We are shaken to our core watching the images and stories coming through from the protests in the US. Now more than ever it is important to read as diversely as possible, and as consumers of the arts to demand diversity in the books, film, plays and more that we consume.
At home, it has been nearly 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody handed down 339 recommendations. In the years since, 432 Aboriginal Australians have died in custody. The incarceration rate for Aboriginal Australians is 29% despite making up only 3.3% of our population. 48% of all juveniles incarcerated are Aboriginal.
As White Australians we have many privileges and because of this, we carry a responsibility to champion the work produced by creators of colour. More than this, we have a responsibility to do the necessary work to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the history of the systemic abuse causing decades of generational trauma. We have a responsibility to take ownership of this, to sit in our uncomfortableness and reflect on how we can be better at an individual level.
At Neighbourhood Books, one of the ways we can do this is to present you with an ultimate reading list of Black authors – African-American, African-Australian and First Nations. There has never been a more important time to read widely, and to champion the stories of the African and Aboriginal diaspora.
Presented below, a mixture of both local and international works of fiction and non-fiction for you to delve deeper in your reading. For those who can, we urge you to Pay The Rent.
When looking for informative sources to increase your knowledge and understanding of the experience of Black and Blak people, a nonfiction text is the obvious answer. Covering every conceivable topic from history to gender studies, these are well researched texts specifically written to educate us, to open our minds to the injustice endured by the Black community.
Welcome To Country
Welcome to Country is a curated guidebook to Indigenous Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. In its pages, respected Elder and author Professor Marcia Langton offers fascinating insights into Indigenous languages and customs, history, native title, art and dance, storytelling, and cultural awareness and etiquette for visitors. There is also a directory of Indigenous tourism experiences, organised by state or territory, covering galleries and festivals, national parks and museums, communities that are open to visitors, as well as tours and performances.
This book is essential for anyone travelling around Australia who wants to learn more about the culture that has thrived here for over 50,000 years. It also offers the chance to enjoy tourism opportunities that will show you a different side of this fascinating country — one that remains dynamic, and is filled with openness and diversity. Don’t miss the edition for younger readers.
Bryan Stevenson grew up a member of a poor black community in the racially segregated South. He was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need- the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of the US’s criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young black man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, startling racial inequality, and legal brinksmanship – and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted lawyer’s coming of age, a moving portrait of the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.
From one of the world’s leading experts on unconscious racial bias comes a landmark examination of one of the most culturally powerful issues of our time. We might think that we treat all people equally, but we don’t.
Every day, unconscious biases affect our visual perception, attention, memory and behaviour in ways that are subtle and very difficult to recognise without in-depth scientific studies. Unconscious biases can be small and insignificant, but they affect every sector of society, leading to enormous disparities, from the classroom to the courtroom to the boardroom. But unconscious bias is not a sin to be cured, but a universal human condition, and one that can be overcome. In Biased, pioneering social psychologist Professor Jennifer Eberhardt explains how.
White Tears/Brown Scars
When white people cry foul it is often people of colour who suffer. White tears have a potency that silences racial minorities. White Tears/Brown Scars blows open the inconvenient truth that when it comes to race, white entitlement is too often masked by victimhood. Never is this more obvious than the dealings between women of colour and white women. What happens when racism and sexism collide? Ruby Hamad provides some confronting answers.
Go deeper: Don’t miss Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
The Hate Race
Maxine Beneba Clarke
‘Against anything I had ever been told was possible, I was turning white. On the surface of my skin, a miracle was quietly brewing . . .’
Suburban Australia. Sweltering heat. Three bedroom blonde-brick. Family of five. Beat-up Ford Falcon. Vegemite on toast. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s life is just like all the other Aussie kids on her street.
Except for this one, glaring, inescapably obvious thing.
From one of Australia’s most exciting writers, and the author of the multi-award-winning Foreign Soil, comes The Hate Race: a powerful, funny, and at times devastating memoir about growing up black in white middle-class Australia.
Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia
Childhood stories of family, country and belonging What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, showcases many diverse voices, experiences and stories in order to answer that question. Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside those from newly discovered writers of all ages. All of the contributors speak from the heart – sometimes calling for empathy, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect. This groundbreaking collection will enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today.
Contributors include- Tony Birch, Deborah Cheetham, Adam Goodes, Terri Janke, Patrick Johnson, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Jack Latimore, Celeste Liddle, Amy McQuire, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Miranda Tapsell, Jared Thomas, Aileen Walsh, Alexis West, Tara June Winch, and many, many more.
Rachel Perkins & Marcia Langton
First Australiansis the dramatic story of the collision of two worlds that created contemporary Australia. Told from the perspective of Australia’s first people, it vividly brings to life the events that unfolded when the oldest living culture in the world was overrun by the world’s greatest empire.
Seven of Australia’s leading historians reveal the true stories of individuals both black and white caught in an epic drama of friendship, revenge, loss and victory in Australia’s most transformative period of history. Their story begins in 1788 in Warrane, now known as Sydney, with the friendship between an Englishman, Governor Phillip, and the kidnapped warrior Bennelong. It ends in 1992 with Koiki Mabo’s legal challenge to the foundation of Australia.
By illuminating a handful of extraordinary lives spanning two centuries, First Australians reveals, through their eyes, the events that shaped a new nation.
How We Fight White Supremacy
Akiba Solomon & Kenrya Rankin
This celebration of Black resistance, from protests to art to sermons to joy, offers a blueprint for the fight for freedom and justice — and ideas for how each of us can contribute. Many of us are facing unprecedented attacks on our democracy, our privacy, and our hard-won civil rights. If you’re Black in the US, this is not new. Black Americans subvert and resist life-threatening forces as a matter of course. In these pages, leading organizers, artists, journalists, comedians and filmmakers offer wisdom on how they fight White supremacy. It’s a must-read for anyone new to resistance work, and for the next generation of leaders building a better future.
How To Be An Anti-Racist
Ibram X. Kendi
Not being racist is not enough. We have to be antiracist. In this rousing and deeply empathetic book, Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Antiracism Research and Policy Center, shows that when it comes to racism, neutrality is not an option: until we become part of the solution, we can only be part of the problem.
Using his extraordinary gifts as a teacher and story-teller, Kendi helps us recognise that everyone is, at times, complicit in racism whether they realise it or not, and by describing with moving humility his own journey from racism to antiracism, he shows us how instead to be a force for good.
Along the way, Kendi punctures all the myths and taboos that so often cloud our understanding, from arguments about what race is and whether racial differences exist to the complications that arise when race intersects with ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality. In the process he demolishes the myth of the post-racial society and builds from the ground up a vital new understanding of racism – what it is, where it is hidden, how to identify it and what to do about it.
I Am Your Sister
Audre Lorde was not only a famous poet; she was also one of the most important radical black feminists of the past century. Her writings and speeches grappled with an impressive broad list of topics, including sexuality, race, gender, class, disease, the arts, parenting, and resistance, and they have served as a transformative and important foundation for theorists and activists in considering questions of power and social justice. Lorde embraced difference, and at each turn she emphasized the importance of using it to build shared strength among marginalized communities.
I Am Your Sister is a collection of Lorde’s non-fiction prose, written between 1976 and 1990, and it introduces new perspectives on the depth and range of Lorde’s intellectual interests and her commitments to progressive social change.
Me and White Supremacy
Stylist White supremacy is a violent system of oppression that harms Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and if you are a person who holds white privilege, then you are complicit in upholding that harm, whether you realise it or not. And if you are person who holds white privilege, the question you should be asking isn’t whether or not this is true, but rather, what are you going to do about it?
Between June and July 2018, Layla Saad ran a 28-day Instagram challenge under the hashtag #MeAndWhiteSupremacy, for people with white privilege to unflinchingly examine the ways that they are complicit in upholding the oppressive system of white supremacy. The challenge quickly went viral, with thousands of people from all over the world diving deep for 28 consecutive days to examine and take responsibility for the ways in which they uphold white supremacy.
The challenge catalyzed a worldwide awakening for thousands of white-privileged people to begin to take ownership of their personal anti-racism work. The updated and expanded Me and White Supremacy takes the work deeper by adding more historical and cultural contexts, sharing moving stories and anecdotes, and including expanded definitions, examples, and and further resources. Awareness leads to action, and action leads to change. The numbers show that readers are ready to do this work – let’s give it to them. This workbook was born out of that challenge and the results have been life-changing.
Is who we are really only skin deep? In this searing, remonstrative book, Toni Morrison unravels race through the stories of those debased and dehumanised because of it. A young black girl longing for the blue eyes of white baby dolls spirals into inferiority and confusion. A friendship falls apart over a disputed memory. An ex-slave is haunted by a lonely, rebukeful ghost, bent on bringing their past home. Strange and unexpected, yet always stirring, Morrison’s writing on race sinks us deep into the heart and mind of our troubled humanity.
Talkin’ Up To The White Woman
Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson
No reading list on the topic of race would be complete without this text. Dr Moreton-Robinson applies academic training and cultural knowledge in revealing the invisible position of power and privilege in feminist practice.
In this accessible and provocative analysis of the whiteness of Australian feminism the author applies academic training and cultural knowledge in revealing the invisible position of power and privilege in feminist practice. This is a uniquely Australian contribution to the increasing global discourse on feminism and race.
Talking to My Country
An extraordinarily powerful and personal meditation on race, culture, and identity. When Stan Grant was born in Australia in 1963, the national census classed him and his family among the country’s flora and fauna. As Aboriginal Australians, their history and culture had been suppressed for centuries. A legacy of racism stood between him and the opportunities that white Australia – the so-called Lucky County – seemed awash with.
But Grant was lucky enough to find an escape route through education. Finding early inspiration in the writing of James Baldwin and fellow indigenous activists at the Australian National University, on completing his studies he went on to become one of the country’s leading journalists. As a correspondent for CNN he travelled extensively, covering conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Struck by how common humanity can live on in the face of repression and mass destruction – from North Korea to Pakistan to Baghdad – the lives of individuals he met spoke to him of sacrifice, endurance, and the undying call of family and homeland. And in the stories of other dispossessed peoples, he saw that of his own.
In Talking To My Country, Grant draws on his own life and community to respond to the ongoing racism that he sees around him. He writes with passion and striking candour of the sorrow, shame, anger, and hardship of being an indigenous man. Forthright and unblinking, Stan reaches beyond his own heritage to show how the effects of colonialism and racism are everyday realities that still shape our world, and how we should never grow complacent in the fight to overcome them.
Don’t miss Stan’s essay On Identity.
The New Jim Crow
Lawyer and activist Michelle Alexander offers a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status, denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights movement.
Challenging the notion that the election of Barack Obama signalled a new era of colourblindness in the United States, The New Jim Crow reveals how racial discrimination was not ended but merely redesigned. By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of colour, the American criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, relegating millions to a permanent second-class status even as it formally adheres to the principle of colourblindness.
A searing call to action for everyone concerned with social justice, The New Jim Crow is one of the most important books about race in the 21st century.
They Can’t Kill Us All
A deeply reported book on the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, offering unparalleled insight into the reality of police violence in America, and an intimate, moving portrait of those working to end it In over a year of on-the-ground reportage, Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery traveled across the US to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today.
In an effort to grasp the scale of the response to Michael Brown’s death and understand the magnitude of the problem police violence represents, Lowery conducted hundreds of interviews with the families of victims of police brutality, as well as with local activists working to stop it. Lowery investigates the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with constant discrimination, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs. Offering a historically informed look at the standoff between the police and those they are sworn to protect, They Can’t Kill Us All demonstrates that civil unrest is just one tool of resistance in the broader struggle for justice.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
Award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge was frustrated with the way that discussions of race and racism are so often led by those blind to it, by those willfully ignorant of its legacy. Her response, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, has transformed the conversation both in Britain and around the world. Examining everything from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, from whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge, and counter racism. Including a new afterword by the author, this is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of color in Britain today, and an essential handbook for anyone looking to understand how structural racism works.
Women, Race and Class
Angela Y. Davis
Ranging from the age of slavery to contemporary injustices, this groundbreaking history of race, gender and class inequality by the radical political activist Angela Davis offers an alternative view of female struggles for liberation. Tracing the intertwined histories of the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements, Davis examines the racism and class prejudice inherent in so much of white feminism, and in doing so brings to light new pioneering heroines, from field slaves to mill workers, who fought back and refused to accept the lives into which they were born.
Dark Emu argues for a reconsideration of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians and attempts to rebut the colonial myths that have worked to justify dispossession. Accomplished author Bruce Pascoe provides compelling evidence from the diaries of early explorers that suggests that systems of food production and land management have been blatantly understated in modern retellings of early Aboriginal history, and that a new look at Australia’s past is required.
Growing Up African in Australia
Maxine Beneba Clarke
People of African descent have been in Australia for at least 200 years, yet their stories are largely missing from Australian writing. Australians of the African diaspora have arrived here in many different ways- directly from the continent; via the Caribbean, the Americas and the United Kingdom; making the journey to Australia over one generation, or several. What is it like to grow up African in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Maxine Beneba Clarke with curatorial assistance from writers Ahmed Yussuf and Magan Magan, showcases diverse voices, experiences and stories in order to answer that question. Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile cultural and sporting identities sit alongside newly discovered voices of all ages, with experiences spanning regions, cities and generations. All of the pieces call for understanding, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect. Growing Up African aims to defy, question or shed light on the many stereotypes that currently exist about the vibrant extended African community in Australia.
This remarkable book is about everything from echidnas to evolution, cosmology to cooking, sex and science and spirits to Schrodinger’s cat.
Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective. He asks how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?
Sand Talk provides a template for living. It’s about how lines and symbols and shapes can help us make sense of the world. It’s about how we learn and how we remember. It’s about talking to everybody and listening carefully. It’s about finding different ways to look at things. Most of all it’s about Indigenous thinking, and how it can save the world.
All Our Relations
The world’s Indigenous communities are fighting to live and dying too young. In this vital and incisive work, Tanya Talaga explores intergenerational trauma and the alarming rise of youth suicide.
From Northern Ontario to Nunavut, Norway, Brazil, Australia, and the United States, the Indigenous experience in colonised nations is startlingly similar and deeply disturbing. It is an experience marked by the violent separation of Peoples from the land, the separation of families, and the separation of individuals from traditional ways of life — all of which has culminated in a spiritual separation that has had an enduring impact on generations of Indigenous children. As a result of this colonial legacy, too many communities today lack access to the basic determinants of health — income, employment, education, a safe environment, health services — leading to a mental health and youth suicide crisis on a global scale. But, Talaga reminds us, First Peoples also share a history of resistance, resilience, and civil rights activism, from the Occupation of Alcatraz led by the Indians of All Tribes, to the Northern Ontario Stirland Lake Quiet Riot, to the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which united Indigenous Nations from across Turtle Island in solidarity.
All Our Relations is a powerful call for action, justice, and a better, more equitable world for all Indigenous Peoples.
#OwnVoices fiction presents us with an alternative learning resource. It can be overwhelming and disheartening to consume only nonfiction or academic texts, and fiction is a wonderful alternative. Through well written narrative, we can bring a greater depth to our understanding. Reading fiction has been shown to enhance emotional intelligence. But we need to be picky. It isn’t enough to read the stories appropriated by white authors. Allow authors of colour to tell us their stories.
The Nickel Boys
Winner – 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Elwood Curtis has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart: he is as good as anyone. Abandoned by his parents, brought up by his loving, strict and clear-sighted grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future, and so Elwood arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide ‘physical, intellectual and moral training’ which will equip its inmates to become ‘honorable and honest men’.
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors, where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife, where corrupt officials and tradesmen do a brisk trade in supplies intended for the school, and where any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back’. Stunned to find himself in this vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King’s ringing assertion, ‘Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.’ But Elwood’s fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood is naive and worse; the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors.
If He Hollers Let Him Go
Robert Jones is a crew leader in a naval shipyard in Los Angeles in the 1940s. He should have a lot going for him, being educated, with a steady job and a steady relationship. But in the four days covered in this novel, the impossibility of life as a black man in a white world is made devastatingly clear.
Jones is surrounded by prejudice, suspicion and paranoia, and his daily experiences influence his thoughts, dreams and behaviour. Immediately recognised as a masterful expose of racism in everyday life, If He Hollers Let Him Go is Chester Himes’ first book, originally published in 1945.
It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.
Hailed as a “literary sensation” by The New York Times Book Review, Carpentaria is the luminous award-winning novel by Australian Aboriginal writer and activist Alexis Wright.
In the sparsely populated northern Queensland town of Desperance, loyalties run deep and battle lines have been drawn between the powerful Phantom family, leaders of the Westend Pricklebush people, and Joseph Midnight’s renegade Eastend mob, and their disputes with the white officials of neighboring towns. Steeped in myth and magical realism, Wright’s hypnotic storytelling exposes the heartbreaking realities of Aboriginal life.
By turns operatic and everyday, surreal and sensational, the novel teems with extraordinary, larger-than-life characters. From the outcast savior Elias Smith, religious zealot Mossie Fishman, and murderous mayor Bruiser to activist Will Phantom and Normal Phantom, ruler of the family, these unforgettable characters transcend their circumstances and challenge assumptions about the downtrodden “other.”
Trapped between politics and principle, past and present, the indigenous tribes fight to protect their natural resources, sacred sites, and above all, their people.
The White Girl
Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. After her daughter disappeared and left her with her granddaughter Sissy to raise on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. When a new policeman arrives in town, determined to enforce the law, Odette must risk everything to save Sissy and protect everything she loves. In The White Girl, Miles-Franklin-shortlisted author Tony Birch shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families.
Tony Birch is a great friend of ours here at Neighbourhood Books, you can find his other work available here.
Tara June Winch
Just tell the truth and someone will hear it eventually. The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things.
Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind. August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company.
Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.
An American Marriage
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward–with hope and pain–into the future.
Heat and Light
Ellen Van Neerven
In this award-winning work of fiction, Ellen van Neerven takes her readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical and still achingly real.
Over three parts, she takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist. In ‘Heat’, we meet several generations of the Kresinger family and the legacy left by the mysterious Pearl. In ‘Water’, van Neerven offers a futuristic imagining of a people whose existence is under threat. While in ‘Light’, familial ties are challenged and characters are caught between a desire for freedom and a sense of belonging.
Heat and Light presents a surprising and unexpected narrative journey while heralding the arrival of an exciting new talent in Australian writing.
Claire G. Coleman
The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to bring peace to their new home, and they have a plan for how to achieve it. They will tear Native families apart and provide re-education to those who do not understand why they should submit to their betters. Peace and prosperity are worth any price, but who will pay it? This rich land, Australia, will provide for all if only the Natives can learn their place.
Jacky has escaped the Home where the Settlers sent him, but where will he go? The Head of the Department for the Protection of Natives, known to Settlers and Natives alike as the Devil, is chasing Jacky. And when the Devil catches him, Sister Bagra, who knows her duty to the ungodly, will be waiting for Jacky back at Home.
An incendiary, timely, and fantastical debut from an essential Australian Aboriginal writer, Claire G. Coleman. Do you recognize this story? Look again. This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history books.
The Hate U Give
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does–or does not–say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
And don’t miss On the Come Up, Angie Thomas’s powerful follow-up to The Hate U Give.
Maxine Beneba Clarke
In Melbourne’s western suburbs, in a dilapidated block of flats overhanging the rattling Footscray train lines, a young black mother is working on a collection of stories.
The book is called Foreign Soil. Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney’s notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the warpath through the rebel squats of 1960s Brixton, a Mississippi housewife decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to save her son from small-town ignorance, a young woman leaves rural Jamaica in search of her destiny, and a Sydney schoolgirl loses her way.
The young mother keeps writing, the rejection letters keep arriving . . .
In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings.
Catching Teller Crow
Ambelin Kwaymullina; Ezekiel Kwaymullina
An extraordinary thriller, told from the perspective of two Aboriginal protagonists, which weaves together themes of grief, colonial history, violence, love and family.
Nothing’s been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her, and he’s drowning in grief. Only a suspected murder, and a mystery to solve, might save them both. And they have a potential witness: Isobel Catching. Aboriginal by birth, like Beth, she seems lost and isolated in the world. But as the two get closer, Isobel’s strange tale of glass-eyed monsters and stolen colours will intertwine with Beth’s investigation –
From New York Times-bestselling powerhouse Roxane Gay, Ayiti is a powerful collection exploring the Haitian diaspora experience. In Ayiti, a married couple seeking boat passage to America prepares to leave their homeland. A young woman procures a voodoo love potion to ensnare a childhood classmate. A mother takes a foreign soldier into her home as a boarder, and into her bed. And a woman conceives a daughter on the bank of a river while fleeing a horrific massacre, a daughter who later moves to America for a new life but is perpetually haunted by the mysterious scent of blood. Originally published by a small press, this edition makes Gay’s debut collection widely available for the first time, including several new stories.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion–for each other and for their homeland.
“From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.”
Too Much Lip
A dark and funny novel from the multi-award-winning author of Mullumbimby.
Too much lip, her old problem from way back. And the older she got, the harder it seemed to get to swallow her opinions. The avalanche of bullshit in the world would drown her if she let it; the least she could do was raise her voice in anger.
Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley. Kerry plans to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people.
Old family wounds open as the Salters fight to stop the development of their beloved river. And the unexpected arrival on the scene of a good-looking dugai fella intent on loving her up only adds more trouble – but then trouble is Kerry’s middle name.
Gritty and darkly hilarious, Too Much Lip offers redemption and forgiveness where none seems possible.
Sing Unburied Sing
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic and unforgettable family story and an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present.
The Turner House
The Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for over fifty years. Their house has seen thirteen children grown and gone–and some returned; it has seen the arrival of grandchildren, the fall of Detroit’s East Side, and the loss of a father. The house still stands despite abandoned lots, an embattled city, and the inevitable shift outward to the suburbs. But now, as ailing matriarch Viola finds herself forced to leave her home and move in with her eldest son, the family discovers that the house is worth just a tenth of its mortgage. The Turner children are called home to decide its fate and to reckon with how each of their pasts haunts–and shapes–their family’s future.
Praised by Ayana Mathis as “utterly moving” and “un-putdownable,” The Turner House brings us a colorful, complicated brood full of love and pride, sacrifice and unlikely inheritances. It’s a striking examination of the price we pay for our dreams and futures, and the ways in which our families bring us home.
Welcome to Braggsville
T Geronimo Johnson
Born and raised in the heart of old Dixie, D’aron Davenport is a small-town fish floundering in the depths of a large, hyper-liberal pond of UC Berkeley. Everything changes in his American History class, when D’aron lets slip that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War re-enactment. His announcement is met with righteous indignation, and inspires a ‘performative intervention’. Armed with youthful self-importance, makeshift slave costumes, righteous zeal and their own misguided ideas about the South, D’aron and his three idiosyncratic best friends descend on Braggsville. Their journey through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses and drunken family barbecues is uproarious to start, but will have devastating consequences.
A literary coming-of-age novel for a new generation, written with keen wit, tremendous social insight and a unique, generous heart, Welcome to Braggsville reminds us of the promise and perils of youthful exuberance, while painting an indelible portrait of contemporary America.
Gradually the outsider is drawn in, and finds himself engaging deeply, irrevocably, not only with the moments of desolation and despair, but also with the great heart and spirit of the people. Finally the exile enters the true country.
A young school teacher is posted to a remote Aboriginal community, and through his experiences, his encounter with the local people, his discovery of the history of the community, his own history and his Aboriginality are revealed.
Like many others in the novel, Billy is struggling to find a meaningful cultural identity and to create a better future from the wreckage of the recent history of Aboriginal people. What he finds at Karnama is a disintegrating community, characterised by government handouts, alcoholism, wife-beating, petrol-sniffing and an indifference to traditional beliefs and practices.
It is a depressingly familiar litany of social problems which confirms the smug racial stereotypes of the white community to which Billy initially belongs. True Country offers no clear-cut solution to the realities of powerlessness. What it leaves us with is Billy’s vision of the ‘true country’ which he shares with the unnamed Aboriginal narrator in the final pages of the novel.
The Drover’s Wife
Deep in the heart of Australia’s high country, along an ancient, hidden track, lives Molly Johnson and her four surviving children, another on the way. Husband Joe is away months at a time droving livestock up north, leaving his family in the bush to fend for itself. Molly’s children are her world, and life is hard and precarious with only their dog, Alligator, and a shotgun for protection – but it can be harder when Joe’s around.
At just twelve years of age Molly’s eldest son Danny is the true man of the house, determined to see his mother and siblings safe – from raging floodwaters, hunger and intruders, man and reptile. Danny is mature beyond his years, but there are some things no child should see. He knows more than most just what it takes to be a drover’s wife.
One night under the moon’s watch, Molly has a visitor of a different kind – a black ‘story keeper’, Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities in the nearby town, and exchanges kindness for shelter. Both know that justice in this nation caught between two worlds can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path.
To our US friends, we send love, solidarity and strength at this time. We thank you for showing the world the hard truth, for forcing your issues to be front and centre and for being brave enough to make yourselves be heard in a world that is insistent on silencing you.
To First Nations Australians: we see you. We see your struggles, and we are here to learn more.
This reading list has been compiled with the assistance of some Black and First Nations friends on Bookstagram. For more reading picks, check out Antonia Jesse Aretha and Charlotte.