Not much is more important in the creative realms than representation. There’s something about seeing yourself in a character, on a screen, on a page. Recognising in a novel someone who thinks the way you do, who reacts in the same way that you used to get teased for, or who overcame the same obstacles you’ve been facing for years and came through the other side. Black authors are a part of that representation.
As a teacher, there are many books and shows that I’d love to use in my classroom, simply because of the representation contained within, be it Diversity and Inclusion from Rick Riordan’s tales of mythology, some LGBT visibility from Star Trek: Discovery, or the mind-bending look at racism when seen through Noughts and Crosses.
I want nothing more than to offer my students the chance to see themselves immortalised, just a little bit. I want nothing more than for them to see that they are valid, that they are treasured. I want them to see their differences prized so that they can start to prize them themselves.
On that note, I’ve done my absolute best to compile a list of twelve books to read in honour of Black History Month. There are links where you can find each of the selections below, just remember to check with your local bookstore for availability.
The list has been organised alphabetically by title so as to encourage you to browse though books you might not usually look at. Pick something old, pick something new. Try some Black authors you’ve never heard of, and take a step out of that comfort zone.
I challenge you.
Set in Manhattan’s Jazz Clubs of the late 1950s, Another Country explores themes of love and racism.
Set in Cincinnati in the mid-1800s, Beloved deals with guilt and consequences that come from slavery.
Set in Brixton, 1981. Book of Echoes contains parallel narratives that touch on themes of slavery, love, and familial attachments.
Book of Negroes is a historical fiction slave narrative spanning three continents and featuring a stong female protagonist.
Set in modern-day Nigeria, Freshwater explores themes of identity, family, and self discovery.
Set in Germany in the Second World War, The Grey Storm deals with racism, identity, loyalty, and injustice.
Set in Apartheid South Africa, Mine Boy looks at themes of injustice, privilege, and courage.
Full Text Available on Google Books.
Set in an alternate universe of our own world, Noughts and Crosses deals with themes of racism, love, and injustice.
Set in the 1950s, Rainbow Milk contains themes of racism, religious exploration, and sexual identity.
Set on a generational spaceship, An Unkindness of Ghosts offers a speculative fiction take on racism, slavery, difference, and determination.
Crossing several decades worth of literature, pulling from authors from around the globe, some well-known and others not, it is my sincerest hope that within these books you can find a little bit of yourself.
In 2017, @Ericsmithrocks — an author and literary Agent with PS — said something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. “When kids grow up not seeing themselves in books they grow up feeling like they don’t matter.”
Let’s be really and truly honest with ourselves for a moment here.
It’s not just kids, is it?
Emily MacKenzie is a Canadian-born writer who currently teaches Secondary English in Scotland. She studied English and Creative Writing at Carleton University in Ottawa, although her love of writing developed long before that. Emily loves exploring different narrative formats and styles in her own writing, and while she tends to stick with long or short prose fiction, the odd poem slips through from time to time. She can most often be found tackling one of several young adult fantasy stories she intends to publish, both on her tablet, and on the walls with stickies, markers, and poster paper.