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9 Black Readers Share The Books That Will Stay With Them Forever

“No matter how many times I reread that book, it always feels like the first time."
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Which book changed you forever?
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Which book changed you forever?

Nothing compares to the feeling of getting lost in a good book, but if you’re an avid reader like me, you’ll understand we read for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes to learn, sometimes to laugh, sometimes to escape reality.

From a young age, the books that filled my personal library were by Black authors. My parents were intentional in ensuring my sister and I read this literature, which was helpful considering schools weren’t big on introducing Black stories in the classroom. Many of these early stories shaped my identity and allowed me to see myself in my own imagination.

We all have that one book that has stayed with us throughout our life. The book that made you fall in love with reading, that shaped your tastes, or simply the book you can’t stop thinking about. Which book changed you? Here’s our list, starting with my own choice, a book I found young – and will never forget

Noughts And Crosses by Malorie Blackman

“At 11 years old, I went to the yearly book festival at my school and picked up this book with a black and white cover. I wasn’t sure why I was instantly drawn to that cover, but even as a child I clearly had a knack for picking great books!

Malorie Blackman manages to write about race in a way that is impactful but easy enough for a child to understand. Her book made me think about what my life would look like if race roles were reversed and the ways racism affects every fragment of our lives. I fell in love with the story of Sephy and Callum and was rooting for their love to win.” – Habiba Katsha, Essex

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“I picked up reading again as a hobby during the first lockdown and made a conscious effort to primarily read books by Black authors. The way the stories and lives of each character in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing are in one way or another tied to wider themes, such as colonialism, race and class, is what resonated with me most.

“I’ve since gone on to read more books from a range of backgrounds but I believe this particular style of writing – tying deeper meaning to the overall theme of the book – is done best by Black authors and specifically Black women!” – Yatta Elizabeth, London

“When I was 24, I was facing a lot of hardships that hit simultaneously. I had to learn how to advocate for myself for the sake of my health. I was experiencing an incredible amount of anxiety and depression, and Audre Lorde’s essays saved my life, especially Poetry Is Not A Luxury.

“She was the first author I read who taught me about Black women advocating for ourselves, one another and our community, how to stand firm and protect yourself in the midst of a world that never wanted to hear us in the first place.” – Vuma Phiri, Western Australia

Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi

“During my university enrolment period, I was dedicated to applying to Russell Group universities. I was almost hyperaware of both the lack of a large Black community in many of them, as well as Oxbridge’s attempt to appeal to Black and mixed kids to enrol.

“I applied to Cambridge and read Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto For Change during my entry exams and interview. I felt deeply upset when I didn’t get in, but I did get an unconditional offer from Nottingham and I think reading the book was what reminded me that I’d have a place anywhere I needed to, even if it wasn’t where I thought I’d be.

“People recognised my talent because I was confident and I had a powerful work ethic. The book is a flawless reminder to young Black girls not to limit themselves in what they dream of, but to explore dreams in other capacities.” – Leah Tézila, London

All About Love by bell hooks

“This book was transformative in teaching me to look at love in a way that gives it more meaning and reverence. Love was something I previously believed was quite passive, but bell hooks ultimately reinforces that love is an action and takes commitment and desire.

“I have also embraced a more loving ethic, as encouraged by hooks, which ultimately shaped the way I approach every aspect of my life. That approach is about centring communication, devotion, community and harm reduction.” – Venika Kalambay, East London

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

“I read Things Fall Apart when I was in sixth form and wouldn’t stop talking about it for weeks. The way Chinua Achebe explores issues of masculinity and colonialism in such a nuanced and thought-provoking way gripped me. I particularly loved the beautiful use of proverbs, which gave me an insight into Igbo language and culture, while also enriching the prose.

“The book’s exploration of colonialism is what changed me the most though. Sometimes when talking about atrocities, facts are understandably presented mainly in terms of the number of casualties, which I find hard to contextualise.

“By honing in on an individual, a family and a community, and exploring the devastating effects that colonialism had on every facet of people’s lives on a more personal level, Achebe really opened my eyes to the tragedy in a way I hadn’t thought about before.

“Also as someone navigating my Christian faith, I was compelled to question how I could reconcile the fact that my faith was used as a tool to subjugate my people which was a very uncomfortable but necessary thought to consider.” – Ezra Olaoya, Dublin

The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah

“One of the interviewees in this book, Alexis, says that ‘Black people are not often invited to identify themselves as hedonistic or deeply in our bodies’ – and she’s right.

“Reading this book was an eye-opening testament to the fact that there are so many ways we can – and perhaps should – engage with sex as Black women, regardless of how society wants us to. It blessed me with the knowledge that as long as we want to, we can, in fact, find an all-encompassing freedom that allows us to be true to our most hedonistic sexual selves without ever feeling ashamed.” – Anna-Maria Poku, London

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

“Reading this book unlocked my love for literature. I loved reading before that but I don’t think I had ever read something that prompted such a visceral response.

“It’s emotionally affecting and intellectually stimulating. It has that gorgeous lyricism that Toni Morrison is hailed for. It’s so honest and gives every character a chance to be seen as humanly as possible (even with characters that you might not naturally extend that empathy to).

“It’s also the first time I remember thinking: ‘Wow, words are amazing!’ It really made me appreciate that words mean things, and if you use them intentionally you could come up with something incredible.” – Karen Chalamilla, Kenya

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

“As a Black Brit, it’s extremely hard to find yourself accurately represented in media so when I heard Caleb Azumah Nelson was a Londoner I was immediately intrigued. The writer’s portrayal of the diaspora experience in grief, love (in any and all forms), and music made me feel so seen. I cried many times because it felt like he had written about me, my story.

“It tells our story without watering down our experiences. Instead it bares all: the good, the bad and the ugly. As Black people, sometimes feeling too much feels like a curse, like something we went to rid ourselves of. But this book is so vulnerable and honest, it makes you want to live in your truth.

“No matter how many times I reread that book, it always feels like the first time. It’s like everything I ever wanted to say was finally put into words. It’s a book I recommend religiously (especially to Black Brits) because there’s nothing more wholesome than Black people just being Black in romantic literature. – Isa, London

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