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Books We Love... 

that you need to read

A book recommendations blog by writers of colour


Updated: Oct 30, 2020

This is a message of love and solidarity for the trans and non-binary community. Culture is, and should always be, at the forefront of societal change, and as writers, editors, agents, journalists, and publishing professionals, we recognise the vital role our industry has in advancing and supporting the wellbeing and rights of trans and non-binary people. We stand with you, we hear you, we see you, we accept you, we love you. The world is better for having you in it.

Non-binary lives are valid, trans women are women, trans men are men, trans rights are human rights.

From members of the UK and Irish publishing community:

Updated 1st Oct - download PDF for full list

updated letter and names oct 1st 2020
Download PD • 136KB

Kiran Millwood Hargrave (author), Daisy Johnson (author), Juno Dawson (author), Jeanette Winterson (author), Robin Stevens (author), Sophie Anderson (author), Hellie Ogden (literary agent), Joanne Harris (author), Nikesh Shukla (author), Tom de Freston (writer and artist), IrenosenOkojie (author), Lex Croucher (author), SarvatHasin (author), Meena Kandasamy (writer), Sara Collins (author), Caroline Lea (author), Malorie Blackman (author), Elizabeth Day (author and podcaster), Carrie Hope Fletcher (actress and author), Dom&Ink (illustrator and author), Katherine Webber Tsang (author), Charlie Morris (publicist), Clara Amfo (broadcaster), Professor Sunny Singh (writer and academic), ZebaTalkhani (author), Kerry Drewery (author), Patrick Ness (author), Sam Missingham (book marketer), Kevin Tsang (author), Alice Sutherland Hawes (agent), Alex Wheatle (author), Emma Pass (author), Sallyanne Sweeney (agent), Darren Stobbart (author and editor), Melinda Salisbury (author), Kat McKenna (marketing and brand consultant), Dave Rudden (author), Charlie Craggs (author), Nick Coveney (Pride in Publishing), Michelle Elman (author), Kate Weston (author), Celine Kiernan (author), Keris Stainton (author), Aaron Gillies (author), Deirdre Sullivan (author), Elizabeth Macneal (author), Catherine Johnson (author), Alice Broadway (author), FaridahÀbíké-íyímídé (author), Amy McCulloch (author), Susie Day (writer), Arun-Blair Manget (actor), Françoise Harvey (writer and editor), Connie Glynn (author), Cheryl Hole (Ru Paul’s Drag Race), Courttia Newland (writer), Paul Black (publicist), Sophie Williams (author), David Owen (author), Iesha Small (writer), Nina Douglas (publicist), Anna James (author and journalist), Eve Ainsworth (author), Alex T Smith (illustrator), Sarah Maria Griffin (author), Katherine Woodfine (author), Kim Curran (author), Sam VH Reese (author and lecturer), Sue Rainsford (author), Jaime Windust (author and model), Chris Wellbelove (agent), Emma Patterson (agent), Eishar Brar (editorial director, Knights Of), Rebecca Rideal (author), Tanya Byrne (author), Hamza Jahanzeb (Pride in Publishing), Monisha Rajesh (author and journalist), Chloe Seager (literary agent and author), KishaniWidyaratna (commissioning editor, Picador), Niamh Campbell (writer), Alba Arnau (foreign rights executive), Guy Gunaratne (author), Sara Helen Binney (editor), Kwaku Osei-Afrifa (personal assistant to the CEO, Hodder Books), Laura Dockrill (author), Andrew James (editorial director, Jessica Kingsley Publishers), Abigail Mitchell (editor), Matt Casbourne (publishing consultant), Maisie Lawrence (editor, Hachette), Cleo Favaretto (desk editor, Bloomsbury), Halimah Manan (editorial assistant), Fiona Dunbar (children’s writer), Divina DiCampo (Ru Paul’s Drag Race), Henry James Garrett (author/illustrator), Ingrid Persaud (author), Lea Albrechtsen (editor), Louisa Danquah (publicity assistant), Madeleine Bennett (sales), Beatrice Cross (publicist), Elaine Feeney (author), Ana Fletcher (editor), Rachael Lucas (author), Nicole Burstein (author), Jessica Andrews (author), Chris Gould (Designer), David Stevens (co-founder, Knights Of and Round Table Books), AiméeFeloné (co-founder, Knights Of and Round Table Books), Dean Atta (author), LD Lapinski (author), Isobel Sheene (sales operation executive), Antony De Rienzo (key account executive), Polly Lyall-Grant (commissioning editor), Ali Gitlow (acquisitions editor, Prestel Publishing), Emma Jones (editor), Amina Youssef (assistant editor), Laura Callaghan (editor), Hayley Webster (author), Bea Fitzgerald (assistant editor), Alice Duggan (book designer), Ellie Drewry (editorial assistant), Elizabeth Lovatt (book buyer and writer), Emily Noto (publishing professional), Jasmin Atkins (international sales assistant), Lily Lindon (Editor), Erika Koljonen (editorial assistant), Poppy Mostyn-Owen (editor), Anna Baggaley (SEO manager), Liam Drane (book designer), Roisin O’Shea (marketing manager), OkechukwuNzelu (author), Sophie Mackintosh (author), Leonora Craig Cohen (assistant editor), Katherine Rundell (author), Marian Womack (author), Lauren Ace (editorial director and author), Izzy Everington (assistant editor), Maz Evans (author), Callum Kenny (editor), Megan Carroll (literary agent), Louie Stowell (publisher and author), Sophie Robinson (editor), James Mayhew (illustrator and author), Lucy Ayrton (author), Sharna Jackson (author), Stephanie King (commissioning fiction editor), Imogen Morrell (literary agent assistant), Barry Timms (children’s author), Michael Langan (writer), Kate Neilan (marketing executive), Matthew Casbourne (publishing consultant), Lizzie Huxley-Jones (author), Rachel Snider (writer), Rob Farrimond (junior publicity and marketing officer), Catherine Doyle (author), Alice Moloney (editorial assistant), Louise Rickwood (assistant editor), Katrina Northern (senior marketing executive), Becca Wright (editor), Dan Holloway (journalist/poet/novelist), Aimee Oliver-Powell (marketer) Wei Ming Kam (marketer), Zainab Juma (brand campaign manager), Marigold Atkey (senior project editor), Sarah Shin (publisher and co-founder, Silver Press and Ignota Books), Matt James (assistant editor), Emily Ball (children's book editor), Sarah Hagger-Holt (author), SiofraDromgoole (book scout), Rochelle Dowden-Lord (sales executive), Maxine Davies (author), Allegra Le Fanu (editor), Josie Day (TV writer and producer), Naomi Greenwood (senior commissioning editor), Harriet Moore (literary agent), Brianne Bellio (project editor), Lauren Whybrow (editor), Joseph Elliot (author), Bethany Rutter (author), Alice Slater (writer and reviewer), James Smythe (author and screenwriter), Alison Hennessy (editor), Angelique Tran Van Sang (commissioning editor), Lauren O’Hara (illustrator), Natalia O’Hara (author), Ellie Slee (production editor), Mia Quibell-Smith (publicist), Hannah Trevarthen (events manager), Alex Reeve (author), Jennifer Tighe (marketing and publicity director), Carmella Lowkis (communications assistant), Olivia Sudjic (author), Dr. Sharlene Teo (author), Marion Rankine (writer) Bryony Gordon (author and journalist), Clare Bogan (publicist, Fitzcarraldo Editions), KesiaLupo (author and editor), Phillipa Neville (editor), Lucy Scholes (critic), Kirsty Logan (author), James Birkett (editor), Rory Gleeson (writer), Will Forrester (editor and cultural manager),DoireannNíGhríofa (poet and essayist), Beth Watt (writer), Heather Parry (writer, editor and co-director of Extra Teeth magazine), Lilly Gottwald (senior designer), Juliet Mushens (Mushens Entertainment), Louise O’Neill (author), Ella Risbridger (author), Jo Morris (librarian), Samantha Shannon (author), Emma Glass (author and nurse), Julia Armfield (author), Jo Lloyd (author), Mary Watson (author), Krystal Sutherland (author), Lisa Williamson (author), A. N. Devers (writer and owner of The Second Shelf bookstore), Ibrahim Zanta (Pathways project manager), Holly Bourne (author), Molly Aitken (author), Natasha Pulley (author), Lucy Powrie (author), Alexa von Hirschberg, (editorial director), Carrie Plitt (literary agent), Lisa Gillespie (D&I Programme Manager, DK),Naoise Dolan (author), Max Porter (author), Sinéad Gleeson (author), Jacques Testard, (publisher, Fitzcarraldo Editions), Lucia Osborne-Crowley (author), Peter Bunzl (author), Eloise Williams (author), Dr Mary Jean Chan (poet), Sinead Gleeson (poet and essayist), Debbie Taylor (editor), Sophie Jonathan (editor)

Jhalak Prize supports trans and non-binary people and their rights. If you can, please donate to Gendered Intelligence.

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  • Writer's pictureJhalak Prize

Roy McFarlane ruminates on fatherhood, raising a Black daughter, inter-generational memories, a parent’s worst nightmare and the book he is giving his daughter as she goes off to university. These are books all parents...indeed all of us must read:

It’s that time already, time to send in the books that you think could win the 2021 Jhalak Prize. This incredible unique prize for writers of colour born, living or working in the UK.

As a former judge, anything goes; non-fiction, fiction, essays, poems and prose, YA books, children books, graphic novels, even cooking books, every genre that you can imagine has found its way onto my door mat. So just to give you a taste of the quality, beauty and depths of writing that I had the good pleasure to read, I’m continuing the series of Books We Love…that you need to read, the books that I thought got away, that any other year I believe would have been long listed.

As a father taking my daughter out as a child, the numerous times strangers would reach out to touch my daughter’s hair and hesitate in the cold stare of my disapproval, is unbelievable. Emma Dabiri’s Don’t Touch My Hair is a personal journey from Ireland to London to Africa, drawing down on her heritage and history of the African-diasporic hair. The fascination, fetishism, exoticism and even a period of romanticism, are untangled and equally weaved with her own Irish-Nigerian experience. Emma places hair in the centre of the discourse on colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism and re-claiming her beauty and identity, taking us back to Africa, pre-western influence to understand the philosophy and theology of who we are and who we can be.This is a well-researched book across the African diaspora, that pulls apart and debunks the Eurocentric, negative understanding of the African hair. Emma provides us with amazing facts, such as ‘Fairy Mae’s inky version of Rapunzel’s locks,’the hidden story behind the Madam C J Walker’s multi-million hair empire. There’s something profound in knowing,“Through African hairstyles we can observe beauty standards and aesthetics, spiritual devotion, values and ethics, and even, quite literally maps from slavery to freedom.”

Wow, all of that encoded in a hairstyle. It’s time to let that halo of afro bounce and walk like deities crowned with braids of hair.

Her Lost Language by Jenny Mitchell is a reclaiming of words made flesh in this collection. This is a garnering of tales from the Windrush generation, lovingly and tenderly laid down on the page.Jenny no doubt relies on the oral traditions of the elders, squeezed memories of stories told in passing, and gleaned tales from traveling back to Jamaica. “I’ll be the dress she never owned…”This book covers the nakedness of a generation of black folks with a rich garment of words. Jenny takes us back as far as she can to slave plantations where ‘breeze made escape easy for birds.’ The poem ‘Lost Child’ is a harrowing beautiful lament for a child thrown overboard made so real through the finding of a necklace of small stones by the sea. This collection is a beautiful necklace of poems, pearled between the Caribbean and the British Isle, each poem shinning, singing, lamenting ancestors, family members, mothers and fathers. There’s a lyrical danceto be found in the stories of the past when she imagines enslavement and post slavery in Jamaica. But when the poems find their way to England, The Big Freeze, her mother working in the NHS and bringing up a family, there’s a raw truth telling of her experience and her parents’ lived reality in Britain. Jenny has just begun with this debut collection and I’m certainly looking forward to her next one.

We know about Shamima Begum through headline news, snapshots of a story in the blaze of anger at the idea that someone would leave a comfortable life, ungrateful in light of what British citizenship affords her and travel miles to join a terrorist group. And yet Shamima was a young girl aged 15 on the cusp of so much hope and opportunity. Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of Isis by Azadeh Moaveni asks you to take a breath and read into the many lives of young women caught up in this life changing moment and walk the thin line of victim and/or collaborator. She begins with the stories of Djamila Bouhired and Leila Khaled resistance and liberation fighters who earned celebrity status in the 60s and 70s internationally, so what about the present? You’ll never know the journey of these women of the Islamic State until you’ve walked in their sandals (I’m paraphrasing). Azadeh tries to remedy that by following thirteen women; young, old, working class, well off, some educated, some not, some aspiring to Western ideals, some seeking a better understanding of being a Muslim. These are the stories of our daughters, falling in love, ambitious, pushing the boundaries, forming an identity, but most of all the profound need to belong. At times due to no fault of their own; ‘as though her hijab did not simply cover her hair but cloaked her in invisibility,’ we fall down the rabbit hole with these women. Sometimes faith can be a solace, a sanctuary, a soothing in the heat of rejection, racism and sometimes there are those who manipulate souls into individuals full of rage and hate. But if we call ourselves a civilised state, then this book entreats and implores us to have a better understanding of the plight of women such as Shamima Begum.

I’ll be running my daughter down to London to start her second year at university, after the stop and start of the last academic year. To add to her full-length mirror, matching rug to her duvet cover, I’m throwing in her suitcase Taking up Space by Chelsea Kwakye & Ore Ogunbiyi. How to survive the rigours of the education system not designed to be user friendly to people of colour, Taking up Space is a manifesto for change, an act of resistance. I loved how this is an open letter of affirmation: you’ve earned your place in higher education, however minute the representation of colour may be seen amongst your peers or worse amongst the faculty member. There’s a collective responsibility to be aware of the conundrums and problems that young people of colour might face. The book is made up of discourses with students of past and present, alongside facts, statistics and lived experience, shedding light on institutional racism, decolonising the curriculum, mental health, a black sisterhood, loving oneself, black activism and many more subjects which are explored in this well thought out collection. I feel safe in the knowledge Taking up Space is a timely companion piece for my daughter to turn to whilst she manages and negotiates her place as a black woman in the hallowed halls of academia and society.

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  • Writer's pictureJhalak Prize

Roy McFarlane, poet, former community worker and judge for Jhalak Prize 2020, Inaugurates Our New Blog With Some of His Favourite Reads:

2020 was a momentous year for the Jhalak Prize: over 160 books were read and despite the issues of Covid-19 and being in lockdown, the organisers were able to celebrate and praise Johnny Pitts for his seminal volume Afropean, selected from a longlist of a dozen books.

But after all the celebrations, I’ve been musing over the quality, beauty and depths of writing of people of colour in the UK; imagining an alternative universe where I would have chosen another longlist. I’m still wishing that the longlist could have been longer, so I could have squeezed in another dozen. Well today, the Jhalak Prize heard my pain and afforded me this space to share with you: Books We Love that you need to read.

After the formalities  Anthony Anaxagorou

I came across After the Formalities (Penned in the Margins 2019) by Anthony Anaxagorou, a wonderful poetry collection which I happened to read in one sitting (actually, a couple of train journeys and a café). I was enamoured by its pure brilliance in use of language, poetic form and the lyrical dexterity used to explore subjects of loss, grief, family and racism, the layered context that unravelled before me time and time again.

Some of these poems are up close and personal, making you witness the harsh realities of verbal abuse in the back of an Uber during the time of Brexit or the phenomenal macro vision of After the Formalities. A poetic discourse built on the found text of racist philosophers, thinkers and politicians of the past and present. Anthony articulates a response to the ideology and pseudo-science of race across five centuries interlaced with his own personal experience and his Cypriot family of three generations migrating to Britain.

And as for his journey of fatherhood, the tenderness and weight of lines such as “I love you daddy, at this I cried/ becoming another rescued animal in his hands”found in Sublimation,shows the vulnerability and joy woven through his writing. An extraordinary poet with a surgical precision and yet tempered with grace and care to leave the reader thinking after the formalities have ended.

Home Coming - Colin Grant

Sitting in Limbo and The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files are documentaries that have captured the tragedy and travesty of a hostile environment policy that decimated a generation of people of the Caribbean – pioneers and citizens of the British Empire. Home Coming: Voices of the Windrush Generation (Jonathan Cape, 2019) by Colin Grant, captures these voices from 1940 – 1960 succinctly and with great sensitivity, taking us back to the hopes and aspirations, the joy and pride to answer the call to help Britain back to its former self.

These are the stories of nurses, bus drivers, seamstress, teachers, dockers, writers and musicians. People who were qualified back in the Caribbean but felt the harsh discrimination of a motherland that stripped them of all qualifications and forced them into any job that was available. As a first-generation child of these pioneers - parents who have now passed away -chapters titled Last One Out Turn Off All The Lights, Tin Baths and Paraffin Heaters and Soon Come make me smile and cry with sweet memories and nostalgia.

Colin has a deft way of letting the people speak, this is a collection that goes beyond the famous but this is a story of everyday people. A fly-on-the-wall documentary of Windrush, warmly interspersed with his own parents’ narrative and a measured historical background to each capter. A must have volume and well needed garnering of voices whitewashed from British History.

Exquisite Cadavers - Meena Kandasamy

Experimental and inventive, a bravado (to challenge, to provoke) of writing comes Exquisite Cadavers

(Atlantic Books) by Meena Kandasamy. If you haven’t read her second novel When I Hit You (ed: shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize 2018) you need too. Whisper quietly but this woman is writing her place into the cannon of world literature.

Every book needs a conceit and Exquisite Cadavers, a term derived from a game played in 1925 by Surrealists where “the exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”Exquisite Cadavers dares to ask the question: can our fictional writing be written in a bubble void of our own personal experience, local and global events around usand what new possibilities can be found when we place these writing side by side?

This is a brave piece of work which pits fiction against the truth. Kandasamy captures in note form and prose the world around her through news events, films, romance, activism, etc., side by side with a novel about Karim, a young film maker and Maya, in an unstable job. I only wished she had more space on the page to shine more light on her vision.

Around the World in 80 Trains - Monisha Rajesh

Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh was an incredible adventure that I wasn’t expecting. Her love and passion for trains can be felt in the hum and reverberation of her narrative. We begin our journey in St Pancras, accompanying her and fiancé Jem, a newbie to global train travelling, experiencing the high and lows of their travels.

What I loved about this narration is the immersive feeling; you feel the fear and dread of a border inspection near Russia:“sniffer dog’s saliva in my face”; an invitation to look around a tea house by Lady BaBa,a geisha in Kyoto;avoiding slipping into a coma on the Qinghai railway from Xining to Lhasa, the highest railway in the world.

You can smell the food at the track side, be soothed by the colours that sweep all over the landscape, feel the sweat pouring over you in claustrophobic conditions, and find yourself waist deep in a cold white tundra. This is an adventure with a capital A for the new millennials as well as those harking back to a bygone age.

Monisha takes us across continents and exposes us to a vista of history, culture, colonialism, communism, class and so much more. Each railway system, train station and train bring with them a profound sense of identity. The engine that drives this book is the people, the individual stories that we miss as we fall asleep or as we rush to get off at the next stop. She takes notes of these stories like a train spotter and captures as much details in the moment of exposure and then they’re gone into the distant horizon.

This book speaks about globalisation without preaching, a gentle reminder that we are not too dissimilar or that far apart, that our actions impact upon each other, whether we are workers travellers, adventurers or migrants.This book is a joy for the rail travel enthusiast, (trains and rail tracks named and explained in such euphoric detail,) but this is also a book made enjoyably and accessible to the first timers like me and Jem.

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*On hiatus, more coming soon*

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