Culture Writer Hannah Dalgliesh recommends six books, focusing on black and queer stories, to help you diversify your reading.

Content warning: These recommendations reference racism, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Winner of the 2007 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, this book is the perfect one to begin with. Adichie’s novel imagines the intersection of various lives in 1960s Nigeria, including Ugwu, who works as a houseboy, and Olanna, who gives up her old life for love. As the novel progresses, they face up to the horrors of the Nigerian civil war and undergo the extremes of violence, love, and betrayal. It is incredibly deftly-written; in Adichie’s writing, Nigeria blooms on the page. The language, colours, and sounds of the country – both in the beauty of its culture and the terror of its conflict – are painted with stunning vivacity. Spanning years of love and loss, this is a brilliant story of personhood and politics.


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is my favourite author of all time. It was hard to choose from her expansive fictions, but I think The Bluest Eye speaks to one of her most important themes: the impact of racism on black women. This novel charts the story of a poor black family in post-Depression 1940s Ohio. Pecola is the central character, a little black girl who prays each night for the blue eyes of her white schoolmates. Morrison’s writing is absolutely stunning; she transforms prose into poetry. From descriptions of the street to the tumultuous pain of Pecola’s mental turmoil, the language is searing, beautiful and compelling. This story is a lament to black children whose lives have been impacted by the physical and psychological violence of racism, and a hymn to the hope found in black communities. If you are looking to read more black women’s stories or you want to delve into Toni Morrison’s novels, this is an excellent starting point.

Morrison’s writing is absolutely stunning; she transforms prose into poetry

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Intersecting both black and queer identities, Danez Smith’s 2017 poetry collection blazes with the violence experienced by black gay men in America. Their poems explore the vastness of grief, the conflicts of 21st century black identity, and the never-ending police brutality which kills so many young black men. As their collection progresses, Smith moves to exploring the fear of desire when HIV positive. They move through the poetry of blood, the body, and how fear and love intersect. Their language is angry and fiercely intelligent. If you read one piece of literature as part of your understanding of the marginalisation and brutality faced by black gay men, it should be this.


The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Alice Walker’s 1983 classic took the literary world by storm. It tells the story of Celie, from childhood to adulthood, raped repeatedly and suffering greatly at the hands of the men in her life. The first line, ‘You better not never tell nobody but god,’ speaks to Celie’s loneliness and desperation as she grows up. It is not until years into her adulthood that she meets Shug Avery, a glamorous singer full of life and passion. Through their growing friendship and relationship, Celie learns to accept her body, her pleasure, and her identity. Shug inspires her to discover her own freedom and joy in her life. This book is a phenomenal celebration of blackness and of queer female identity.


Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry is an Irish novelist, twice named Irish Laureate, and author of many books, but Days Without End stands out as a particularly beautiful example of queer literature. In the 1850s, John Cole and Thomas McNulty leave behind the terrible hardships of their homes to fight in the American Civil War. In the midst of horror they find wonder, love, and hope. Their quiet, slow companionship is beautifully portrayed by a writer who never fails to push language to its limits, to test descriptions and the resilience of words. This is a strange, funny, and wonderful book.

Days Without End stands out as a particularly beautiful example of queer literature

Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan

There are things we cannot say in the day, things that must never be uttered aloud during daylight. These are the things we say in the dark, and the premise for Kirsty Logan’s fantastic short story collection. Each story is linked by the present-day fears of a lesbian couple in a solitary house in Iceland. As bizarre events occur, the sounds and feelings of this desolate landscape come to life. These events explore with stark frankness the fears of queer women, especially male violence, domestic and sexual violence, the claustrophobia of domesticity, and the landscape of motherhood and childlessness. This is a grotesque and marvellous work of fiction which puts queer women at the centre of our narratives of fear and fearlessness.

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