Category Archives: books

To All the Aunties I’ve Never Met: Ode to Black Women Authors

I grew up reading black women authors.  Their stories not only moved me, but felt like home.  Their published words offered me healing, strength, truth, courage, laughter and hope.  I really don’t know who I’d be if I’d not read Carry Go Bring Come repeatedly in infant school, Hacker in Juniors, or The Friends at the peak of my angsty teenage years.  Big Girls Don’t Cry was re-read regularly between GCSEs and university – ie as I was getting ready to go out into the world.  The stories they told have shaped the woman I am.  As much as I revelled in the adventures of the St Clare’s girls, and Tracy Beaker, Kitty Killen, and many other non-black female characters illuminated and accompanied me loyally through various dramas of my young life, they could never speak to the totality of my second generation immigrant, inner city reality like an Edith Jackson.

And my mum and other black adults in my life foresaw that.  A keen reader (a school report once noted I was caught reading ‘at inappropriate times’ aka in Maths), I read and loved all sorts of books; my mum complained for years about my obsession with Sweet Valley Twins.  However the adults in my life were careful to ensure I always had what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie later termed ‘a balance of stories’.[i]  Through my love of reading, my extended family nurtured my sense of self as a black woman to-be:  I became accustomed to black girls being the centre of a great adventure as often as anybody else because of the books I read.  How could I not grow into a confident, ambitious young black woman when I was familiar with so many universes in which black girls like me shined brightly?

Thus when two black friends my age asked me if I could name 5 black women authors of fiction, I genuinely wondered if this was a trick question. ‘Francophone ones?’ I paused ‘Hmm…Condé, Schwartz-Bart, Lacascade…’ With more time I’d have added Danticat, Jessica Oublié. No, they clarified, writing in any language.  They had recently realised they could not name 5 black women authors between them.  That there were black people who didn’t know there was a whole world of black women’s writing was a revelation:  Black women authors part-raised me.  They are the wise, understanding, encouraging aunties I’ve never met.  They’ve been looking after my wellbeing, nourishing my dreams, sharing their escapades and experiences and inspiring my own adventures for as long as I can remember.

The question came in a context:  I’d recalled a former student, a black woman.  At the end of the course her feedback was ‘black people, we have done things.  We’re not always in the background, the sidekick or sideshow.’ She was a Caribbean-born and based heritage professional, at least 15 years my senior and her unexpected response both made me want to weep – she had lived her whole life not knowing black people had ‘done things’?! She learned that in my lil class?? – and determined to teach black history. She’d probably never read many books by black people about black people, my friends had surmised.

At their request, and perhaps subconsciously for that student, I produced a list of my most treasured fiction by black women authors[ii], smiling at all the memories.  Not all the fiction by black women in the world, nor all the books I have read by black women. The 20 odd novels by black women I have loved more than others that came to mind in the 12 hours after the request. Your favourite reads might not appear: it’s my list. It doesn’t include beloved non-fiction, nor recent books on my to-read list, like Homegoing and Children of Blood and Bone, of which I’ve heard great things. Just my favourite novels, brilliant fiction, centring black people by black women writers.

Enjoy!

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende* (YA: Zorro or City of the Beasts, though not 100% unproblematic)
  3. Memoirs of a Born Free by Malaika Wa Azania**
  4. Une Si Longue Lettre (English: So Long a Letter) by Mariama Bâ
  5. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (YA) (kids: Hacker)[iii]
  6. Big Girls Don’t Cry by Connie Briscoe
  7. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  8. Moi, Tituba, Sorcière (English: I, Tituba) by Maryse Condé (awesome companion to The Crucible by Arthur Miller)
  9. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  10. Phillip Hall Likes Me I Reckon Maybe by Bette Greene* (YA)
  11. The Friends by Rosa Guy (YA) (kids: Paris, Pee Wee and Big Dog)
  12. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  13. Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (YA)
  14. Passing by Nella Larsen
  15. Small Island by Andrea Levy
  16. To The Black Women We All Knew by Kholofelo Maenetsha
  17. Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell
  18. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  19. Carry Go Bring Come by Vyanne Samuels (kids)
  20. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
  21. Rainbows of the Gutter by Rukshana Smith* (YA)
  22. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  23. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (YA)

Please note, the vast majority of these authors have published more than one book I’ve loved, but I decided 1 spot per author.

If you read the list, and your instinctive response is ‘You would love X novel by Y black woman author!’ please comment and suggest it! I might have read it, it might get bumped up my to-read list, but I might have never heard of it and you then gift me with my newest favourite book. For which I’ll always be grateful.

 

[i] In her 2009 Ted Talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’

[ii] As I looked up some of my most cherished reads, I realised some authors weren’t black women. As I’d lived blissfully ignorant of/clearly forgotten this fact until now (except Isabel Allende) I left the books on anyway and asterisked the authors because I clearly felt that auntie love through their work.

[iii] Where authors or books are for children or young adults, I’ve added a kids (up to 10) or YA (10-16) title or bracket.

**Okay, not technically a novel, but her memoirs recount three generations of women living through and after apartheid, and I was so engrossed it felt like a novel.

Seven Reasons To Visit Nigeria ASAP

It’s not often that artistic genius seamlessly meets serious political commentary.  But it seems to happen all the time in Nigeria.  There’s no less-dramatic way to say it so, in a nutshell, Nigerian artists have changed my life.  I’ve never been there, which is perhaps why Nigerian storytelling has not just captured my imagination, it has demonstrated the boundless possibilities of literature. Over the years I’ve heard so much about Nigeria from (admittedly annoying) patriotic Nigerians that it’s long been number two (reasons to visit, number one, Ghana can be found here) on my Must-See West African Countries list (you have one of those right?) nobel_treeplantingIt may well be true that stories grow on trees in West Africa.  I love Nigeria for gracing me with an abundance of stories that are at once 100% rooted in a specific locale, embroidered with such detailed analysis of the universal, and told through fully-formed African characters. I frequently lose myself, investing totally in outcomes which are fictional creations based on somebody else’s reality.  If there’s any one country, where a lot of my favourite novels come from, it’s Naija.  A fiction festival in Nigeria would look a lot like heaven to me. With no further ado, here’s seven reasons to be ridiculously excited about going to Nigeria: Continue reading

Listening in on Young People in South Africa

I often reference books I like, or which made me think, or which taught me something I think might prove useful to know sooner or later.  Memoirs of a Born Free, about a young woman activist growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, is one of those books.

This review,  on the Steve Biko Foundation’s Frank Talk blog, discusses the book and it’s Eastern Cape launch event in Ginsberg, and sums up why I think it’s a must-read for you.

 

Dream to Reality : A Black Brit Plans An African Roadtrip

The trip I’ve planned traversing the African continent should contain just enough adventure to be considered an appropriate remedy to an extraordinarily long summer break. I’m not complaining, you understand, I just want it to be clear that I’m not skiving off normal life.  On the contrary, I’m trying to live it to the fullest!  In case you’re still undecided on what to do this summer and in need of some inspiration, here’s how I prepared my summer adventure.

What I hope to do:

It’s always best I find to start the adventure with a daydream.  What do you think would be a single awesome thing to be able to say at the end?  Before my epic adventure is complete I’ll have dipped my toes from North to South Africa and from East to West.  I’ll have gotten a little acquainted with some incredible capital cities, taken in awesome landscapes to set my heart a flutter, and then at peace all over again.  I’ll have sampled unimaginable amounts of scrumptious African cuisine, decimated (okay dented, I still have to eat when I get home) my savings in AfroChic, and caught up with some beautiful people I have the honour to call friends.  I’ll also get to see the hometowns they recalled so vividly and lovingly when we were young people in the UK together.

Why Africa?

thingfallapart

Warning: this book will make your life better

Caramel

An awesome film about sisterhood, Beirut and a beauty shop…I’ve been desperate to visit Lebanon ever since.

Where in the world excites your imagination and why?  Is there someplace that you’ve always wanted to go for a really random reason?  Or because of a book you read once?  A scene in a film?  Act on that impulse! Continue reading

6 Simple Reasons To Be Ridiculously Excited About Going to Haiti

Français : Le général Toussaint Louverture.

Français : Le général Toussaint Louverture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not really into blogging on the road.  I know lots of people write about their experiences as they go along and it gives a real sense of immediacy to their travel writing, but it’s just not me.  I like to take the whole trip in and reflect on it before I write it up.  Everyone’s different, it’s just my way.

Part of it is probably that I like to do one thing at a time; if I’m exploring and discovering someplace new, I’m really not trying to interrupt the magic with a trip to the internet cafe, or worse, a hunt for one.

I’m also one of those black people that despite the advent of modernity, deep down still won’t celebrate my birthday before it’s actually happened.  The travel version of this superstition about jinxing the future by acknowledging it, is not writing/blogging about a place before I go.

But boy.

Life is short.

Anything could happen before I go, when I reach, or before I get back.  Given that I seem to tell every passer-by that says hello that I’m going to Haiti, with a grin that suggests that I’ve won the lottery, I figure I should outline why exactly I’m on a Serious Hype Ting as one might say in South London. Continue reading

Holidaying vs. Travelling : Busting the Myths (SPOILER: You Are A Traveller. Probably.)

I tend to document my travel adventures here, rather than the human drama which is the detail of daily life; paying bills, washing clothes, mentally preparing for and winding down from work, answering and sending ‘serious’ emails.  It’s not a value judgement, just evidence of me having my head in the clouds.  However people somehow seem to forget that my travel adventures are not actually my daily life.  My 9-5 wholly funds my fun (how I budget for travel is for another post).

As free-spirited as I may be, I do not live on the road nor out of my backpack.  I simply like being on the road for short periods, and I therefore maximise the potential of every bit of holiday I get.  You, dear reader, can do the same should you choose to.  There’s a big lie going around which makes people feel like adventures are out of their reach:  Going on holiday is not the same as ‘going travelling’.  This is simply not true. Continue reading

Romance in the Rainforest: Dating in Paradise II

Apparently, I’m a romantic.  I don’t think it’s asking too much for a young man to put some thought into how he keeps my attention.  I’m not against a little effort, or being impressed.  It’s not that I’m into insincerity and sweet nothings. I simply believe that if life is to be lived abundantly, then matters of the heart should involve some involuntary fluttering.  And frankly, on a lush tropical island, it is not exceedingly difficult to woo a romantic; breathtaking views are the norm, atmosphere is everywhere and a little creativity can go a really long way at literally no cost.

As a young, single woman with a cute English accent (although I didn’t know that ’til much later) from abroad I was bound to be a curiosity (read: fresh blood) when I moved to the French Caribbean.  And I was semi-mentally prepared for it.  In addition, as with the approach of summer in temperate countries, I had the swinging hips of a woman liberated from her winter wardrobe with suitcases of new light and colourful clothes to enjoy.  Continue reading