by Alison Evans, My Online Schooling English Teacher
2020 has so far been a year in which it is easy to feel powerless, especially when it comes to the idea of racial injustice. The events in America that sparked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement could make us feel that not much has changed, and that black people are still being treated unfairly and must fight to have their voices heard.
So, what can we do? Well a key thing we can do is to educate ourselves by reading more books by black writers so that we can understand the experiences of people with a different culture and background to us. As the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out in her brilliant Ted Talk The Danger of a Single Story, we need to be careful that we do not think that our experiences are the only ones. She talks about how her American college roommate was surprised that she spoke English (it is actually the first language of Nigeria) and that she listened to Madonna and Mariah Carey. Her novels, like Purple Hibiscus, won many prizes and introduced many readers to writing by an African author, opening up a whole new, vibrant world. Stories, Adichie argues, can challenge stereotypes and can allow the reader to know what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
A personal favourite writer of mine is Maya Angelou. A prolific poet, her words often depict Black beauty, the strength of women and the human spirit, and the demand for social justice. Her first collection of poems Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972, the same year she became the first Black woman to have a screenplay produced. She was a friend of Barack Obama and his family and wrote the poem On the Pulse of Morning for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. This is all amazing in itself, but particularly when we realise that Angelou was the descendant of slaves and lived in a one-room shack as a child in Missouri. This was in the time of segregation where she thought that white people were mythical as she never really met any. Her life story shows us that writing is an escape from poverty and that a poor, black woman can rise to be friends with presidents, become a Professor of Literature and influence many other writers and filmmakers.
In Britain writers like Benjamin Zephaniah and John Agard use humour and a rap style of poetry to write about the experience of coming from immigrant families and the racist attitudes of some people they encountered. In the poem ‘Half-Caste’ Agard challenges the idea of being called ‘half’ a person with ‘half a shadow’ and shows us how even language can be racist and demeaning and we all need to think about how we use it. Literature can challenge our own prejudices and give us a wider view of the world.
‘If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be’
– Maya Angelou
Alison’s recommendations for books by Black writers (per Key Stage)
- ‘Look up’ by Nathan Bryon illustrated by Dapo Adeola
- ‘Sulwe’ by Lupita Nyong’o illustrated by Vashti Harrison
- ‘Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History’ by Vashti Harrison
- ‘Funky Chickens’ by Benjamin Zephaniah (poetry)
- ‘Walter Tull’s Scrapbook’ and ‘Respect’ by Michaela Morgan
- ‘If a bus could talk – The story of Rosa Parks’ by Ringgold Faith
- ‘Noughts and Crosses’ by Marjorie Blackman (recommended 12 and over)
- ‘Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry’ by Mildred. D. Taylor (12 and over)
- ‘Hell and High Water’ by Tanya Landman (12 and over)
- ‘Coming to England’ by Floella Benjamin
- ‘The Shadow of the Sun’ by Ryszard Kapuscinski
- ‘The Story of Windrush’ by K.N. Chimbiri
- ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ by Maya Angelou
- ‘The Color Purple’ by Alice Walker
- ‘The Lonely Londoners’ by Sam Selvon
- ‘Half-Caste and other poems’ by John Agard
- ‘Hidden Figures’ by Margot Lee Shetterly
- ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett
- ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy
- ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison.
- ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama
- ‘And still I rise’ by Maya Angelou (poetry collection)
- ‘The Girl with the Louding Voice’ by Abi Daré
- ‘The Underground Railroad’ by Colson Whitehead
- ‘Home Coming’ by Colin Grant (about the Windrush generation)
- ‘Purple Hibiscus’ by Chimamanda Adichie
My Online Schooling is an online learning platform that offers a flexible, full-time English Curriculum-led education to children all over the world. We support home-educated pupils by providing live online lessons which follow a set syllabus, offering them the opportunity to receive International GCSE and A-Level qualifications that open doors to higher education. Click here to find out more about our school.