Verbal staff members select their own personal recommendations of BAME authors, and books highlighting Black Lives Matters issues and awareness.

Andrea O'Donnell (Project Coordinator, Reading Friends) 

I first started reading Toni Morrison about 30 years ago. What I love about her books is that you can take your place, fully formed, in the worlds she created, that are very different from your own, and you become part of those worlds; you understand what the characters are going through – they connect, immediately, with your imagination. It sucks you in, breathless. Her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, is the tragic story of a black girl, Pecola, who longs for blue eyes. “I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer – its dust and lowering skies.” 

 

Morrison’s non-fiction too is measured, precise, and devastating. See her collection of essays Mouth Full of Blood, where she writes about race, women, writing and writers, reading. She goes for the jugular every time. Never interested, in bouncing along the easy, discursive surface of things, Morrison keeps her gaze clear and relentless.  

 

Langston Hughes’s long poem Let America Be America Again was published in 1935, during the period of the New Deal, which followed the economic devastation after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. I’m not sure how many still believe in the American dream, and Langston Hughes draws on its image even though he sees no benefit. It seems an appropriate poem to revisit now, when so many people and especially African-Americans, feel disenfranchised. There is a chance to dream things differently, again. 

  

Susanne Stich (Literary Guide): 

I adore the writing of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A good place to start are her short stories. Detailing the experience of a young, black Nigerian woman arriving in the US for work, her story The Thing Around Your Neck is powerful. I was struck by its imagery and matter of fact observations of everyday scenes tinged with prejudice, assumption and limited options for non-white people. Adichie's writing style allows for a deep emotional connection with the woman and her experience of living in-between two cultures, the one she left behind and the one she's entered. 

 

I also loved, loved, loved Kit deWaal'sMy Name is Leon, and would recommend this book to anyone. It is such a beautiful and hugely accessible read, priceless when it comes to communicating the issues that really are at stake for BAME people. 

 

James Kerr (Chief Executive): 

I would like to recommend Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, first published in 1958. The complexity of this book is hard if not impossible to summarise into a “reasonable” few lines, but the themes are universal: a description of the tragic consequence that are created from a toxic mix of identity, family and hidebound traditions in a closely monitored environment with suffocating high levels of social bonding. The protagonist struggles to come to terms with change from multiple angles, whether that be the rigid imposition of the rules of an ancient tradition, or the externally promoted view of the new colonialist. I also love that the books title attaches the West of Ireland to this book via W.B. Yeats’s majestic poem The Second Coming, which must undoubtedly be a description of these times. 

 

Ciara Vernon (Psychology Intern): 

I think a lot of us, including myself, like to believe that we're not racist. Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist teaches us that it's not enough to deem yourself as someone who isn't racist. You have to be actively anti-racist.  He's a beautiful writer that chooses to publicly reflect on his own racist thoughts and actions as a young man and explore how he transformed himself to be more enlightened on the subject of racism. This is a compassionate book that suggests we all need to target racial policies as an avenue of systemic change. Highly recommend! 

 

Ijeoma Oluo has written a really simple and inviting book on the devastating issue of racism in America. So You Want to Talk About Race covers a wide range of topics such as police brutality, affirmative action and the microaggressions that many people unfortunately experience on a daily basis.  She possesses wonderful insight and clarity but also incorporates humour to make this an enjoyable read. It gave me a greater understanding of the experience of many people of colour in America, as well as a clearer picture of the privilege that I have at the cost of those who don't.  

  

Fiona Page (Children and Young Peoples Project Manager): 

I read To Kill a Mocking Bird when I was 14. I loved it! I thought that Atticus Finch was a good man, one that we should all aspire to be. He was a man ahead of his time, com-batting racism in the deep south of America. I was struck deeply by the juxtaposition between the hate of one of the characters in the story towards an innocent black man, and the childhood innocence of Atticus' children Scout and Jem, who like most children don’t understand racism. They can’t understand how people can hate their neighbour just because they are different to them. I loved the central message of the book that 'all men are born equal’. 

 

Colin Dardis (Third Space Coordinator): 

I discovered Citizen by Claudine Rankine in a local library, initially drawn in by her mixture of essay writing, poetry, visual art and memoir, including a lengthy meditation on Serena Williams that interweaves through all of these mediums. It was an eye-opening exploration of what it is like to be black in modern America, and to encounter racism on a daily, widespread basis. It’s one thing to be aware that racism exists; Citizen however helps portray just how prevalent – and unspoken – it can be.  

 

Assata Shakur’s autobiography, Assata, is a fascinating chronicle of her role in the historic struggle for Black civil rights. Often brutal and shocking, Shakur is a necessary narrator, forceful and forthright in her language, capturing the urgency and energy of protestors at that time. The reader is brought through her own legal trial, and it’s an uncomfortable but important account of how Shakur was treated by the police and authorities, representative of the level of disdain and oppression her and her compatriots encountered.