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Bernardine Evaristo Reveals her Top 20 Books by Black British Womxn Writers

Posted on 6th March 2020 by Mark Skinner

This International Women's Day Bernardine Evaristo, Booker-scooping author of Girl, Woman, Other, unveiled her personal selection of great books by Black British womxn. Conceived as part of Bristol Literary Takeover, and spearheaded by the organisation Words of Colour, the list was announced at the Waterstones shop in Bristol Galleries. Ranging across fiction, poetry, politics, cultural history and children's books, Bernardine's selection is a definitive guide to the very best writing by Black British womxn.  

Bernardine Evaristo says: 

Last year was particularly fruitful for writing by black womxn, with several debut authors of non-fiction in particular, which is why they are well-represented in this list. It’s a field that’s been arid up to this point, signalling an absence of our conversations from the intellectual culture. Each book explores its own individual cultural territory, whether that of the natural world, or a fictionalised memoir of a young actress, or a recalibration of feminism through an African prism. There still aren’t many of us writing novels or publishing poetry or children’s books, but the commercial and critical success of many of these titles makes me hopeful for the future.

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Smart, entertaining and compellingly honest, Character Breakdown is Zawe Ashton’s account of her acting career and how the years spent in the thespian world shaped her identity. As well as a personal memoir, Ashton serves up a razor-sharp breakdown of the glitz and gimmicks - as well as the casual racism - of modern day show business.
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An astounding, incendiary collection that takes the New Cross Fire of 1981 as a jumping off point for an exploration of injustice, prejudice and the turbulence of black lives in the decades since. An urgent new voice in British poetry, Bernard invokes Jamaican patois and the rhythms of the dancehall to craft a richly evocative verse-world.
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Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses series was one of the foundational texts of the Young Adult literature boom and now, over a decade after Double Cross, Sephy and Callum return in a blistering new novel that finds our protagonists all grown up but the dystopian world they inhabit still casting a shadow on their relationship. A mature, intelligent addition to a seminal sequence.
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In this lyrical tribute to the natural world, Burnett explores her father’s home region, the West Country, and the connection between a place and the people inhabiting it. Delicate, beautiful and full of reverence, The Grassling is a profound meditation on the interconnectedness of memory, language and natural history.
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Caught between the Jamaican British family who don’t seem to understand her, a job that’s not all it promised and a man she just can’t get over, Queenie Jenkins’ life seems to be steadily spiralling out of control in Candice Carty-Williams luminous debut. By turns hilariously funny, dramatic and tender, with a heroine to root for, Queenie is undoubtedly one of the year’s most exciting debuts.

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A story of slavery, freedom and the wonderful and dreadful secrets bodies give up under the cover of darkness, Sara Collins’ stunning debut moves from the plantations of Jamaica to the fetid drawing rooms of London. Echoing the gothic thrall of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, The Confessions of Frannie Langton is an unforgettable novel from a major new literary voice.
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In viewing black hair as emblematic of the black experience from slavery through to social media, Dabiri's deftly written history approaches a wide-ranging and complex topic from a startlingly original angle. Unearthing any number of jaw-dropping facts about the uses to which black hair has been put over the centuries, this is a remarkable, educational read.
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Complex and masterfully suspenseful, Darling is an impeccably executed psychological thriller, centring on a challenging relationship between a teenage girl and her stepmother. Through two powerful female narrators, Edwards weaves together a dark and chilling tale of what happens when trust disappears.
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Heart-wrenching and emotionally raw, Edwards blistering second novel examines youth violence and its disorientating, debilitating effects on the victims’ families. Told with tremendous power and force, The Mother grips from first page to last.
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Ordinary People is an intimate, immersive study of identity and parenthood, sex and grief, friendship and aging, and the fragile architecture of love. With its distinctive prose and irresistible soundtrack, it is the story of our lives, and those moments that threaten to unravel us.
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Inspired by the trailblazing website written by women and non-binary people of colour, I Will Not Be Erased is a propulsive set of essays from the site’s contributors to their younger selves. Raw, powerful and immensely important, this is essential reading.
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This Winner of the Little Rebels Children's Book Award tells the story of a slave boy shipped to England from a Jamaican plantation in 1783. His journey to London entails many harrowing discoveries, but also the kindness and generosity of strangers. With insight and hope firmly anchored in the narrative, Freedom offers an important perspective to one of the darkest episodes in British history.
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Two women, secrets, and a serial killer who got away. From the bestselling author of Goodnight, Beautiful and The Ice Cream Girls, this tightly-plotted thriller is filled with unexpected twists and riveting characters. Spiralling towards its explosive climax, Tell Me Your Secret is addictive, tense and simply unputdownable.
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An electrifying and impassioned polemic against the lack of diversity in the education system, Taking Up Space draws on case studies and testimonies from students past and present to challenge the stultifying status quo. A call to arms of the utmost eloquence and sophistication.
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Exquisitely written, Manyika’s tale of love, loss and identity spans four decades and two continents in its depiction of a doomed affair between a Nigerian immigrant and the daughter of a colonial officer. Exploring issues of race, class and culture with sensitivity and intelligence, In Dependence probes the African diaspora and its relationship with white, middle class privilege.
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A former winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Readers, Lawrence’s raw yet tender debut examines the vexed moral choices for a Black British teenager who always swore to stick to the right path. Lyrically written with an almost musical rhythm and brimming with compassion and insight, Orangeboy is a wise, engrossing read for both teens and adults alike.
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Breathtaking and visceral, Lola’s stunning debut collection hones in on the stabs and strains of grief with uncompromising intensity and lyrical power. Peeling away fresh layers of meaning with every line, In Search of Equilibrium is poetry of the very highest calibre.
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A panoply of giddily surreal miniatures glide through this effervescent collection from Okojie, from time travelling tramps to the trials and tribulations of a Grace Jones impersonator. Taking a hammer to narrative convention and unleashing a whirlwind of inspired absurdity, Nudibranch is a gleefully off-kilter triumph.
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Asking the questions that matter in a fragmented society with multiple contending narratives, Salami’s scholarly yet accessible volume marries afro-centric and feminist theories in a bold new approach to competing global visions. Vital, relevant and perceptive, Sensuous Knowledge is a triumphant synthesis of academic study and superb storytelling.
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Zany and endearing, Oh My Gods! pitches a family of Greek gods into the urban sprawl of London with hilarious results. Packed with brilliant comic set pieces and lovable, instantly relatable characters, Sheppard’s tale of teen angst and mythic madness is an absolute delight.
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