Almost three years ago I wrote an article on the lack of books for black girls – the response was overwhelming. What began as a personal endeavour (finding books for my sister) soon sparked a public discourse on the state of children’s (and adult) literature in the UK. Responses and comments came from bibliophiles, parents, and educators of all races.
Since the article was published, two notable campaigns have sprung up in the quest for inclusiveness in children’s literature: #WeNeedDiverseBooks – a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honours the lives of all young people; and #1000BlackGirlBooks – a project to find 1000 books with black girls as the main character, started by eleven-year-old Marley Dias who was sick of reading books about white boys and their dogs. At time of writing, the project has over 700 titles catalogued in a comprehensive database.
Both are great feats. Both started in the US. With the rise of the right in Europe, and Brexit, it is more important now than ever to have positive representations of black and PoC characters in (children’s) books.
After a quick scan of the major UK publishers, it seems that little has been published in the last few years. This is not to say that the books haven’t been written – the success of literature festivals such as Bare Lit, Africa Writes and Cultureword’s National Black and Asian Writers Conference is testament to the fact that black people and PoC are writing, and that they are creating characters beyond princesses and white boys with dogs.
The problem is that they are not being published. Every successful author will tell you that the difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is that they simply never gave up. While this is true – Malorie Blackman and JK Rowling both had a number of rejections before being published – it seems black writers who write black characters are ignored by publishers and agents. Every conversation I’ve had with publishers and agents (I will not name names) ends up the same: We’re not getting any submissions from BAME writers. Yet, ask any BAME writer why they were rejected by publishers, and the answer is almost always along the lines of their works not being ‘suitable’ for the publisher’s audiences.
If the material is being produced but isn’t being published, the logical answer would be to diversify the publishers, right? No. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Publishers are engaged with the notion of the D-word, but in reality they are doing little to change the status quo.
The answer is self-publishing and independent publishers. The rise of self-publishing authors from BAME backgrounds stems from this frustration with hyper-invisibility. From theatre to books, there has always been an issue with what black narratives are allowed to be told.
With Britain leaving the EU, we also lose out on major funding streams for literature, arts and research. It is up to black people and PoC to not only create their own works (which they have always done), but also to publish, distribute, buy and sell them.
In light of the above, this article lists books by BAME writers, resources for BAME writers who want to get their work published, and outlets that sell books by BAME writers. I invite you to contribute resources/books in the comment section.
A huge thank you to all those who have contributed to this list.
Books for young readers by Jacqueline Woodson
Counting To Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold
Dancing in the Rain, John Lyons
Niobe: She Is Life, Amandla Stenberg
The Mighty Miss Malone, Christopher Paul Curtis
The Skin I’m In, Sharon Flake
The Sonar System, Ras Mykha
Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat
Books for young adults by Jacqueline Woodson
Shadowshaper, Daniel Jose Older
The Hate U Give, Angela Thomas
The Spider King’s Daughter, Chibundu Onuzo
Online book lists
10 Books to Read to Our Daughters | Essence
45 Books to Teach Children About Black History | For Harriest
50 Must-Read Books | Les Reveries De Rowena
1000 Black Girl Books | Marley Dias
Mostly Lit | Podcast
Commonword: Cultureword – Writers’ development
Megaphone – Writers’ development
The Complete Works II – Writers’ development
B4ME Writing Prize
The Jhalak Prize – Writing prize
Bahati Books – Publishing
Crocus Books – Publishing
Haus of Liberated Reading – Publishing
Peepal Tree Press – Publishing
Unbound – Crowdfunding publishing
Letterbox Library – Bookseller
New Beacon Books – Bookseller
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Christina Fonthes aka CongoMuse is a poet, writer, and director. She explores various themes ranging from mental health-related issues, religion, sexuality, to the everyday and the mundane, based on her own experiences. Christina has completed residencies with Royal Exchange Theatre, Home, and Community Arts North West and is currently doing a residency at Commonword Cultureword through their Women in the Spotlight programme.
- Book list for black girls: promoting self-love and empowering young black women
- ‘Her nose was straight with a soft tip at the end’ — Writing Race at School
- “You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people” (mediadiversified.org)
- 100 Books by Black Women Everyone Must Read ( forharriet.com )