Black and British - A Partial Timeline
We put together 20 of our favourite radical, romantic reimaginings of Black and British history and literary history, from the Romans to Windrush, in novels, poetry & plays by Black authors.
Where these books are still in print (and, typically, several of them are not), we have made them available to buy. Simply follow the links!
208 CE: THE EMPEROR’S BABE by Bernadine Evaristo <<buy it here>>
Emperor Severus meets his match in black Londoner Zuleika, as Evaristo runs a satirical eye over the decadence, where "the house of Venalicius plc - the elite multinational slave-trading agency, / based in marble chambers at Poultry"
1400: TELLING TALES by Patience Agbabi <<buy it here>>
Canterbury Tales that zing: “Tabard Inn to Canterbury Cathedral, Poet pilgrims competing for free picks, Chaucer Tales, track by track, it's the remix and we're keeping it real, reminisce this: Chaucer Tales were an unfinished business.”
1601: CHASING THE STARS by Malorie Blackman <<buy it here>>
It's Twelfth Night in spaaaaaaaaaaaace
Read a great review by a teen reader here
1736: SHIP SHAPE by Dorothea Smartt <<buy it here>>
Intense and incisive poetic sequence excavate the missing history of Samboo, an African slave brought from the Caribbean by a Lancaster sea-captain as a present for his wife. This book gives life.
1774: SANCHO: AN ACT OF REMEMBRANCE by Paterson Joseph <<buy it here>>
In 1774, Ignatius Sancho became the first Black Briton to vote in an election. In this one-hander that travelled from Wilton's Music Hall to Harlem, Paterson Joseph gives body & builds power from the known facts.
1803: JUPITER WILLIAMS and JUPITER AMIDSHIPS by S.I. Martin <<out of print>>
Long past time for to bring these adventures back into print! Building on S.I. Martin's archive work, Jupiter's story threads through London and then away to sea, a reminder of how far Britain stretched.
1817: THE CURIOUS TALE OF THE LADY CARABOO by Catherine Johnson <<buy it here>>
A beautiful, swoonsome book that retells the story of the real-life trickster Mary Wilcox while also rewriting Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey through Cassandra, a girl who believes everything she reads in Gothic novels…
1822-: EVERFAIR by Nisi Shawl <<buy it here>>
Steampunk o'clock(work): Shawl's dazzlingly inventive novel is mainly set in a reimagined, liberated Liberia, but it visits England, showing the links of both the transatlantic slave trade and the abolition movement from 1822 to WWI.
1826: THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins <<buy it here>>
Both writing & rewriting the Gothic novel to lay bare the racist underpinnings of its ideas of monstrosity and power, Sara Collins' novel haunts not only because of its horrors but the power of its protagonist's voice.
1831: THE LONG SONG by Andrea Levy <<buy it here>>
Andrea Levy Levy's most under-rated novel ends with her protagonist's son in London, as the threads of British slavery, abolition and missionary work bind together Jamaica and Britain. An unforgettable book about the power of writing your own story.
1833: RED VELVET by Lolita Chakrabarti <<pre-order>>
(to be published in September)
Adrian Lester originated the role of Ira Aldridge, the first Black British actor to play Othello, in Covent Garden, in this blistering play about theatre, abolition & hypocrisy first seen at the Kiln Theatre
1836: WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan <<buy it here>>
Washington, like Frannie Langton, starts his life on a Caribbean slave plantation, and finds his way to England, and from being a science experiment creating as a scientist and artist. Contains the best octopus in literature among its marvels.
1847: WINDWARD HEIGHTS by Maryse Condé <<out of print>>
It's not the best-known Brontë retelling relocated to the Caribbean, but this stunning novel by the winner of the 2018 New Academy Prize (aka the alt Nobel), which Creolizes Wuthering Heights in Guadeloupe and Cuba, should be right up there.
1900: DUPPY CONQUEROR by Ferdinand Dennis <<pre-order>>
Championing African, Asian & Caribbean voices, Hope Road are are republishing this essential classic in October.
On his mythical quest, Marshall Sarjeant moves through the underworld of WWII Liverpool & London before travelling to Africa.
1914-18: WALTER’S WAR by Kwame Kwei-Armah <<not in print>>
Publishers, grab your opportunity to publish this moving play based on the life of Walter Tull, Spurs footballer and soldier – meanwhile, BBC please make your 2008 film of it available to watch again!
1919: UNWRITTEN: CARIBBEAN POEMS AFTER THE FIRST WORLD WAR, ed. Karan McCarthy Woolf <<buy it here>>
Poems by Jay Bernard, Malika Booker, Kat Francois, Anthony Joseph & more: a poetic monument to the citizens of empire who fought as the British West Indies Regiment
1927: TRUMPET by Jackie Kay <<buy it here>>
Inspired by Billy Tipton, this heart-breaking heart-mending heart-expanding novel is that most important of things, a whole life, a century filled with love, jazz and lived history. Joss Moody, 1927-1997, is music you will hear forever.
1930s: IN THE CASTLE OF MY SKIN by George Lamming <<buy it here>>
Deservedly one of Penguin's Modern Classics, Lamming's 1930s-set novel, first published in 1953, is a memory work of the author's Barbadian childhood, a Little England where England's mores find their way in to everything
1948: KITCH: A FICTIONAL BIOGRAPHY OF A CALYPSO ICON by Anthony Joseph <<buy it here>>
Black British history doesn't begin with Windrush but its significance is undeniable. Anthony Joseph **sings** the story of one of its key figures, Lord Kitchener, calypsonian composer of London Is the Place for Me.
1960: COMING TO ENGLAND by Floella Benjamin
We're excited to see Macmillan's picture book format (publishing in September!) of this beautiful, powerful memoir, so that even the youngest readers can learn and share their history with the inimitable Baroness Benjamin. The original is a book for all ages!