrapped in her signature energetic style.

Recommended by: Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop.

Smith’s first foray into stage writing, this text is a poetic, modern reimagining of the Chaucer text, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, set along Kilburn High Road, instead. It launched onstage for the first time at London’s Kiln Theatre in September 2020.

Recommended by: Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books.

Following on from her anthology of the same name, Busby weaves the work of multiple writers together in this collection of stories, which are authored by Black women. Writers navigate issues of race, class, and womanhood, across generations, through creative, personality-filled lenses. This book serves as an experience-led legacy for the team of writers behind it, who are all part of the African diaspora.

Recommended by: Tiffany Cook from Jacaranda Books.

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Though it’s Evaristo’s eighth novel, Girl, Woman, Other has dominated book charts, and the pages of basically everyone on Instagram. Following 12 different characters — predominantly Black British women — Evaristo tells their stories across different eras and locations. Exploring themes that intersect with Black womanhood, like patriarchy, racism, and colourism, Evaristo weaves a complex, sprawling narrative through her experimental writing style (which largely omits full stops). The novel not only comes widely recommended by our sources, it’s also universally acclaimed. Girl, Woman, Other made Evaristo the first Black woman to win Author of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2020, and the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize in 2019, which was shared with Margaret Atwood.

Recommended by: Dee from The Black Feminist Bookshop, Kojo Marfo, Creative Director at My Runway Group, Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop, Mikaela Loach (climate justice and anti-racism activist), Kishani Widyaratna (commissioning editor at Picador Books), The Black Book Blog, Chocolate Covered Pages (Bookstagrammer and Book reviewer).

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Considering this debut novel took home Book of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2020 (making Carty-Williams the first Black British author to receive this accolade), it’s no surprise that Queenie comes highly recommended. Written from the perspective of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old Black woman in London, Carty-Williams’s novel paints a funny, topical portrait of a relatable protagonist. Through Queenie’s candid narration, the story tackles issues such as consent, racism, classism, and the mental health struggles of younger generations, in a refreshingly honest way.

Recommended by: Kojo Marfo, Creative Director at My Runway Group, Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop Kishani Widyaratna, Mikaela Loach, The Black Book Blog, Diana Evans (author of Ordinary People), Chocolate Covered Pages, Sofia Akel (race-in-education specialist; founder of Accessible Books Campaign, which offers free books by authors of colour for those who can’t afford it).

For fantasy and sci-fi

Set in a parallel reality where colonization and the enslavement of Black people didn’t take place, Newland paints alternate circumstances, built inside a fantasy world, exploring social justice and inequality concepts from a new, abstract angle, with themes of truth and love in play, too. Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books describes Courttia as “a master storyteller,” and A River Called Time as “exceptional in all aspects.”

Recommended by: Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books.

Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie
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Described as “dark and lyrical,” these short stories from British-Nigerian author Irenosen Okojie span in subject matter from a Grace Jones impersonator, to a goddess of the sea, via some dimension-hopping monks. Surreal, absurd, and poetic, these stories are equally digestible and poignant. Okojie’s debut novel, Butterfly Fish, won a Betty Trask Award in 2016, and follows similar themes of magic realism and a focus on the African diaspora.

Recommended by: Samantha Williams, founder of Book Love, Black: The Literary Salon.

A magical story about witches, dynasties, stolen birthrights, and reclaiming power, with Jamaican influences throughout, this YA novel is a two-tale story of power, theft, family legacy, and relentless pursuit both ways. If you were a fan of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, you might want this one on your reading list, too.

Recommended by: Rochelle Dowden-Lord, Katie Packer, and Soraya Bouazzaoui from the Main Characters podcast.

Two decades after her iconic Noughts & Crosses series comes Endgame, which will act as the last installment. With echoes of the political events, movements, and racial tensions of the last few years on a local and global scale, it concludes the fates of lovers Sephy and Callum within a fantasy setting, that’s steeped in raw, tangible, and realistic sentiment. With a BBC series based on the Noughts & Crosses books launched in 2020, Endgame ties up a cultural movement, not just a literary franchise.

Recommended by: Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books.

[Editor’s note: Endgame is due to be released on 16 September 2021, you can pre-order now.]

The first book from the series Endgame concludes, Blackman’s highly acclaimed YA novel exists in an alternate history where Africans have colonised Europe, with dark-skinned people known as “crosses,” and light-skinned people known as “noughts.” Following the tortured relationship of childhood best friends Persephone (or Sephy) and Callum, Noughts & Crosses reimagines structural racism and inequality from a different reality. The first in a hugely successful series of canonical young-adult books, Noughts & Crosses has been adored by readers of all ages since its release in 2001.

Recommended by: The Black Book Blog.

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The first book in the Wormwood trilogy series, and winner of an Arthur C. Clarke Award, this story takes place in a futuristic rural Nigeria (2066 to be precise), during the aftermath of an alien invasion. Fusing biopunk and futurism genres, Thompson creates a hybrid theme, presenting absurd narratives and intricate fantasy through seamless, engaging storytelling.

Recommended by: Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop.

For mystery

Period narratives are often whitewashed, excluding the experiences of marginalised groups in favour of the privileged ones. Sara Collins’ The Confessions of Frannie Langton takes place in 1826 London, and tells the story of Frannie, a maid to the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Benham — and the prime suspect for their murder. Collins writes from Frannie’s point of view, centering the protagonist in her own story as she is put on trial for the murders. Tracing Frannie’s life from a Jamaican plantation to Georgian London, this ambitious novel introduces a bold new voice from a lesser-seen perspective.

Recommended by: Kishani Widyaratna, Sofia Akel.

From the author of the award-winning Orangeboy, Lawrence’s next YA story takes the form of a mysterious road trip. Dealing with the sudden reappearance of his estranged father, and a suspicious letter to do with a childhood friend who’d since fell into gangs, 15-year-old Spey goes into investigation mode. Lawrence delves more deeply into the crime fiction mystery genre with Splinters of Sunshine, building in twists, turns and never-expected-that reveals.

Recommended by: Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books.

[Editor’s note: Splinters of Sunshine is due to be released on 19 August 2021, you can pre-order now.]

For identity, family, and masculinity

Zayyan merges themes of reclaiming power, the grounding of heritage, and resistance across generations, in a dual Uganda to London setting. It’s a book about rediscovering and preserving a sense of home, in more ways than one, against all odds. Bain says it was “an absolute pleasure to read,” gripped by Zayyan’s take on “the often-forgotten story of South Asian migrants in Uganda,” describing it as “meticulously crafted, beautifully and thoughtfully written, with complex characters” from start to finish.

Recommended by: Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books.

Following one woman’s journey through loss, a splintering family structure, and making sense of the past, Bernard and the Cloth Monkey explores the complexities of sisterly bonds, the transformative nature of breaking free from silence, and sheer tenacity for survival. Bryan presents family secrets, dynamics, and tragedy in a raw and compelling style. This book is also part of Bernadine Evaristo’s Black Britain: Writing Back curation.

Recommended by: Libreria Bookshop.

Unspoken by Guvna B
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British rapper Guvna B takes us through his shifts in perspectives on manliness, and confronting toxic masculinity. Moulded by his upbringing on an East London council estate, he initially felt “real” masculinity came naturally to him, until a personal tragedy forced him to confront everything he thought he knew. This memoir explores masculinity challenges through a young, Black, male lens, and how they intersects with identity for Black men in the U.K.

Recommended by: Carolynn Bain from Afrori Books.

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At 25 and fresh out of university, Zadie Smith published her debut novel, White Teeth, in 2000, and quickly became one of the most important British voices in the literary world. With this novel, Smith introduced a writing style that would be emblematic of her later work: highly descriptive, matter-of-fact, candid, funny, sometimes sparse, and often ambitious. Tracing three families across generations, cultures, and life events, Smith’s debut tackles family, friendship, war, and cultural identity with wit and warmth.

Recommended by: Chocolate Covered Pages.

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Diana Evans’s 2018 novel opens with a party celebrating Obama’s 2008 inauguration, and follows the interconnected lives of two middle-class Black couples in South London. Set against a soundtrack that heavily features John Legend, the story delves into themes such as faith, monogamy, gentrification, infidelity, art, and motherhood. Much like in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, the multiculturalism of London is an underlying and integral theme in the narrative, as are ideas of Black identity and womanhood.

Recommended by: Kishani Widyaratna, Black: The Literary Salon.

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Like Ordinary People, Rainbow Milk features era-defining songs throughout its narrative, alongside being something of an ode to the accepting, diverse community of London. Fleeing everything he knows, including his Windrush-generation family and their Jehovah Witness faith, 19-year-old Jesse comes to London, where he comes to reckon with his identity. Mendez’s debut shines a light on the experiences of Black gay men in the U.K., particularly those who engage in sex work; exploring religion, race, sexuality, and more with a compassionate hand.

Recommended by: Sofia Akel, Black: The Literary Salon.

For poetry

In her first collection of poems, Thakur layers raw vulnerability, music-like prose, and unadulterated honesty with themes of identity, the mundanity of life, and belonging. Expect ferocity, comical wit, sorrow and longing, while exploring fear, faith, and the complexity of relationships, all saturated in how feeling shifts, grows, and transforms.

Recommend by: Kojo Marfo, creative director at My Runway Group.

Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
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In her debut collection, Daley-Ward weaves her reflections on love, identity, faith, loss, time, and inner spirituality together. Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine) described Bone as like “holding the truth in your hands.” It’s a pure and thoughtful collection, both simple and complex at once.

Recommended by: Dee from The Black Feminist Bookshop. You can shop the Black Feminist Bookshop (via Bookshop) here, or sign up to their Patreon here.

A hybrid of poetry and lyrical fiction, this coming-of-age story — and winner of the Desmond Elliot Prize 2020 — is a deeply emotive exploration of one boy’s experience of being put under the care of the state. Once placed with a family he can’t connect with in the suburbs, he longs for the familiarity of the city. The author builds a picture of protagonist K’s journey into adulthood, as he delves into sexuality, addiction and violence, sifted through themes of love, religion, identity, and belonging.

Recommended by: Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop.

For coming-of-age stories

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya
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With the play between power and uncertainty woven throughout, Hamya tells the story of a young woman grappling with identity in an unfamiliar Oxford environment. There’s a sense of the stifling bubble of elitist higher education culture being so far removed from reality for the main character, against a backdrop of shifts in civil rights, Brexit, the Grenfell fire, homelessness, and climate change.

Recommended by: Rochelle Dowden-Lord, Katie Packer, and Soraya Bouazzaoui from the Main Characters podcast.

[Editor’s note: Three Rooms is due to be released on 8 July 2021, you can pre-order now.]

A reimagining of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Armstrong presents masculinity, intimacy and friendship through coming of age optics that resonate with Black young people. A portrayal of youth culture in West London, Armstrong packs comedic relief, nostalgia, love, and devastation into this story about two male best friends starting college. As they both try to build their creative flair, aspiring to careers in the music and art worlds, they’re dropped into a hostile environment with new social rules. Jacaranda’s own Tiffany Cook says it was one of her “absolute favourite” 2020 reads.

Recommended by: Tiffany Cook from Jacaranda Books.

A story that explores themes of violence and rage after loss, through a coming-of-age lens, Newland takes us along main protagonist Cory’s journey into an inner city London world of crime, from petty theft to armed robbery. With a heavy push and pull theme throughout, as Cory and those around him flit between paths they don’t feel able to control and pinning hope on routes like education as a way out, Newland presents reality, external factors, inner turmoil, and questions about choice and destiny as all inextricably linked.

Recommended by: Nii Ayikwei Parkes, writer and co-founder of Flipped Eye Publishing.

[Editor’s note: The Scholar is out of stock, but you can sign up to be informed when it’s back in stock below.]

A moving, nuanced, and intricate look at what it means to be Black and queer in London, Popoola introduces us to Karl and Abu, two (almost) adult best friends, set in 2011, as racial tensions rise across the city. With a lyrical flow to her writing, Poopala explores themes of tragedy, masculinity, confidence, alienation, and fraught fatherly connections in When We Speak of Nothing, against a backdrop of race riots sparked by the in-custody death of Mark Duggan.

Recommended by: Samantha Williams, founder of Book Love.

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A passion-fueled take on the power of dance and how it intersects with identity, Smith tells the tale of two girls straddling the line between youth and adulthood. Tying ideas about perfectionism and upbringing with a rich culture of Black rhythm and music, Smith presents shifts in each character’s emotions and identity against a backdrop of colourful music and lively dance, in both London and West African settings. Swing Time was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2017.

Recommended by: Fleur Sinclair and Jessie Downs from Sevenoaks Bookshop.

And a biography

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A biographical account of Marcus Garvey’s life, a Jamaican activist and politician (and controversial radical at points, depending on who you ask), this book chronicles his rise to household name in the 1900s, and his eventual fall into isolation and exile. Grant sneaks in humour and moments lightly dipped in cynicism, keeping readers engaged as they take in the events that saw Garvey become widely referred to as the “Black Moses,” but also, simultaneously, “just a Negro with a hat.” Chapters cover the beginnings of the Universal Negro Improvement Association — that was sparked into existence after a convention Garvey headed — his famous speeches, and his relentlessly bold (some might say brash, too) “Back to Africa” programme.

Recommended by: Nii Ayikwei Parkes, writer and co-founder of Flipped Eye Publishing.

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39 Fiction & Non-Fiction Books by Black British Authors