This October marks Black History month in the UK, a perfect time to expand your reading diversity and enjoy some incredible literature from Black authors and authors from ethnic minority backgrounds. With this in mind, our English Literature academics have suggested a few authors to get you started. All of these authors are studied on our English Literature BA (Hons) course in our Postcolonial Literature, Migration and Movement and American Literature Modules.
Alice Walker - The Color Purple
Alice Walker was the first black woman to win The Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction for The Color Purple in 1983.
The novel is set in the American Deep South in the 1930s and is written as a series of letters, many of which are addressed to God. The Color Purple focuses on the life of Celie, her relationship with her sister Nettie and the violence and hardships that take place due to her position within society.
Rather than a story of hopelessness, The Color Purple is a triumph of human spirit in the face of adversity. The novel interrogates the themes of race, gender bias, God and spirituality and is written using African American Vernacular English (a variety of English often spoken by some working- or middle-class African Americans).
Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart tells a story starting in the pre-colonial life of the Igbo tribe in Southwestern Nigeria and following the changes that take place due to the arrival of European colonists and Christian Missionaries in the late 19th century. The novel, split into three parts, follows Okonkwo – a wrestling champion from the villages of Umuofia. Achebe explores Igbo cultural values, their religion and rituals and how these are decimated and divided by the coming of the colonists. Colonial rule is met with mixed reactions from the Igbo people, some abandon their traditional beliefs whilst some, like Okonkwo, are horrified and believe the British will destroy their way of life.
In the novel, Okonkwo struggles with feelings of emasculation, from both his own family history, the expectations of others and, later, the colonial rule and foreign law. As tragedy besets Okonkwo time and time again, the struggle between cultural change, tradition, loss of identity and the disappearance of local languages shows a complexity and perspective that is completely neglected in ‘heroic’ novels written about colonisation by many White authors (such as Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines) and offers the reader a more complete historical picture.
Newsnight reading of Things Fall Apart
In this short clip from The BBC's programme Newsnight, Lucian Msamati reads a short section of Things Fall Apart to mark the novel's 60th anniversary.
Joy Harjo - An American Sunrise
Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the current United States Poet Laureate. She is the first Native American to hold the position of Laureate in the USA. An American Sunrise was published in 2019 and interweaves displacement, memory and Harjo's lived experience.
Harjo frequently includes indigenous landscapes, history, myths and symbolism in her poetry. She explores the limitations of the English language to describe the Native American experience whilst deftly wielding her own poetic language and immersing the reader in a varied subject matter, from the horrors of the past, the current political climate to her own autobiographical experience.
In the poem 'Grace' (video below), Harjo combines the everyday with the mythical, such as “the Haunting voices of the starved” juxtaposed with the “thermostat,” to create an all-over sense of balance between the old and the new.
Joy Harjo reads 'Grace'
These three publications offer a varied selection of perspectives but what about further titles? Well, for those interested in poetry, Out of Bounds is an anthology of Black British and Asian poets edited by Jackie Kay , James Proctor and Gemma Robinson. For those interested in novels, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (the current Booker prize winner) are all incredible titles covered in our English Literature BA (Hons) curriculum and are well received by students.
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