From Feminism to Sci-fi: Nine must reads for Black History Month
By Leanne Francis, Michelle Ye, Yumna and Jia Wen
This Black History Month, we have compiled a list of impactful books that should make their way into your to-be-read list. These books tackle difficult topics of Blackness, womanhood and lived experiences through different genres, themes and literature.
Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton
Originally published in 2000, and republished by Penguin in 2023, Blessing the Boats is a collection of poems by Lucille Clifton. Described as “one of the most distinguished American poets of the twentieth century,” Clifton addressed the whole of the human experience with her poetry: birth, death, children, dreams, spirituality, womanhood, illness, sexuality and racial injustice. Clifton’s poems are short but incredibly profound, making Blessing the Boats an essential addition to any bookshelf this Black History Month.
Girls That Never Die by Safia Elhillo
Award-winning poet Safia Elhillo closely examines the dangers of being a woman in her 2022 poetry collection, Girls That Never Die, drawing on stories from real life and mythology. In a collection that is both vulnerable and bold, Elhillo writes about the sisterhood that is formed between women under patriarchy, about women and their fearlessness, strength and infinite wisdom across generations.
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
A daring dive into Black womanhood, this book is a series of witty and reflective essays from a Black academic who describes herself as caught in the middle. “Too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country Black to be literary, and too naïve to show the rigour of my thinking in the complexity of my prose,” she quotes in the book. McMillan Cottom explores feeling “thick,” loud and opinionated in a society where Black women should occupy as little space as possible. Like advice from a cool aunty, Thick is described as a Black woman’s cultural bible.
Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Shadow Speaker, looks to a future ravaged by both technology and magic. Set in the Niger of 2074 we meet Ejii Ugabe, transformed by the bombs of her time into a girl who can speak to shadows. Ejii is no stranger to tragedy, having witnessed the execution of her power-hungry father. The pains of her past have now come back to shape her future as Ejii struggles to escape the liminal space between girl and woman. When Ejii’s abilities begin to show themselves, she is drawn into a journey that will take her through portals to other worlds while she reconciles personal vengeance with the safety of her people.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
As the consequences of climate change become increasingly evident, we can look back to Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, published in 1993 but set in 2024. Butler’s 2024 is ravaged by global warming and socio-economic inequality. Desperate and desolate, society is on the precipice of anarchy. Living in a secure compound, Lauren feels the pain of others with a sharp clarity as a result of a unique condition: hyperempathy. When her compound collapses, Lauren is forced to become a catalyst for change, striving for salvation – not just for herself, but for all mankind.
Drinking from Graveyard Wells by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu
Yvette Lisa Ndlovu's stunning short story collection centres on the experiences of African women, gathering stories across oceans, continents and time, and asking the question: “Even in death, who has ownership over Black women's bodies?” From an avenging spirit that takes on the patriarchy from beyond the grave, to a shapeshifting freedom fighter who leaves a legacy of resistance to her granddaughter, Drinking from Graveyard Wells transports readers into the lives of African women who have “fought across time and space to be seen,” making this collection a timeless addition to your reading list.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Published in 2017, this is Angie Thomas’ debut novel, spawning from a short story written in college as a reaction to the shooting of Oscar Grant by the police. It tells the story of Starr Carter, juggling her two lives in her neighbourhood of Garden Heights, and her white-dominated private school, Williamson Prep, and her experience in both worlds when she is the sole witness to the unjustified police shooting of her best friend, Khalil. The 2017 winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards for Young Adult Fiction, THUG is described as “smooth but powerful prose ... This story is necessary. This story is important."
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Top of his class and set for the Ivy Leagues, Justyce McAllister only had good things ahead of him. But it didn’t stop racist jokes in his predominantly white school, neither did it stop the police from putting him in handcuffs. Frustrated by the negative reactions towards himself, Justyce starts penning letters to the decreased Martin Luther King Jr. What is the correct way to respond to the racism he faces? Why is he treated like the thugs? The answers are vague as Justyce navigates an unjust world where success cannot shield one from racist prejudices.
Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
A Penguin Classic, originally published in 1966 and translated from Arabic, Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih wrote this postcolonial novel highlighting the effects that British colonialism had on African society, specifically in Sudan. The novel is from the perspective of an unknown narrator, who returns to his hometown in Sudan after extensive time abroad, only to find a bizarre young man among his community: the mysterious Mustafa Sa’eed. The novel explores the friendship between the pair, and, more notably, the mark Mustafa leaves on the town after his sudden absence. This novel is a key piece of postcolonial literature to read.