Category Archives: travel

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 because I’ve heard great things. Just my favourite novels, brilliant fiction, centring black people by black women writers.


  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)
  24. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  25. The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

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.

Why I Didn’t Take Any Pictures In Pandama, Guyana

An intense week working was spent learning, listening, reading, and uploading, uploading and more uploading. Rightly or wrongly, I needed to get out of Georgetown’s vibrant, multicultural, noisy, wonderfully Caribbean metropolis, and see some of Guyana’s savannahs.  Those sweeping landscapes, vast lakes, and that postcard-perfect greenery that had been glimpsed with awe since my arrival.

The thought of jumping out of bed at 5am to travel half the morning, backpack firmly in place, to take in some magnificent manifestation of nature, had kept me going when exhaustion threatened to overtake me.  Georgetown was sweaty and lively and thought-provoking and exhilarating, but I had to see some of rural Guyana before departing.  Caribbean living has created a weekly need for wide open spaces, and I was desperate to experience Guyana’s.

But it turned out they were days away by bus or boat, or out of my price range if I wanted to fly.  A more affordable option for this self-prescribed one-day adventure was wine-tasting just outside the capital.  It was one of those weeks that you finish depleted, but with a sense of satisfaction, and after which you particularly appreciate an alcoholic drink.  I really wanted to have more memories of my time in Guyana than the journey between my accommodation, amazing food, and the insides of the buildings I was working in.

So we went to Pandama.  For wine.  From the Caribbean.

I wasn’t the only one.  Two equally hard-working and exhausted girlfriends and I voyaged by bus along Guyana’s highways and bays/riverbanks for a solid hour before transferring to a taxi for the last 20 mins of the journey; off the beaten track and into serenity.

We got out and pretty much flopped onto the first free table.  Our first glimpse of Pandama was an open space of bamboo, tables and books, filled with the smell of freshly cooked food aka heaven.  As we unwound, and gossiped and took in the quiet, I could but smile.

We’re all about consuming local, plus trying new things keeps me excited about life, so tasting wine made from local fruits was quite some way up my street.  And this is Pandama winery’s speciality.  Passion fruit, sorrel, golden apple…all become wines in Pandama.  Refreshing chilled wines.  Not juice-ish, not sweet like non-alcholic wines, just wine.  Tasting is believing and Pandama’s wines are a tongue’s delight.

About halfway through our tasting, we were informed that we’d have to take a break cos live music was starting.  2 out of 3 of us were saddened by the interruption to the moment that was literally being savoured.  Determined to drink, it was with latent annoyance that we reconvened to another part of the property – by the river – where performances by some of Guyana’s eclectic musicians were taking place.  Despite our initial grumbling, we conceded that actually, they were good.  Really good.  Plus purchasing a bottle of passion fruit wine meant we really didn’t have to stop drinking.

The Pandama experience was taken up a notch.  Some folks swam, some listened from the water, some dropped their legs into the water, others lounged while the artists took turns to delight their audience.  A mixture of male and female musicians rapped, sang, and played a live acoustic session on the water.  A couple of guitarists, a drummer, a flautist and some percussionists mixed with some beautiful voices, thoughtful sometimes witty songwriting and lovely harmonies to create a transcendental riverside musical experience.

I may be biased;  I love live music, and I love water.  But it was also just a peaceful moment of pleasure.

Treated to  local chart toppers and internationally renowned artists playing Caribbean folk music, hip hop, spoken word, punk rock/reggae fusion and sweet R&B, I swayed and danced and was replenished.  I didn’t take pictures: I was in the zone.

When the moment was over, the wine tasting resumed.  Chillaxed and chatting with the lovely owners, we discovered there are bungalows elsewhere on the grounds, as Pandama is actually a retreat as well as a winery (a retreat…with wine!).  Pandama Winery and Retreat, Guyana.  You heard it here.


Sometimes I Want To Write

I see things, hear things, try to make sense of them, and writing helps me understand it all; what I think I witnessed, what emotions coursed through me, my response, and how (if) that reaction changed the situation. Or what the experience just taught me about the world. I love writing.  I didn’t know that before I started movingblack – it was more of a challenge I set myself – but I found I proper love using words to express the myriad of thoughts that I have about the world and my adventures in it.

If you’ve followed this blog for more than a week, you’ll have realised I’m kind of a fraud.  (Though I secretly prefer the term renegade) I’m not a blogger.  At least, not a good one.  I don’t blog frequently anymore, nor with anything resembling a rhythm. I get off topic easily and most posts exceed 1000 words.  I am slow at replying to comments, and my blog doesn’t seem to be a community of its own.  I am not a good blogger.  (So, if you’ve left a comment I’ve taken ‘a while’ to reply to, it’s nothing personal at all.  I only struggle with internet etiquette,  I’m really polite in reality.)  I figure, I’m not a surgeon, nobody’s life depends on being able to read a new blog post from me, so I don’t beat myself up about it too often. Plus I have a day job and plenty of real-world commitments and I’ve had one hell of a writer’s block for months now.  But then I read this piece by Radical Faggot and it all made sense again.

I need to write. Not for you dear reader, nor even for me, but because as Chimamanda once argued, there really is a danger in a single story.  By writing, I contribute to the existence of multiple narratives.  Of every thing, person and place I write about.  To me, this is crucial because multiple narratives sharpen the mind.  When multiple narratives present themselves simultaneously, a choice is necessary because questions arise; who said what?  When?  In what context?  Why?  What are their interests?  Are they reliable?  Consistent?  Revolutionary? Do I agree with their standpoint?  What does that change?  Are the available narratives the only narratives?  The most important? What is missing?  Who is missing?  Where multiple contradictory narratives exist, critical thinking happens.  No statement can be taken at face value; by virtue of a second, third, fourteenth version of the same story, holes appear, through which the truth starts to poke.  Sometimes.

So I guess this is a statement of intent to blog*, inspired by a blog post entitled ‘the political significance of being inconvenienced.’  The politics of rad fag are just On Point.  As committed an armchair activist as I claim to be, the one action I can take relatively frequently is to simply state my Afro-Caribbean/British/Migrant/French-Speaking/Girl truth.


I’m currently processing a fabulous Haitian adventure, so watch this space.   And follow Radical Faggot for powerful political commentary of the radical variety.  Plus, they post frequently.




* Disclaimer: in my haphazard, wordy, unrecommended-by-wordpress way

Trauma in the Spotlight

Disclosure:  As a teen, I dreamed of being an investigative journalist.

It’s been a full 24 hours since my most recent trip to the cinema and I’m still kinda traumatised.  After the film finished, I discussed it for a solid 90 minutes.  After a night of poor sleep, I woke up and did a quick internet search before work: I needed to know how true this story was.  I got that the main thrust is true, but how many liberties did the filmmakers take for dramatic effect?  How much artistic licence did they employ? Continue reading

Who in Harlem or Port-of-Spain Remembers Claudia Jones?

I think I might have a country crush on Trinidad and Tobago.  As a country, it simply fascinates me and there’s a startling number of paradigm-shifting black radicals who were born and raised there which may explain why.  Claudia Jones is just the latest to set fire to my imagination.

I’m also a big fan of carnival.  In the part of London where I grew up, I felt like I was the only black girl whose parents didn’t make sure they participated in Notting Hill’s festivities in full costume, even though in the days before the jubilee line extension and the overground line, Notting Hill was FAR.  Some kids participated every single year throughout primary school.  We went as a family every year, but I wasn’t ‘in’ carnival.  My happy hippy school, wider community and black-and-proud family nevertheless ensured that I had it drummed into me that Notting Hill Carnival was an important expression of our Caribbean culture, and was also to be celebrated as an act of remembrance of our place in British history.

I thus grew up knowing the name of Claudia Jones as she was ‘the mother of Carnival’.  What she created sixty-odd years ago as an indoor event designed to demonstrate that Caribbean culture was joyous and valuable, not simply alien and inferior, is now the biggest street party in Europe. Continue reading

Dark Phrases: My Journey To Poetry Onstage And Off

Home. Where we come from frames everything we see later, everywhere we go. Whether we liked home or not, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The recourse to reading this young poet talks about totes reminds me of my childhood and adolescence. Different authors, soothing the same pain.

If anyone’s never witnessed me explain why I’ve never dated anyone more than 3 years older than me or won’t go to ‘school uniform’ themed parties, ’13’ says it beautifully. I’m pretty sure the first 20 men who asked for my phone number were all at least 10 years older than me. It reminds me of my innocence with the first few, when I wasn’t sure why they enjoyed a brief conversation so much that they’d like a second one. I still remember the revulsion mixed with fear I felt at the sight of men obviously in their late 40s slowing their cars down to chirpse me and my school-uniform clad friends.

Having said that, growing up as a black girl was great training for becoming a black traveller! The writer, Jasmine Jones, articulates the home I first travelled from.

No Fly on the WALL.

Happy Black History Month! Throughout October we will be celebratig the achievements of black women past and present through our SHEroes series. To kick things off, here is a ‘Poessay’ (Poetic essay) by our newest writer, Jasmine Jones. 

“dark phrases of womanhood

of never havin been a girl”

13 – You are walking down an aisle in a supermarket when you realize a

man has been following you. This man must be at least five years your

senior and he soon tries to call after you. Even as he sees you running

away – he persists. As you run all the way home you are not just running

from the man. You are running from the idea that you – year 8, pre-GCSE –

could be pursued by an adult man. That in that man’s eyes you were no

longer a girl but – an adult woman. When you finally…

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Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Malorie Blackman

Before Chimamanda and Zadie, they were there, like Rosa Guy, and Mildred T Taylor and Connie Briscoe, telling stories that moved me, that felt like home.


But Walker, Morrison and Blackman also did various things to make me want to write.

Alice Walker said, I read somewhere, and I’m massively paraphrasing here, that writers write because they have something stuck inside that sits uncomfortably until they get it out.  They write because they have to.  Sounds like me.

Toni Morrison showed me that writing is an art form, and there are geniuses, and people that somehow manage to pay the bills and that was no bad thing, but I should be able to tell the difference.  But then she also said if I can’t find the stories I want to read, I should write them myself.  Sounds like me.

When my mum came home with Hacker by Malorie Blackman, when I was a kid in the 90s and computers were still something to be awed by – on those occasions you were able to get near one – I connected instantly.  Her heroine, a black girl from London who uses computers to prove her dad’s innocence, was an ordinary black girl turned superhero, and was from London, like me.

Summer’s officially over and I’ve not travelled abroad, but have seen another side to Martinique.  I also wasn’t ‘home’ much, so I reckon I can crank out at least one short note based on the adventure.  5 Reasons To Make Your Caribbean Accomodation A Hospital is coming soon.

Til then 🙂

Unrealistic Blacks

I think this is why people sometimes are surprised that I, a black woman who travels for fun, can exist. They’ve not seen someone like me on TV cos a studio exec somewhere reckons the character would come across as ‘unrealistic’! Loving how the bounds of possibility are illustrated here: one man terrorism fighting machine (Jack Bauer)? Possible. Black president he reports to? Impossible. LMAO!

Tawanda's Notepad


Remember the days when having black folk as leads in TV shows was considered unrealistic? I mean, before folks like Kerry Washington (Scandal) or Don Cheadle (House of Lies) were commonplace on the small screen, having black people in prominent roles was considered improbable; a sort of political correctness gone berserk.

Dennis Haysbert played US President David Palmer in the popular series 24. I remember some fans writing in to complain that having a black US president was a tad “unrealistic”. Imagine that. You are watching 24 and in all the crazy implausible scenes with Jack Bauer as a middle aged one man counter-terrorism fighting machine, all you’re seeing as the ONE unrealistic thing here is the race of the president? Ironically, it’s been said that Haysbert’s portrayal of David Palmer allowed viewers to become more comfortable with the idea of a black US president and consequently may have helped…

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Battledream Chronicle: Lame Name, Awesome Film

Now that I finally understand that a love of Martinique does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of colonialism, mental slavery or white supremacy, I’m coming out of the closet as a Madininaphile.   So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that my chosen residence at present is the centre stage of an animated feature at cinemas now.  Enter Battledream Chronicle.

Continue reading

Broken News: How To Save International Bureaus

“It’s time to let those who live and breathe these stories in their day-to-day life, those that are personally impacted by these stories and wholeheartedly know what they mean for their people, to be the voices bringing these stories to the rest of the world.” Another great piece from media diversified. Denying local expertise or the legitimacy of people articulating their own reality is not restricted to travel writing apparently.

Media Diversified

by Ban Ibrahim

The bureau is a beautiful old Kabul house with a beautiful green lawn. However, that old house is only for the foreign journalists,” says Ali M. Latifi, an Afghan-American journalist living in Kabul, about the New York Times bureau in the city. “They work and live there. The local staff work in a small little side house, traditionally used for the household servants, behind some trees and hidden from view. They literally segregate their local and foreign staff. I don’t think it gets any more obvious than that.”

Latifi, who reports for the Los Angeles Times, recently called for fundamental changes to international news media in his article published here at Media Diversified, “No news is foreign: the future of the foreign desk”. He spoke of issues related to ownership and representation that have been compromised in the way international news is reported…

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