Black History Month 2020

October is Black History Month and in the Library, we celebrate that with books of course. We have been promoting relevant events on our Twitter account throughout the month, but we also have our own contribution to make.

On Wakelet, we have put together a collection of fiction and non-fiction books for Black History Month, which includes physical books and e-books. You can access the list here. There is a range of classics, recent publications and texts around the Black Lives Matter movement. Recently, we added White privilege – The myth of a post-racial society by Kalwant Bhopal and Akala’s Natives – Race and class in the ruins of empire to our Black History Month Wakelet for example. We also have a Wakelet on Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion, which includes podcasts.

We are always looking for recommendations for what to add, so don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing liaison@sgul.ac.uk.

In this blogpost, Library staff are sharing their thoughts on some of the books in the collection and their book recommendations for Black History Month.

Book reviews

Natives by Akala

Jenni Hughes (Research Publications Assistant)

This is an enlightening, powerful read on how race and class intersect and operate in today’s Britain. Akala’s choice to examine these in tandem deepens and enhances his analysis of both: his early observation that “we are trained to recognise the kinds of racism that tend to be engaged in by poorer people” rather than the larger, more damaging kinds perpetuated by the rich and powerful, for example, clarified a great deal for me about mainstream discourse around race and racism in this country.

Akala’s accounts of his personal experiences of classism and racism support and are supported by his deep knowledge of the history and sociology of race, and his prose slides easily between different registers (academic, vernacular etc), enabling him to communicate his points clearly and incisively. Overall, this is a compelling and very readable analysis drawing on a rich well of knowledge, research, experience and scholarship.

Book cover for Akala's Natives

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Andy Lacey (Information Assistant)

Reading James Baldwins Giovanni’s Room felt like a whole new world opening up when I first read it as a 17-year-old. A whole world filled with adult gay men, with complicated, messy but joyous lives.

The novel centres on David, an American in France who travels to Paris. He meets Giovanni, a bartender and the two become friends. We are then taken on a journey with them, but also their social sphere. We explore their experiences of social alienation, but also their passions, and attempts to construct a unique space for themselves in the world. This novel is so good at describing homosocial spaces, and exploring how gay men often had to construct new, alternate families. It is also great at examining modern ideas of masculinity, and spotlighting the problems with it. Having been written by a gay black man in 1956, this novel still seems powerful and contemporary even all these years later. Which maybe shows there is still a way to go. Brave, important and completely brilliant.

Book cover for Baldwin's Giovanni's Room

Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

Georgina Coles (Information Assistant)

I would highly recommend Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch. It’s both a personal account of the author’s struggle with her identity as a British Ghanaian woman and an exploration of the place of racism in British history and identity, and how British society can’t claim to be ‘post-racial’ or ‘colour-blind’ until it confronts the racism inherent in both its imperial past and its present. A fascinating and important book.

Book cover for Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

A Small Island by Andrea Levy

Karen John-Pierre (NHS and Liaison Manager)

On June 22nd, 1948 the first wave of immigrants from Jamaica arrived at Tilbury Docks on the Empress Windrush. Dressed in their Sunday best and full of hope and pride at finally arriving in the ‘Mother country’, they, and other commonwealth immigrants who followed them, encountered a much more hostile and colder environment than they were expecting.

This is the real-life backdrop to the late Andrea Levy’s award-winning and popular novel, ‘A Small Island’, which charts the incohesive interplay between Hortense and Gilbert, originally from Jamaica, their English landlady, Queenie and her husband, Bernard. Levy gives voice to the different internal journeys they make in this new landscape at the birth of modern multicultural Britain, letting each main character in turn take the reins of the story to reveal different perspectives, hopping between past and present.

In this honest and important book, Levy exams themes such as the effects of Britain’s colonial rule in the Caribbean and India, post-war migration and racism, the framing of interracial relationships, the sadness and heartache of immigrant life as well as the universal themes of love, marriage and hope. As the daughter of a Windrush child, this book struck a huge chord with me: I revelled in the telling of stories largely untold and would urge you to do the same.

Book cover for Small Island by Andrea Levy.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Anne Binsfeld – Liaison Support Librarian (IMBE)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is a poetic, raw and magical reading. The author highlights class and race issues, with a strong feminist and anti-colonial twist. Rhys uses the Victorian classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and retells it from the point of view of Bertha, the “madwoman in the attic”. Set in Jamaica, Antoinette/Bertha’s story focuses on her youth as the heiress of a crumbling Creole family dynasty. She is married off to a stranger, Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester, who takes her to England and locks her away. As well as addressing patriarchal abuse, Antoinette’s story looks at the intersectionality of mental health issues and racism. A haunting, but beautiful book.

Book cover for Wide Sargasso Sea.

More recommendations

If you are looking for further recommendations for your Black History Month reading, Lawrence Jones (Content and Digital Infrastructure Manager) recommends Passing by Nella Larsen, a book about mixed race women in the US in the 1920s ‘passing’ as white & the stresses they suffer whilst trying to avoid being found out. Louise Davies (Circulation Desk Supervisor) recommends Half of a Yellow sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which is also on our Black History Month Wakelet.

Brenda Cluffer (Information Assistant) really liked Andrea Levy’s Long Song. She says the following about the author’s latest book: “The Long Song talks about the months leading up to the abolition of Slavery in the Island of Jamaica. Andrea Levy manages to bring humour to a rather brutal and tragic time in British history. It tells the story of  a young girl called July and her son who through various events are torn apart by the horrors of this system and the journeys they take in order to survive. The book covers topics of colourism, class, race, landlord and tenant, slave uprisings, abolition of slavery, the role of clergy and rape. A very serious topic but Andrea has the knack of drawing you into the subject and providing the Caribbean old saying ‘take bad something and mek laugh’ into a compelling read.”


Don’t forget to email liaison@sgul.ac.uk with any recommendations around Black History Month you might have. Also, be sure to have a look at our Wakelet where you can find collections around mental wellbeing, LGBTQ+, women in leadership and many more.

Black History Month

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve put together a curated collection of articles in Wakelet looking at BME pioneers in medicine and healthcare. For example, The Many Rivers to Cross wake details the experiences of some of the many young Caribbean migrants who left the West Indies in the 50’s and 60’s to come to the UK to work for the NHS and their contribution to British society. We’ve included other interesting stories, such as an article on Henrietta Lacks’ ‘Immortal’ Cells from Smithsonian, and recordings of an interview with Dr Shyam Singh, the first Asian MRCP examiner and consultant cardiologist in the NHS, courtesy of the RCP’s Voices of Medicine project.

wakelet-screenshot

We welcome contributions to the wake, if there are any stories, or pioneers that we should be including in our Wake, please let us know by leaving a comment on our blog.

Black History Month on Pinterest

Pinterest in black

October is Black History Month. To celebrate St George’s University Library has created a Pinterest board to celebrate those who have made significant contributions to the medical field. You may have heard of Mary Seacole, but do you know why Henrietta Lacks is important?

What vital contributions were made by Caribbean women during the formative years of the NHS, and which ancient doctor is still held in high regard?

Visit our Pinterest board to find out more.