Black History Month graphic

Black History Month reading list

Explore some of the titles The University of Manchester's Faculty of Humanities recommends to mark Black History Month.

The month of October has been celebrated as Black History Month (BHM) in the UK since 1987. This is a national celebration that aims to celebrate and recognise Black British achievement and Black British History.   

In celebration of Black History Month 2020, The Faculty of Humanities at The University of Manchester has collaborated with the Centre for New Writing, The Department of American Studies and Creative Manchester to pull together an extensive suggested reading list to celebrate black history and culture.  

Natalie Zacek recommends

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (2019)

"This novel, winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, exposes the history of Southern reform schools, in which well into the civil rights era African-American boys who were found guilty of minor offenses were imprisoned, and in some cases abused and even murdered. The book is, unfortunately, based on real cases from 1950s/60s Florida."


Horatio Clare recommends

North of South by Shiva Naipaul (1978)

"Naipaul’s readers experience all the amazement, wonder, disgust and thrill known to fans of great fiction. For any who long to travel and write non-fiction, especially in Africa, as I did and do, 'North of South' is a blazing inspiration. "


Honor Gavin recommends

Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

"A novel that shows how speculative fiction can illuminate historical reality. Dana, the novel’s black female protagonist, is abruptly thrown back in time into 19thcentury Maryland, where she becomes entangled in the life of her ancestors, a black free woman and a slave owner. By combining a recognisably SF trope – time travel – with historical fiction, the novel is able to develop a hugely powerful account both of the lived realities of slavery and its resistance, and slavery’s afterlife and legacies. "

Afropean: Notes from Black Europe (2019) by Johny Pitts

"A non-fiction book which tracks Johny’s journey from Sheffield across Europe. It’s a brilliantly-conceived account of contemporary black life in Europe that deftly brings together personal observation with historical reflection."

Molly Geidel recommends

Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody (1968)

"A wonderful, readable, angry and enraging memoir that taught both history and activism and made me want to study the 1960s. Moody vividly narrates her childhood in the segregated US South and the story of how she becomes an organiser and leader in the civil rights movement. "

Vona Groarke recommends

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey (2017)

"A formally fearless first collection, inventive, spikey, playful, and completely brilliant!"

Frances Leviston recommends

At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid (2000)

"Published in 1978, these brief, blazing meditations on Caribbean girlhood have a timeless concision and intensity, and a lyrical appetite for image and rhythm. They exist, of course, on their own terms; but they may also speak helpfully to recent reconsiderations of the Windrush generation."

Ten: The New Wave [Poetry Anthology] (2014)

"The second anthology in a series aiming to introduce new minority voices to British poetry. The New Wave was a particularly starry edition, including Warsan Shire before her appearance on Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Jay Bernard, Sarah Howe, and the brilliant Kayo Chingonyi, whose first book, Kumukanda, is also essential reading."

John McAuliffe recommends

Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi (2017)

"As various and skilful a first collection as I can imagine, happily combining atmospheric poems which bring the world on to the page, but also opening up lovely, brief piercing lyrics like 'For those orphaned late in life', where he writes about a moment when 'You hear, for the first time, the timbre /Of your voice, how someone else might'."

Kaye Mitchell recommends

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

"This 1937 classic of the Harlem Renaissance is the wry, moving, sometimes tragic, unashamedly romantic tale of one woman's 'progress' - to a kind of self-knowledge and independence. It is written in a mixture of lyrical, aphoristic prose and acutely rendered colloquial speech that draws you in from the opening lines."

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip (2008)

"Zong! tells the story of the murder of enslaved people on a ship en route to Jamaica in 1781, but it does so in a dazzlingly original and innovative way - by reworking 'found' material (official legal documents relating to the case) into a cycle of fragmentary, typographically experimental, startlingly affecting poems. Canadian-Trinidadian poet M. NourbeSe Philip reclaims and reworks a brutal history as a humane memorial for those who lost their lives."

Kerry Pimlott recommends

Ghost Ship: Institutional Racism and the Church of England by A.D.A. France-Williams (2020)

"Currently, I am reading A. D. A. France-Williams remarkable 2020 book, France-Williams - a CofE priest now working in an urban parish next door in Hulme - lays bare the church’s systemic racism and calls for transformation – a must read!"

Britain’s Black Debt by Hilary McD Beckles (2013)

"There has been much conversation lately about the need to decolonise British institutions and for meaningful reparations to be made for the nation’s involvement in slavery and colonialism. This is an accessible book that enables further insight into this."

Eithne Quinn recommends 

Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America by Erik Nielson and Andrea Dennis, with foreword by Killer Mike (2019)

"A riveting exposé of how US police and prosecutors regularly present rap lyrics and videos in courtrooms as evidence of guilt. Rap is a form of cultural expression built on tall stories, boasting and imaginative wordplay. But, in a courtroom, prosecutors insist that it should be taken literally. In this way, young black defendants are being targeted through their music. Rap on Trial shows that this oppressive practice grows out of a much older history of state criminalization of black music in America. Disturbing, and at the same time page-turning. Read it if you care about racial justice."

Beth Underdown recommends 

This Lovely City by Louise Hare (2020)

"Such a hopeful book, giving better insight into what life has been like for the Windrush generation."

Black History Month 2020 further reading

Here are some more further reading suggestions from our staff:

Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools by Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury

“The report raises real concerns about school policies, workforce, and curricula as well as spotlighting the growing risk posed by police stationed in schools. Timely reading and helpful for educators, parents, and policymakers,” says Kerry Pimlott.

Read it here.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo  

The story  follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.  

Find out more.

Black and British: A Short, Essential History by David Olusoga  

The latest book published by the historian and broadcaster especially for Black History Month 2020,  introducing 1,800 years of black British history from Roman Africans who guarded Hadrian’s Wall right up to present day, for children aged 12+.

Find out more.

Black History Month 2020 must-watches

There is plenty filmed content to sink your teeth into this Black History Month and our staff have made some suggestions if you need help choosing what to watch.

In the Heat of the Night 

In the Heat of the Night (1967) directed by Norman Jewison, adapted by Stirling Siliphan, based on the book by John Ball, recommended by Emma Clarke, Lecturer in Screenwriting.

“It tells the tale of a New York City cop being brought in to solve the murder of an influential man in a backwoods town in the deep South. The detective is the incredibly cool, smart Mr Tibbs played by Sidney Poitier and his host is the good old boy Sherriff played by Rod Steiger. Both men are on top form and the atmosphere of race hatred drips off the screen. People try to make cool films these days but this five-time Oscar winner does it effortlessly.”

Daughters of the Dust

Daughters of the Dust(1991) directed by Julie Dash, recommended by Natalie Zacek, Senior Lecturer in American History.

“Daughters of the Dust was a major influence on Beyonce's visual album Lemonade. It tells the story of a black family who for generations have lived in an isolated community on an island off the coast of South Carolina, but who at the end of the nineteenth century are forced to confront the modern United States. ”

Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country (2020 series) created by Misha Green, also recommended by Natalie Zacek, Senior Lecturer in American History.

“Currently showing on Sky and made by HBO in the US, this 10-part series puts horror tropes in dialogue with black life in 1950s America. Although the bizarre creatures and evil wizards are frightening, the show's true horror lies in the daily racial harassment which few black Americans were able to avoid. ”