Twenty contemporary writers recommend overlooked novels, essays and poetry that deserve to sit alongside the classics on our bookshelves. Introduction by Kadish Morris

It wasn’t until I started university in 2008 that I truly realised how little regard there was for Black authors. My creative writing lecturer was a Black poet, whose teaching material and reading lists were saturated with authors of colour, but each term, I noticed that the class was shrinking. One day, there was a discourse bubbling among my white peers; they deemed him too biased, and proclaimed that his reading list was too Black. He’d been suggesting interesting works such as Ishmael Reed’s Juice! and Clarence Major’s Painted Turtle: Woman With Guitar, but students banged their fists on the table for more Plath, more Twain, more Orwell.

A 2017 report showed that of 400 authors named as writers of literature by 2,000 people, only 7% were from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. Sunny Singh, co-founder of the Jhalak prize, which recognises Black and Asian writers in Britain, said the list reflected “a deeply entrenched imaginative conservatism, where the need to hold on to a nostalgic past combines with a fear of confronting a complex present in all its variety”.

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