One of my favourite trainee jobs is getting to spend time with all the new books that arrive at the EFL – from stamping and stickering to putting them out on display. I also write a blog post each month highlighting a few of the new books that caught my eye. Some months, we have so many interesting books that I simply can’t choose and end up writing two posts! That’s what happened in October – we had a lot of new books by black British and African American writers arrive at the library and, seeing as October is Black History Month, it seemed like a good opportunity to spotlight a few. If you’re interested in other new books at the EFL, you can check out our monthly blog posts or find all our new books on LibraryThing. If you’re visiting the library, be sure to check out the selection on the new books display!
Ferdinand Dennis was born in Jamaica before moving to London with his family at the age of eight, and themes of migration and one’s roots are woven into the very fabric of his work. The Black and White Museum, a short story collection which follows a series of characters in London, is no exception. Together, the stories encompass ‘generational conflict, the social threat of black men, the wistful longings that disrupt lives, [and] the powerlessness of the old’ (from the publisher) against a backdrop of gentrification and change in London since the mid-twentieth century. As Dennis’s characters grow older, some are tempted to leave London and return ‘home’, only to find that just like the London of their youth, home has changed too. Dennis often leaves his characters and their stories abruptly, before any sense of resolution is reached. This has the effect of underlining the uprooted, interrupted, and diasporic experiences of so many of Dennis’s characters, all of whom ultimately want only to feel that they belong.
Also by Ferdinand Dennis at the EFL: Duppy Conqeuror (1998) ; Voices of the Crossing: The Impact of Britain on writers from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa (2000).
Perhaps the first thing you might notice about Natasha Brown’s debut novel is its brevity – it runs to only 100 pages, and even the narrative style is characterised by brief and fleeting vignettes in the life of its unnamed narrator. That narrator is a black British woman who has achieved all the trappings of success, from an Oxbridge education to homeownership and a successful career. But when she is diagnosed with cancer, those successes start to ring hollow. By unpacking her narrator’s experiences, Brown confronts the reader with the endless, everyday racism black British women face. This, then, is ‘a story about the stories we live within – those of race and class, safety and freedom, winners and losers’ (from the publisher). The brevity of Brown’s prose does not detract from the relentless and exhausting racism her narrator comes up against, nor does it diminish the emotional punch of the novel’s conclusion.
June Jordan (1936-2002) was an American poet, activist, journalist, essayist, and teacher. She wrote prolifically, publishing over 25 works of poetry, fiction, and essays, as well as children’s books, journalism, and even lyrics for musicians, plays and musicals. Not only was she an active participant in the politics and struggles that defined the USA in the second half of the twentieth century – from civil rights and feminism to the anti-war and gay and lesbian rights movements – she chronicled those movements too. In this collection, you will find poems exploring issues of gender, race, immigration, and much more, all characterised by Jordan’s ‘dazzling stylistic range’. These are poems ‘moved as much by political animus as by a deep love for the observation of human life in all its foibles, eccentricities, strengths and weaknesses’ (from the publisher). While her poems can and indeed should be read as revealing the heart of the politics, debates and struggles of twentieth-century America, they should also be celebrated for their beauty and musicality.
This anthology of African American poetry, edited by Kevin Young, covers an incredible breadth of poets, poetry, and time periods. The poems are presented in chronological blocks, taking the reader all the way from 1770 to 2020. The poetry styles range from formal to experimental, vernacular, and protest poetry. The selections are hugely varied in terms of theme, too, encompassing ‘beauty and injustice, music and muses, Africa and America, freedoms and foodways, Harlem and history, funk and opera, boredom and longing, jazz and joy’ (from Young’s Introduction). Featuring contemporary African American poets alongside little-known and often out-of-print older works, this is a truly expansive anthology. But Young doesn’t only offer us an enormous breadth of poetry and poets. Each work sits alongside a biography of its author, as well as comprehensive notes which highlight the cultural and historical contexts of the works and, indeed, of the African American experience since the late eighteenth century.
Glory is NoViolet Bulawayo’s second novel and, just like her debut (We Need New Names, 2013 – also at the EFL), it features on the Booker Prize shortlist. Bulawayo here satirises Robert Mugabe’s surprise fall from power in Zimbabwe, in the form of a reimagining of Orwell’s Animal Farm described as ‘allegory, satire and fairytale rolled into one mighty punch’ (from The Guardian’s review, March 2022). The country of Jadada has the longest-serving leader any country has ever had, a horse named Old Horse – that is, until he is deposed and supplanted by his erstwhile vice-president turned rival. The hope that regime-change brings quickly gives way to despair once it becomes clear that the corruption, violence, and struggles of daily life in fact remain the same. Into the gap left by lost hope steps Destiny, a young goat newly returned from exile, who seeks to witness and document the cycle of revolution and violence. While anyone familiar with the events in Zimbabwe of late 2017 will recognise certain figures and moments, there is also a universality to Bulawayo’s observations and the innovative dexterity of her prose that speaks to something timeless and entirely human.
Also by NoViolet Bulawayo at the EFL: We Need New Names (2013).
In this volume of essays, edited by John Ernest, you’ll find explorations of the representations of race in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, representations which – it is argued – are key to understanding the whole of the United States. After all, race shapes everything, from economic policy to where people live, forming the ‘ominous subtext’ of the legal, judicial, and wider governmental infrastructure of the state. The contributors to this volume explore how literature has variously been used both to cement racial visual images in the public consciousness and to fight back against those images, to separate people along racial lines and to form communities. Taken together, the essays do not aim to provide a comprehensive or chronological history of race in American literature; rather, they seek to ‘place readers in this chaotic process of literary and cultural development – caught up in a story, already in progress’ (from Ernest’s Introduction).
Also available as an ebook.