Novels by BAME Authors – Reading About Black Lives #BlackLivesMatter #BAME

Since the weekend I have seen many posts following the protests across the world after the murder of George Floyd by US police officers. This is where someone like me can feel powerless – I’m disabled, largely at home and without any real power. Like many others I’m sure, I’ve wondered what I can actually do. Yes, I can retweet and comment on posts, I could use the right hashtags and I could write to my MP. Also being white, I wonder if I truly understand and have friends who worry about getting any response totally wrong. The answer is to simply show solidarity in whatever way you can and if you do get it wrong, thank the person for pointing out your mistake and promise to research and get it better next time. It still all felt too little though, and nothing to do with the world of books which is the primary reason I’m here with a blog and Twitter account. What could I do, within the literary world that might make an ongoing difference? I’d seen people photographing book stacks of BAME authors or asking for recommendations of what to read. That’s when I realised I could help by using my blog to point others to great authors they might not have tried, and encouraging them to read wider than their own comfort zone which can be very white and privileged for some people. So here’s my list, some different authors than those you might know well such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. I hope this generates a few sales going forward and encourages people in my small sphere of influence to read more BAME literature moving forward. There are also some links at the end that you might want to explore too. Thanks for reading.

Edwidge Danticat

Danticat is an Haitian-American author, living in the USA. Although still living in the US, Danticat still considers Haïti her home. The themes of her writing are mother/daughter relationships, National Identity, and diasporas politics. Her first novel Breath, Eyes, Memory focuses on problematic mother and daughter relationships in Haiti. Sophie Caco lives with her grandmother in Haiti, but her mother lives in the USA. What Sophie doesn’t know is that she is the product of a violent race by the terrifying Tonton Macoute – henchmen of prime minister Papa Doc Duvalier. So when Sophie’s grandmother falls ill, and her Mum comes to Haiti, can they repair their estranged relationship and will they face the violence of the past together?

Her second novel The Farming of Bones is set in the Dominican Republic in 1937 and focuses on house maid Annabelle Desir and her lover Sebastien Onus. Haitian Girl,Annabelle, was orphaned at the age of eight and works mainly for the daughter of a wealthy and influential Spanish settler in their mansion near the border. She and Sebastien are caught up in the Parsley Massacre. Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo, wanted Haitians out of the Dominican Republic and ordered Dominicans to kill their servants and neighbours. This novel follows the Haitian couple as they try to escape back over the border and become separated. Who can Annabelle truly trust and will she reach her home?

2. Zora Neale Hurston

The author was an African American writer working in the 1930s. Her most famous novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered a classic of Harlem Renaissance literature. It is set in Florida in the early 20th Century and follows teenage girl Janie Crawford. When her mother dies, leaving Janie as a powerless and voiceless teenage girl, her grandmother Nanny, arranges for her to marry older man Logan Killicks. He is really looking for a domestic servant, but young Janie is like any teenage girl and longs for love. Her Nanny and her husband think she is ungrateful, and she runs away with a lover. Will Janie find love, or something much more important such as power and a voice?

3. Chimimanda Ngozie Adiche

A young Nigerian writer with several novels to her name, she is probably best known for Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, but I also found her first novel Purple Hibiscus a great read. Set in post-colonial Nigeria, our central character is Kambili a young girl living in a wealthy home, dominated by her devoutly religious father Eugene. Eugene rules his household with a Bible and with his fists. Trying to live in this violent household, while outwardly appearing like the perfect family, is hard for Kambili and her brother Jaja. They are regularly disciplined and beaten, with their mother Beatrice suffering two miscarriages due to Eugene’s violence. The children’s escape is to their Father’s sister Aunty Ifeoma who works and lives on the university campus at the capital Nsukka. This is a happy, liberal house and is so full of life. Here, Kambili learns to have a voice and form her own opinions. She also experiences a sexual awakening as she develops a crush on a young priest Father Amadi. As life in their own home comes to boiling point, how will Kambili break free from her father’s tyranny and live her own life.

4. Louise Hare

Louise is a London based author whose debuted novel was only just published in March this year. This Lovely City is one of my favourite novels of this year so far and is based in post WW2 London. The Empire Windrush has brought commonwealth citizens from the West Indies to work and settle in the UK. Lawrie is just off the boat, working as a postman by day and a Jazz musician by night. He has settled in lodgings in South London and has fallen in love with the girl next door. One day he makes a terrible discovery by the pond on Hampstead Heath and despite reporting to the police, the lead detective is convinced Lawrie is the guilty party. Girl next door, Evie, still lives with her Mum who is fiercely protective of her daughter, She has been the victim of prejudice due to Evie being mixed race. Will the truth come out or will Lawrie be imprisoned for something he hasn’t done? So evocative, you’ll feel yourself in the jazz bars of London.

5. Andrea Levy

Born in London, Andrea Levy is of Afro-Jewish descent and is probably well known as an author. Her novel Small Island was adapted for television starring Noemi Harris and David Oloweyi a few years ago, and her more recent novel The Long Song appeared on television at Christmas. Small Island covered our commonwealth citizens who signed up to fight for the British Forces in WW2, then those who came over post-war on the Empire Windrush. Gilbert Joseph fought in the war and now has lodgings with White-British woman Queenie Bligh. Unknown to him, Queenie is pregnant, the father is someone Gilbert knows from the same island, Michael Roberts. Michael is charming and charismatic but isn’t good at facing up to responsibilities. Hortense has grown up alongside Michael in Jamaica and had a huge crush in him, however she ends up marrying Gilbert in order to get to the UK. Hortense is proud of her education and is very sure that her mother country will want her skills as a teacher. However much Gilbert tells her that it’s different to the England they were promised back home, Hortense won’t believe him and it comes as a huge shock. When they find out Queenie’s secret, how will they help?

The Long Song is written as a memoir by an elderly Jamaican woman who lived through the final years of slavery in the 19th Century. It’s the story of July, a young black girl living on a plantation. When she’s a small child the the young plantation mistress takes her away from her mother, who works in the fields, and brings her into the house. She changes her name and sets about training her as her own lady’s maid. They then become rivals for the love of the new plantation overseer. However, soon comes the Baptist War and the last days of slavery. Despite the dramatic history she tells, July often strikes a strong comedy tone in the novel. Yet she also documents incredible power shifts between master and servant and the reader is drawn in to see who prevails.

This is only a very small selection of authors to try out but it is a start and I think we can all learn from them and author’s other work. Let me know how you get on and we can maybe chat about the book, but also other authors you could follow. This is a very bookish way of supporting the BAME community; not just by buying the author’s books but by reading and listening.

You can also help by donating to or visiting organisations such as:

https://blackculturalarchives.org/learning

https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/international-slavery-museum

And let people know about these opportunities for BAME writers and illustrators:

https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/booktrust-represents/support-for-authors-and-illustrators-of-colour/opportunities-for-writers-or-illustrators-of-colour/

Published by thelotusreaders

Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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