21 Top Black British Authors You Should Read
Diversity in the publishing world is a hot topic, and rightfully so. Writers provide such unique insights into different cultures and ways of life; it’s important to support all authors and discover new, powerful stories.
It’s refreshing to read novels, poetry and works from a wide range of writers such as African American authors, for instance.
Below are 21 of the best black British authors who have published work worth reading and sharing with others.
1. Alex Wheatle
Wheatle, who is of Jamaican descent, grew up in South London where he lived in a children’s home. He participated in the Brixton riots of 1981 and was sentenced to prison. While in prison, Wheatle began reading works from Richard Wright and John Steinbeck and he began to care more about his education. Now an award-winning author, Wheatle uses his platform as a voice against abuse and sexual assault. In 2008, he was awarded as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to literature. His most recent novel, Liccle Bit, includes themes of love, gang violence and making tough choices.
Born in Scotland, Forna is an award-winning author who has spent time living in Sierra Leone, Iran, Zambia and Thailand. Her memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water, is about her dissident father and received wide acclaim as it was chosen for the “Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers” series. Her novel, The Memory of Love, was shortlisted for The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2011. Her writing is strong and her stories are filled with rich, colorful characters dealing with real struggles. Not just an author, Forna has a passion for serving others and she established the Rogbonko Project back in 2003 to build a school in a Sierra Leone village.
Self-proclaimed poet, writer, lyricist, musician and trouble maker, Zephaniah is an author not to be missed. Zephaniah is a creative influence who continues to inspire folks all around the world. In 2008, he was included in The Times list of Britain’s top 50 post-war writers and most would be surprised to find out Zephaniah actually struggles with dyslexia. His writings reflect his outspoken personality; he’s fought against homophobia in Jamaica and has called for Welsh and Cornish to be taught in English schools. Take a leap and join his over 21,000 Twitter followers who love his enthralling works.
Award-winning author of seven books and other works that span genres of fiction, essays, and theatre drama, Bernardine is a creative powerhouse. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, is about a 74-year-old Caribbean London man who is closet homosexual. Even The Guardian writes, “If you don’t yet know her work, you should – she says things about modern Britain that no one else does.” If you’re lucky enough to be a student at London’s Brunel University, be sure to take her Creative Writing class.
Born in St. Kitts, Phillips moved to Britain at just four months where he grew up in Leeds and later attended Oxford University. He was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 1992 and awarded the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize. His most recent novel, The Lost Child, is a story centered around orphans and outcasts, inspired by Wuthering Heights. Phillips is a captivating writer and speaker; he’s served as the keynote speaker at several major conferences and festivals around the UK and across the globe.
This rapper and music producer turned novelist is a west London native who has always been an avid writer and novel enthusiast. Newland published his first novel, The Scholar, in 1997 (at the age of 23) and has since published an additional seven including, Snakeskin and The Gospel According to Cane. Themes in his writing include crime, music and gang violence; his work is particularly popular among younger generations.
7. Diana Evans
Award-winning writer and journalist, Evans was born in London and earned her MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Her first critically-acclaimed novel, 26a, is about identical twin sisters who must deal with their alcoholic English father and quirky Nigerian mother. They forge a way to find their dreams and escape to a world of their own making. Evans’ words are captivating and inspiring; her novels are must-reads.
Born in London to Nigerian parents, Adebayo has been named one of the “best young British novelists” by The Times Literary Supplement and is known for his “musical” use of language. His debut novel, Some Kind of Black, won him many accolades including the Author’s Club First Novel Award, the 1996 Saga Prize, and a Betty Trask Award. Adebayo has also appeared on TV to discuss topics ranging from politics and pop culture, to sports and literature. He’s a talented author with words worth reading.
Koomson holds two degrees in Journalism and Psychology from Leeds University and wrote her first [unpublished] novel, There’s A Thin Line Between Love And Hate, at just 13 years old. Her second novel, The Chocolate Run, published in 2004, is a fun story about Amber Salpone whose life motto is: who needs love when you’ve got chocolate? Koomson writes with sass and wit; she’s an excellent author to check out.
Born and raised in London’s East End, Mitchell is not only a novelist but a broadcaster, motivational speaker and freelance education consultant. She’s written for The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent on issues ranging from race and class to government and education. Mitchell was also the first black British writer to be awarded the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey Dagger for her debut book entitled Running Hot. Her latest book, Death Trap, is about a young girl who has five days to stay alive after seeing her family murdered. If you’re a fan of book series and sequels, check out Mitchell’s “Gangland Girl” series as well as her Blood Sister/Mother/Daughter series. Original and vivid, her thrilling books are action-packed and gripping.
11. Hannah Pool
With over 7,500 followers on Twitter, Hannah Pool is a writer to take note of. Former beauty editor at The Guardian, Pool was born in the East-African country of Eritrea and adopted by a British scholar at the age of six months. Published in 2005, her memoir, My Fathers’ Daughter, is an account of the journey she made back to Eritrea at 29 years old to meet with relatives she never knew she had; including her father whom she thought was dead. With wisdom, wit and warmth, Pool takes the reader on a journey that would forever change her.
12. Irenosen Okojie
Born in Nigeria and raised in England, Okojie studied Communications and Visual Culture at London Metropolitan University. Author of Butterfly Fish, Okojie explores themes of hope, love and loss in a story about a woman exploring her African heritage. Okojie’s short stories have been published internationally and she was a selected writer by Theatre Royal Stratford East and Writer in Residence for TEDx East End. Okojie voices concern over the lack of diversity in Britain’s literary community and she uses her platform to champion the voices of all writers, no matter race or gender.
13. Malorie Blackman
With over fifty published books and 21,000 followers on Twitter, Blackman is a literary force to be reckoned with. Holding the position of Children’s Laureate from 2013 – 2015, and originally from the Clapham district in London, Blackman describes herself simply: “I’m just Malorie Blackman, a black woman writer.” Though modest, her work speaks for itself; her award-winning Noughts and Crosses series explores topics of race, love and violence and a 2003 BBC survey found it was “The Nation’s Best-Loved Book,” with more votes than A Tale of Two Cities. Though geared toward young adults, all can appreciate Blackman’s storytelling abilities and science fiction tales.
14. Mike Gayle
Born and raised in Birmingham, UK, Mike Gayle is a graduate of Salford University where he earned a degree in Sociology. He published his first novel, My Legendary Girlfriend, in 1997 which became a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Gayle has since published 12 additional books that are filled with laughs and interesting characters. He offers publishing advice on his website, as well as an insider look into his ‘working day’ – including a view of his pink-walled office space.
15. Nadifa Mohamed
Oxford educated and raised in London, Mohamed was born in Somalia to a sailor and landlady. She based her award-winning first novel, Black Mamba Boy, off of her father’s stories and journeys through the 1930s and 40s. Her most recent novel published in 2013, The Orchard of Lost Souls, is set in 1980s Somalia on the eve of the civil war; a very personal situation to Mohamed as the civil war is the reason her family remained in the UK rather than returning to Somalia. The NYT notes that in both of her novels Mohamed “shows how the echo of war reverberates down the generations, and why every nation needs its storytellers.”
16. Oona King
With nearly 18,000 followers on Twitter, King is actually a member of the House of Lords (the upper house of the UK Parliament) who happens to also be a published author. King is from Sheffield, UK and is an inspiration to women all around the world. House Music: The Oona King Diaries is a political diary of her time in the House of Commons and was published in 2007. This memoir is not just for those interested in politics, but for anyone who can relate to the struggles of juggling the work-life balance. King is also very outspoken about her battle with endometriosis and her political background has given her the platform to continually inform and inspire others.
17. Patience Agbabi
British poet and performer, Agbabi is known for her work’s contemporary themes of race, sex and gender identity. Born in London to Nigerian parents, Agbabi later studied English Language and Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. Her first collection of poetry, R.A.W, was published in 1995 and received the Excelle Literary Award in 1997. The Poetry Society announced in March 2015 that Agbabi was one of five poets shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, for her most recent book, Telling Tales. Agbabi’s work is gripping and she is an inspiration to many; her influences include Chaucer and Janis Joplin.
18. Paul Gilroy
Born in the London’s East End, Gilroy is a Professor of American and English literature at King’s College London. Gilroy’s book, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, explores the depths of cultural constructs and uses the transatlantic slave trade to “highlight the influence of routes on black identity.” He is also the author of There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack which he uses to demonstrate the complexity of race in politics, specifically in England. Gilroy is not one to accept social norms; he respectfully encourages others to start discussions and influence change.
“I grew up assuming it was me against the world,” Williams wrote in a 2010 article for The Guardian. Williams grew up black in a white community where she struggled to find her identity. Her first book, a memoir titled Precious: A True Story, has been described as “hauntingly beautiful,” “brilliant,” and “poetic.” Her writing is starkly candid as she takes readers on her journey as she was “plunged into white culture like a screaming lobster being dropped into a boiling pot.” If you’ve ever felt like an outsider and unsure of where you fit in, Williams is an author not to be missed. Her words are indeed as precious as her name and she can serve as an inspiration to all.
20. Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa Daley-Ward is a writer and poet who was raised by her grandparents in the small town of Chorley in the North of England. She has a large following on Instagram (22k) and for good reason; she often shares powerful poetic posts that tug at the heartstrings and leave folks wanting more. Her book, Bone, is a highly praised collection of prose and poetry. Personal and powerful, readers can expect to find gripping lines like this one: “I miss you in tiny earthquakes in little underground explosions.”
21. Zadie Smith
Born in north-west London, Zadie Smith may be one of the most well-known black British authors today. With close to 50,000 ‘likes’ on her Facebook page, she is a literary powerhouse and rightfully so. Her first novel, White Teeth, was published in 2000 (when Smith was just 24) and won multiple honors including a spot on Time’s “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.” The novel was even adapted for a four-part television series in 2002. With themes of immigration, race and fundamentalism, Smith draws readers in and doesn’t disappoint. Zadie Smith is currently working on her fifth novel, Swing Time, set to be published in the fall of 2016.
What did you think of our list of top black British authors? Are there any we missed out? Please share in the comments box below!
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