From the memoirs of a slave to the story of Britain’s first Black headteacher, leading writers including Malorie Blackman and David Olusoga choose the Black authors who fired their imaginations

Think “classic literature” and plenty of white authors probably spring to mind: Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Hardy, Woolf, Fitzgerald. Harper Lee, who wrote about race, is a favourite of many – but Black authors themselves are vastly under-represented. Students might get the chance to study Toni Morrison or James Baldwin, but what about the rest of Black literature’s vast history? Reports last year revealed that it was possible for pupils to complete their GCSEs and leave school without having studied a single novel or play by a non-white author. Only in 2019 did the UK’s most prestigious award for fiction, the Booker prize, first go to a Black British author: Bernardine Evaristo (who shared it).

In June 2020, the Black Writers’ Guild was formed, its aim being to create “a sustainable, profitable, fair and equal ecosystem for Black literary talent in British publishing”. And for Black History Month this year, the British Library has produced a timeline of Black literature in Britain, to celebrate its rich history from the 1550 publication of A Geographical Historie of Africa by John Leo Africanus to such current innovative writers as debbie tucker green and Caleb Femi.

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