Our Favourite Reads Of The Year by BIPOC Authors
By Shaniah Shields, Leanne Francis, Michelle Ye and Jia Wen Ho
2022 was a fantastic year for books by BIPOC authors. As the year draws to a close, let’s take a look at some of our favourite reads of 2022. From Trinidad to South London, these books are filled with colourful characters, cultures, magic, heartbreak and healing.
Poor by Caleb Femi
Winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, Caleb Femi’s debut poetry collection Poor is unflinchingly raw in its portrayal of Black boyhood, urban landscapes and loss in South London.
Femi draws on his filmmaking and photography background by interspersing the poetry with original photography that explores Black British identity. The photography acts as a visual companion to his tangible word choices, which contemplate life from the fabric of boyhood to the architecture of adulthood.
Author Derek Owusu describes the collection as “giving voice to a London many would prefer to ignore.” From meditations on the urban landscape to the Grenfell Tower fire and the constant cycle of gentrification, Femi conjures a sense of urgency and vulnerability in the following verse: “When hipsters take selfies / on the corners where our / friends died, the rent goes up.”
Femi’s ode to South London and storytelling celebrates a love of community and music. Some of my favourite poems from the collection are Thirteen, On Magic/Violence, Poor, Survivor’s Guilt, and Anikulapo. Please pick up this gem; you will not regret it.
Good Intentions by Kasim Ali
This book is a beautiful love story between a brown man and a black woman. However, it is also a complicated novel where family concerns, racism, mental health and cultural differences impede the relationship.
The love story part is simple; boy meets girl, they have undeniable chemistry and they fall in love. But there are other parts that are more complex. The boy has not told his family about the girl for four years, he suffers from severe anxiety and finds it difficult to walk in his hometown with his girlfriend’s hand intertwined in his. Good Intentions is perhaps a very fitting title for this tumultuous love story because the protagonist tries to justify his actions as such; but are they really good intentions?
Our team has interviewed Kasim Ali about his journey into the publishing industry and the inspirations for writing Good Intentions. You can read the interview here.
When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
Published by Penguin imprint Hamish Hamilton, When We Were Birds is Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s mesmerising debut novel. This magical Trinidadian tale blends fantasy and romance as it follows the lives of two characters: Yejide and Darwin.
Yejide is a young woman whose family has the power to communicate with the dead because they are descended from the “corbeau,” the "black birds that fly east at sunset, taking with them the souls of the dead." Darwin, on the other hand, is a gravedigger who has strayed from his Rastafari faith in search of work. Yejide and Darwin’s lives eventually intersect at the Fidelis graveyard, unleashing both the fury of souls still wandering the earth and the inevitability of fate and love all at once.
What I loved most about When We Were Birds is its strong sense of family and lineage – of knowing those who came before us and continuing their legacy. In an interview, Ayanna says that our ancestors are “our libraries” and that we must preserve their wisdom in any way we can. When We Were Birds is a timeless novel, rich with magic, hope, love and loss. When We Were Birds is an absolute must-read.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
Delving into Chinese culture and mythology, A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin (a New York Times Bestseller) portrays a new magic system that builds on the traditions of the past.
Ning is a gifted shénnóng-shī, and tea leaves are as familiar to her as family. The grief of causing her mother’s death, compounded by the fatal sickness plaguing her sister, forces Ning to make the difficult decision of travelling to the capital to enter a shénnóng-shī competition. Hoping that her gift will be enough to earn imperial recognition and save her sister, Ning finds herself unprepared for the complexities of the palace. Amongst the corruption, deception and even a little romance, Lin blends an appreciation for diverse histories into the novel that only enhances Ning’s story.
It was a pleasure to read a book that possessed a magic so seamlessly melded with existing cultural practices that it felt like I was rediscovering a facet of history. The stunning cover only added to the experience. Be sure to check out the sequel, A Venom Dark and Sweet, as well.