There are plenty of things that are better left in 2020, but these books from last year aren’t one of them! If you’re still figuring out what to read in 2021, why not catch up on this list of great reads from Black authors?

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Our list is a roundup of last years published books, featuring some award-winning gems by Black authors that you might have missed off your reading pile last year.

The average adult will spend the equivalent of 34 years of their lives staring at screens and this will no doubt increase with most of us working from home, so with that in mind, why not give your eyes a rest and immerse yourself in some of these addictive literary masterpieces.


FICTION

 

The Returnees – Elizabeth Okoh

The Returnees

Elizabeth Okoh’s debut novel, ‘The Returnees’ is a powerful tale of identity, friendship and love.

This twenty-first-century novel follows the lives of three young adults in their 20s who have moved to Lagos, Nigeria with the hope of finding healing and self-discovery.

After a breakup that leaves Osayuki Isahosa heartbroken, she leaves behind everything in London to return to Lagos where she accepts a job in the fashion industry as the head of PR. On her travels, she meets Cynthia Okoye and Kian Bajo who are also on the road to self-discovery.

Kian Bojo dreams of being an Afrobeats star, also a Londoner, he returns to the motherland to explore and conquer the Lagos music scene. The other protagonist Cynthia, is a recent graduate whose father banished her to Lagos due to her laidback attitude, where she is required to attend the National Youth Service Corps.

Following separate paths, the trio split up after their plane lands to progress go on their journeys, but their lives seemingly intertwine and change the course of their existence forever.

Buy the book here

 

This Lovely City – Louise Hare

This Lovely City

This Lovely City’ by Louise Hare is a post-Windrush novel set in 1950s Brixton, London. The novel is a timely exploration of love, race, mystery and identity.

This debut novel follows protagonist Lawrie who has settled in Brixton alongside his fellow Windrush neighbours. Lawrie is intent on making a good life for himself, so he gets a job as a postman by day and a nightclub clarinettist by night.

He falls in love with his neighbour Evie Coleridge, the daughter of a white unwed mother whose father is from Sierra Leone and out of the picture. Evie’s mixed heritage presents a lot of prejudice and she is shunned by a lot of her classmates and even her own mother.

Lawrie is making a go at life across the pond until he discovers a Black baby dead in the pond at Clapham Common. He quickly becomes a suspect and the already tense situation between the growing Caribbean population and White Londoners become even more apparent.

This atmospheric historical fiction novel shows how new arrivals are always quick to have the finger pointed at but shows us there is always hope.

Buy the book here


 

Better Late Than Never – Chika Unigwe

Better Late Than Never

If you struggle to keep motivated at reading long novels, then this collection of short stories could be what you are looking for.

From award-winning author Chika Unigwe, ‘Better Late Than Never’ is a fictional tale of unconventional love affairs and lives of a group of Nigerian immigrants, making their way to Belgium.

The novel primarily focuses on Prosperous and her husband Agu, and the various visitors who gather at their apartment each week. The book is a collection of ten short stories exploring the lives of each character as their lives seemingly intertwine.

The short stories navigate stereotyping, race, love and friendships in each of the homesick characters’ lives as they try and make a life for themselves as an outsider in a foreign land.

Buy the book here


 

Love in Colour – Bolu Babalola

Love in Colour

If you’re tired of conventional love stories, ‘Love in Colour’ is a captivating collection of love stories inspired by Greek mythology and Nigerian folklore.

Babalola has found the most beautiful love stories from ancient history and re-wrote them in her novel with vibrancy and detail. Among the 13 stories in the book, there are also three original tales written by Babalola herself.

In an interview with Vice, Babalola said: “I have a Ghanaian love story, I have a love story from Lesotho, I have a love story based on the ancient African civilisation of the Wagadou people, who are now split up across West Africa in places like Mali and Guinea.”

‘Love in Colour’ is a celebration of romance in all forms.

Buy the book here

 

Luster – Raven Leilani

Luster

This raunchy contemporary novel has a powerful storyline about racism, sexism and capitalism with a blast of sex. A provocative page-turner, ‘Luster’ tells the story of protagonist Edie’s life from failed hook-ups to an open relationship that has disaster written all over it. The storyline delves deep into the nuances of being a young Black woman in modern society as Edie finds herself engulfed in an open marriage with two white people who have an adopted Black child in an all-white environment.

This is Raven Leilani’s debut novel and hit the New York Best Seller’s list as soon as it was published. ‘Luster’ was also given a positive debut review in the New Yorker. If you’re looking for an award-winning, five-star rated novel that explores open, twenty-first-century relationships then you’ve found it!

Buy the book here

 

Passing – Nella Larsen

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Passing

This is a literacy classic first published in the 1920s by author Nella Larson of the Harlem Renaissance. The novel was re-published in 2020 by publisher Penguin in anticipation for the novels Netflix film adaptation that we will definitely be watching and reviewing when it is released later this year!

The novel is a unique and revealing tale of two friends that explores racial identity in 1920s Harlem, New York. The title ‘Passing’, refers to when mixed-race people would pass as white at a time where racial tensions between Black and white people were high.

The plot is about two friends, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry. Clare, who like Irene is light skinned, ‘passes’ as White and is married to a racist white man who has no idea about Clare’s racial heritage. Throughout their friendship tensions mount to an unexpected end.

Buy the book here


 

NON-FICTION

 

Outraged – Dotty Charles

Outraged

Outraged’ is a brilliant non-fiction book by presenter and DJ Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles (Amplify Dot) about fake outrage on social media and the evolution of ‘cancel culture’ when it comes to social right issues.

Dotty was inspired to write ‘Outraged’ when she was on holiday in Thailand and found herself in a social media frenzy when high-street retailer H&M had revealed a jungle themed collection featuring a Black child wearing a monkey printed hoody. Like the rest of us, Dotty felt like she should too be up in arms until she realised where the collective outrage ended up. I think we can all agree that we have seen this outrage play out on our screens before and ultimately it leads to nothing.

Before social media, outrage was reserved for the truly unjust. It was for civil rights activists and suffragettes. It fought against police brutality, institutional racism, unequal pay, segregation, and voting rights. It prompted legislative review, abolished slavery and conquered apartheid.

Though this book addresses serious issues, it is a light-hearted, funny and interesting read that sheds a new perspective as Dotty looks at how we can use our indignation to influence positive and constructive change, rather than channelling it into empty statements and captions under reposted pictures.

Buy the book here

 

Locating Strongwoman: A Collection of Poems Offering a Portrait of Unperformed Femininity – Tolu Agbelusi

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Locating Strongwoman: A Collection of Poems Offering a Portrait of Unperformed Femininity

This collection of poems creates a portrait of unperformed femininity and celebrates what it means to inhabit yourself authentically as a woman without boundaries. This collection reminded us of how great we are as women and the joy of being true to ourselves and breaks the stereotypes of a, “strong Black woman.”

Tolu Agbelusi wrote ‘Locating Strongwoman’ for: myself and for women and girls like me who know or need to be reminded that strength can and most often does exist in ordinary living away from a podium, or the fabricated perfection that is sold to us as womanhood.”

This is playwright and author, Tolu Agbelusi’s debut collection and it is a much-needed pick me up for any woman who needs a bit of a boost to remind themselves of who they and how great they are.

Buy the book here

 

The Purpose of Power – Alicia Garza

The Purpose of Power

This book is a collection of lessons from the co-creator of the international Black Lives Matter Movement, civil rights activist Alicia Garza. The non-fiction book is a powerful and timely discussion on the recent racial history. Black Lives Matter began as a hashtag when Garza wrote what she calls ‘a love letter to Black people’ on Facebook. But Garza believed hashtags didn’t build movements, people do.

This thought-provoking memoir is an attempt to make sense not only of where Black Lives Matter came from but also the possibilities that it and movements like it hold for our collective futures. Ultimately, it’s an appeal to hearts and minds, demanding that we think about our privileges and prejudices, and ask ourselves how we might contribute to the change we want to see in the world.

Buy the book here

 

Dust Tracks on a Road – Zora Neale Hurston

Dust Tracks on a Road

Another brilliant novel from the 1940s Harlem Renaissance that was been re-published in 2020, ‘Dust Tracks on a Road’ is a candid, exuberant account of the authors’ rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. The new edition has a compelling introduction from award-winning novelist Jesmyn Ward.

The successful twenty-first-century author received warm words from Maya Angelou: “Zora Neale Hurston was a knockout in her life, a wonderful writer and a fabulous person. Devilishly funny and academically solid delicious mixture.”

Buy the book here


YOUNG ADULTS

 

Crown of Crowns – Clara Loveman

Crown of Crowns

This is a fictional love story with mystical and scientifical themes. A coming-of-age novel set in the fantastical world of Geniverd where a King and Queen are chosen every 40 years by a mystical bird that comes down from the heavens.

The protagonist, teenager Kaelyn starts to fall for Roki, a teenage boy who shows her what happens outside of her family estate. When Roki goes missing and Kaelyn’s mother dies, she marries a prince and is forced to deal with some strong spirits from her past.

If you love a mysterious, fantasy novel then we couldn’t recommend this more.

Buy the book here here

 

Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo 

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Clap When You Land

 

This is a stunning book in verse by New York Times Bestseller and Carnegie Medal-winning author, Elizabeth Acevedo. You may have missed this one in 2020, but you can’t miss it in 2021!

This is a dual narrative novel that explores two girl’s grief, loss and mourning as their father is killed in a plane crash that leaves both of them devastated…but there’s a twist. Their father’s secrets mean the two sisters were not aware of each other, so when it seems like they have lost everything they find each other.

Buy the book here

 

Cinderella Is Dead – Kalynn Bayron

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Cinderella Is Dead

This is a brilliant twist on the Cinderella story we all know so well… This fairy-tale novel shatters stereotypes and confronts sexuality and femininity head-on.

The protagonist Sophia is sent to the ball for choosing, but unlike the other girls she doesn’t want to be chosen, she doesn’t want to be at the ball at all. She’s afraid that the girl she loves will be chosen. Pushed beyond breaking point by a society that refuses to accept her, Sophia sets out on a journey that will remake her world into one where she gets to choose.

Kalynn Bayron breaks this fairy-tale apart and re-writes it to a narrative where girls get to choose what their happily ever after looks like.

Buy the book here


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