Ten Books by Writers of Colour You Should Read This Year

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Black, Listed
Black, Listed by Jeffrey BoakyeIllustration by Fashgif

This year will see a raft of brilliant new literature by PoC authors, encompassing poetry, novels and non-fiction. Here are ten that you should look out for

We’ve come a long way since 2016, when fewer than 100 books by British authors of non-white backgrounds were published. 2019 is set to give us a wide spectrum of work from writers of colour the world over, from memorable first books to provocative page-turners and English-language debuts. Here, ten must-reads by PoC authors to look out for over the coming year.

1. Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye

This latest tome from the author of Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime, Jeffrey Boakye returns to the black British experience with an examination of the over-60 labels used to describe black men and women in recent decades. From loaded terms, historical descriptions and internal insults, Boakye explores how 21st-century black identity has been represented, celebrated and othered. Black, Listed is urgent, timely reading.

2. Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

This captivating collection of short stories set in the author’s hometown of Houston follows a young black boy coming to terms with his sexuality, while tackling themes of class division, poverty and identity in contemporary America. The opening tale charts the protagonist’s first sexual encounter with the son of a Mexican family next door facing eviction; in another, the effects of a young woman’s extra-marital affair reverberate across an apartment complex. A page-turning and powerful debut about living on the margins, Lot: Stories posits Bryan Washington as a writer to watch.

3. The Farm by Joanne Ramos

An ambitious businesswoman runs a luxury fertility retreat, dubbed ‘the Farm’, where women from low-income backgrounds act as ‘Hosts’, delivering healthy new-borns for rich clients – in return, they receive more money than they could dream of. Jane, a young Filipino woman, sees an unmissable chance to transform her life and that of her infant daughter’s. The downside? She’s cut off from her former life and banned from leaving the Farm for nine months. Alternating between four perspectives amid the backdrop of New York’s Hudson Valley and a cramped dorm in Queens, themes of class, privilege and the immigrant experience are deftly explored in this unsettling debut.

4. Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

Magical Negro is the third poetry collection from the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, who counts Roxane Gay among her fans. Tackling themes of ancestral trauma, racial politics and objectification, this is a powerful portrait of contemporary black American womanhood. A Brief History of the Present charts the historic and painful legacy of police brutality on black America and the enduring legacy of death, meanwhile Matt touches on the intricacies of dating white men as a black woman. Parker’s writing evokes a sense of unease and urgency which will stay with you long after you put it down. 

5. It’s Not About the Burqa by Mariam Khan

Muslim women’s identity in recent years has been synonymous with their so-called divided loyalties; their presumed role in the radicalisation of Muslim men – and of course, the burqa. In this first anthology of its kind, 17 Muslim women reclaim that narrative. Featuring emerging and established contributors, including author and activist Mona Eltahawy, podcaster Raifa Rafiq and poet Nadine Aisha Jassat, It’s Not About the Burqa tackles themes as far-ranging as anti-blackness, LGBTQ+ identity and the culture of silence surrounding sex and relationships – all without a tabloid trope in sight.

6. Picnic in the Storm by Yukiko Motoya 

Split into 11 original stories set in what appear to be non-descript homes and workplaces, this English-language debut by one of Japan’s most exciting voices unsettles and captivates in equal measure. Opening story The Lonely Bodybuilder – also the US title – charts a housewife as she becomes a bodybuilder in an effort to win back the affections of her inattentive husband. In Fitting Room, a woman working at a clothes store waits for a customer who won’t leave the changing room. Motoya’s unconventional prose will have you hooked.

7. England’s Other Countrymen: Black Tudor Society by Onyeka Nubia

Writer, lecturer and historian Onyeka Nubia’s groundbreaking new book reveals that the presence of black men and women in Tudor times was far larger than previously realised. Contrary to depictions of the era as overwhelmingly white on television, in films and novels, Tudors from all walks of life interacted with people of African descent at home and abroad. But what really makes for potent reading is Nubia’s argument that racism today is a more recent phenomenon than we’re otherwise led to believe.

8. The Brutal House by Niven Govinden

The latest novel from the award-winning author centres on five ageing ‘Mothers’ – queer men sitting in silent protest – who have each opened their homes to lost children and provide safe spaces for them to explore their sexuality. Unfolding against a backdrop of authorities ignoring countless children going missing and their cases remaining uninvestigated by the police, The Brutal House also acts as a powerful allegory for the personal struggle of the LGBTQ+ community the world over and the challenges queer teens still face today.

9. A Girl Called Eel by Ali Zamir

This marks one of the first – if not the first – books from the Comoros Islands, located off the south east coast of Africa, to be translated into English. Written in single sentence, protagonist and teenager Anguille recalls her entire life in one long, sustained breath after becoming lost at sea in the Indian Ocean. Not only is A Girl Called Eel a unique debut (it scooped the PEN Translates Award in 2018 and a Burgess Award the same year), it’s testament to how African and Arab authors are just as capable of penning experimental and convention-defying literature as their Western counterparts.

10. The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

Shalini, a privileged young woman from Bangalore, heads to a remote Himalayan village in Kashmir, convinced that her mother’s recent passing is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a salesman who frequented her childhood home. Set amid the backdrop of political turbulence and alternating between memories of the protagonist’s childhood to the present day, The Far Field effortlessly tackles class divisions, privilege, grief and guilt. A memorable and moving tale that marks Vijay as an exciting new voice – so much so, it’s difficult to believe that this is her debut novel.