Books We Love... 

that you need to read


For this year’s LGBT+ History Month in the UK, author Niven Govinden picks some of his favourite reads by queer writers of colour for our Books We Love…that You Need to Read blog. Niven is the award-winning author of five novels. His latest, The Diary of a Film has just been published to rave reviews.

Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone, James Baldwin

This is the Baldwin novel I always return to, and think the most about. It's overshadowed by the greater weight of “Another Country” and “Giovanni's Room”, but to my mind it's quintessential Jimmy, in its telling of a creative life discovered and then thriving across New York, segregated America, and latterly the freedom of Europe. In Leo Proudhammer, Baldwin gives us a complex lead narrator: honest, egotistical, dramatic, bisexual, loving; one whose passion on and off stage looms large. Scenes of police brutality in childhood New York could have been written yesterday - ditto the emotive passages on travelling as a man of colour around Europe. What a book.

The Ministry of Guidance and Other Stories, Golnoosh Nour

I was blown away by the stories in this collection, that presents Iran and Persian queer life (and the diapora) in always engaging and multi-layered ways. These are stories that continue to linger long after reading: "Spoilt", with its childhood lesson of disappointment, "Transit", a story of in-flight queer possibility, and "Acid", with its brutal takedown of the hipster culture in London and a mis-matched emotionally destructive relationship. I finished this collection wanting to read everything that had Nour's name on it. So excited to see what comes next.

Slingshot, Cyree Jarelle Johnson

There's a breadth, dynamism and energy coming from queer PoC poets that I totally NEED. I’m so excited about the work that poetry presses and journals do in nurturing and giving a platform to that work. Johnson is based in the U.S, but I would also mention Keith Jarret, whose collection Selah though different, electrifies me in the same way. In many ways, UK publishers have yet to match this in fiction - but we’re seeing signs of change. Slingshot takes ownership of sex work, disability, and the black body in language that speaks of depth, power, defeat, victory, autonomy. It's everything.

Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, Jeremy Atherton Lin

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the book that had the most impact on me as a lockdown reader last year. Lin’s non-fiction debut is a (social) history of queer nightlife, across London, San Francisco and Los Angeles, weaved with personal memoir from the 90s to present day. It’s intersectional, fluid, lucid, moving, and hot AF. We’ve never needed to go out dancing and cruising more – and until we can, we can live through Lin’s glorious book. It’s a triumph.

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I have chosen books by Black women that I first read in my twenties which helped to shape the woman and the author I am today.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker: This was the first novel I read which featured Black protagonists and was a book which played in huge part in my decision to try to become an author myself. Celie’s story grabbed hold of me from the first chapter and never let me go. I remember reading the book over a weekend and being blown away by the narrative, the writing, the sheer excellence of the story celebrating the strength, the courage, the vulnerability, the sheer tenacity of Black women. I once met Alice Walker at a book signing and it was one of the highlights of my twenties. Scratch that! One of the highlights of my life.

The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor: Reading this book is like looking through a window into the lives of the women who live on Brewster Place and sharing their joys and their sorrows. I love the form and format of this book. Each woman tells of their life and their stories weave around each other to create a beautiful whole like a stunning tapestry.

The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta: A beautifully written and poignant story of the sacrifices a mother makes for her children, particularly her eldest son. I took the title of the book at its word though and it was only after finishing the book that I appreciated its sardonic irony. Buchi Emecheta was such an evocative, underrated storyteller.

And Still I Rise, Maya Angelou: Poems that feed the mind and the soul. I was fortunate enough to see Maya Angelou in concert twice. She was phenomenal. Funny, poignant and breath-takingly honest about her past, her experiences, her inspirations. Just listening to her taught me so much about being true to yourself in your writing. She was one of a number of phenomenal black women who inspired me to be bold, to be brave, to take risks, to embrace my own voice.

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison: This was the first book by Toni Morrison that I read, and I still remember how stunned I was by the story as I read the last sentence and closed the book. The searing narrative and the exquisite writing made me an instant fan. So much so that the next time I was in a bookshop, I bought every book of hers I could find. Quite simply, she was a sublime writer.

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Nikita Gill recommends three recent poetry collections

Poets are witnesses to the emotive history of humankind. Where there is no one to remember the infinite gamut of emotions around the events that have shaped humanity, poets immortalise it, and that is precisely why their work is so essential. I start with this as the books I discuss here come from three of the most important poetic voices of this generation. Afshan D’Souza-Lodhi, Rick Dove and Cynthia Rodriguez have this in common: they speak to lyrical experiences so powerful that anyone who reads these books is forever changed.

In [Re:Desire], Afshan D’Souza-Lodhi’s fiery and evocative retelling of the desi woman’s experience, she touches on the distance between mothers and daughters through language, the yearning for love and pleasure, along with the constant pressure that is put on South Asian women. In the section titled Izzat in particular, she unflinchingly explores the way shame is used to define misogynistic thresholds for generations of women that we never agreed to (daughters who live past their first day/are wrapped in izzat and shame). One of the most startlingly beautiful aspects of the book is the hypnotic and rhythmic thirty six times she fell where the poet uses a study of intimacy as a basis for her melodic poem leaving the reader captivated with lines such as “he sang deep vowels of/ wreckage and chaos/ she saw the untruth/ and how hunger kisses his lips”. Structurally magnificent and drawing on the naturally poetic tongue of Urdu, this book is rich in experimental form and harmony.

Rick Dove’s Tales from the Other Box is an explosion of a collection, full of vibrant and symphonic language that will leave anyone reading breathless. I found myself reading sections of this book out loud, the words were deeply musical, all while skilfully harnessing quiet rage, passion, grief. From the very first poem, First Words, Dove captures the effects of both macro and micro racism on the mind, body and soul, specifically anti Blackness that permeates society. Here, we see the silent fury that has been held back for years, culminating in the heart-wrenching lessons learned from deeply resonant lines (“it is not your job to hold the lantern/ to show others out of the dark”.) The poet’s exploration of race, love, tenderness, regret, society and self goes from strength to fierce strength throughout the book with the brilliant Proud Flesh, Lessons on Folded Time, Bucket List, History 101, Soliloquy among so many others I highlighted to return to. Dove also touches on myth in After Sojourner Truth and Ouroboros in such a compelling way adding beautifully to his stunningly constructed narrative, every poem speaking to each other. An incredibly important and splendid work of craft and experience, this book will sing for generations to come.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Rodriguez’s dynamic and fearless collection is a powerful look at Britain through the eyes of a migrant. Her words particularly struck a chord with me as a migrant myself, especially the poem My Kind (“My kind were called names in school/ Now they are have adopted/ these names as their own. Names used for reconstruction/ instead of destruction.”), which uses both repetition and rich imagery to create an anthem for the othered. The five chapters of this book explore identity through a wealth of subjects like citizenship (Naturalisation), the complexity of the body (Spidergirls), imposter syndrome (But is it art?), mental health (How to Leave The House in Times of Trouble),childhood (Becoming), queerness (Recognise) – each poem as much a celebration as it is a reckoning. Rodriguez uses both formidable composition, weaving layer complexity with accessible lyrical language to challenge the approved narrative of what a migrant must do to be accepted, humanising in its approach. Sharp and bright, Meanwhile is a devastatingly moving book I highly recommend.

All three books provided for review by the publisher, Burning Eye Books. The books may be purchased from their website.

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