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The Rise of Black British Writers: 6 Black British Authors You Should Read

Keira Sesay

For decades black writers have struggled to get their books on our shelves and in our bookstores. Traditionally black stories have struggled to connect with stereotypical white-male figures that control the publishing and creative industries. But slowly those walls have started to break down. Since the mid-1900s black stories have elevated themselves to our bookshop windows. Recently readers have become more concerned with the black experience which has become the main topic for many modern black stories. This has been boosted further by the Black Lives Matter movement with the everyday man or woman interested in racial equality. Black British writing is now in full bloom and everyone wants to be a part of it. Here’s a list of wonderful black British writers to get you started:

Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman is one of the most successful black British writers of her generation. With a staggering list of titles such as Tell Me No Lies and Boys Don’t Cry, Malorie earned herself an OBE and the position of Children’s Laureate from 2013-2015. Malorie’s unique writing uses science fiction and dystopian to explore social and ethical issues particularly those surrounding race. Malorie has over 50 pieces of work in fiction, TV scripts, short stories, stage plays and radio scripts, which have received a whopping 39 awards and nominations. Malorie continues to write fiction and television dramas; her most popular novel Noughts and Crosses has now been turned into a TV series featuring rapper Stormzy.

Linton Kwesi Johnson

By Peter Verwimp – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wiki Common

When people think about writers, they often overlook poets. Poetry’s place in British culture cannot go overlooked. Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, activist and musician from Brixton London. Linton was a member of the British Black Panther movement and uses his poetry as a cultural weapon to make political statements. His poetry focuses on the African-Caribbean experiences in the UK specifically racist police brutality, his most popular poetry was written during the 80s when England was governed by Margaret Thatcher. His most popular poems include ‘Mi Revalueshanary Fren’ and ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’ which was recently featured and performed in a credit scene of the TV series The Crown.

Benjamin Zephaniah

By Edwardx – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wiki Common

Benjamin is a revolutionary poet from Birmingham. His work is centred around street politics. Despite having a poor education and leaving school illiterate at 13, he found his voice in poetry and music. In his early twenties, he moved to London to seek a wider audience for his work but was rejected by publishers, so he published Pen Rhythm with Page One Books. This book had huge success and sparked his career, going into three editions. His successful performances of Dub poetry attracted the interest of the same publishers who rejected him earlier. He also adapted his messages for children in his children’s poetry his first children’s book Talking Turkey, had an emergency reprint not long after its first release due to an unforeseen increase in demand. Benjamin rejected an OBE was included in The Times list of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers in 2008.

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is an author and professor from North London. She explores race and multicultural and social issues through different perspectives in her novels. She is particularly interested in barriers that are created through modern English social, racial and gender codes. NW is a good example of this in which she uses reconstruction as a medium. Her other works include On Beauty, The Autograph Man and her most recent Swing Time. Zadie Smith has received several awards for her works included the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Women’s Prize for fiction. She was named among the top twenty most influential people in British culture by the BBC in 2004. Zadie has now moved on to other types of writing including short stories like her collection Grand Union and essays such as her collection Imitations.

Diana Evans

By Roselyon26 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wiki Common

Diana Evans is a novelist, journalist and critic of Nigerian descent from Neasden. Diana refers to her work as ‘writing about blackness’. Her work draws on ideas of black identity and perspective in modern and contemporary ages. Diana’s characters have relatable psychological depth and complexity, many of them encounter real-life events such as Obama’s presidency and the death of Diana, The Princess of Wales. Diana had used some of her own life experiences such as the death of her twin sister to ground her writing. Her works include 26a, The Wonder and Ordinary People which has won the 2019 South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature.

Bernadine Evaristo

By Acthom123 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wiki Common

Bernadine Evaristo is a black British author from South East London, she is the first black woman and first black British person to win Booker Prize which she won in 2019 for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. The Emperor’s Babe and Hello Mum, two of her other books have been adapted into BBC 4 Radio Dramas. Her eight books use form and narrative point of view to explore African diaspora. She often blends past, future and present, for example, The Emperors Babe is a coming of age story about a black teenager with parents for Nubia but is set in Roman London around 2,00 years ago. Bernadine is also OBE winner and MBE winner.

Whilst it could be argued that modern authors such as Bernadine Evaristo and Diana Evans have widely benefited from a great shift and populated interest in black culture. It cannot be denied that the general concern for racial equality and understanding has also boosted the original critical thinkers like Zadie Smith and Malorie Blackman that created the building blocks for black British writing. There is no better time to explore and appreciate this. Creative industries as a whole are starting to find creative and inventive ways to promote black experiences and celebrate black achievements. Black people are finding themselves as lead roles and main characters, which is likely created a surge of black critical thinking younger generations. From this, I think we can expect more amazing writing from more black British writers.

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