Library Services


Celebrating Black History Month 2023

30 October 2023

The Library Liberating the Collections Group have compiled a list of books from recommendations across the UCL community to celebrate Black History Month.

Main Library staircase, close up, decorated with names and titles of literature

The theme of this year's Black History Month is Saluting our Sisters, which “pays homage to black women who had contributions ignored, ideas appropriated, and voices silenced." 

We asked you to recommend the books that celebrate the history and contributions of Black Women in all their diversity or that will educate, challenge and empower us all to make the world a better place.

How many of these books have you read?

Your recommendations

Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, Suzanne Scafe and Lola Okolosie

“This book provides a history of black women's lives in Britain between 1960s - 1980s. This documents the day to day struggles of black women when they arrived in Britain, their experiences of education, work, healthcare and personal and political struggles. The focus on black British resistance is interesting because we often only see this through an American context.”

Daniella Nzekwe

“This ground breaking book first published in 1985 (reprinted 2018) looks at the lives of Black British women and their social and political activism”.

Jennifer Milligan

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman

“This was powerful in creating a narrative around women that were perceived to be silent through historical representations and the archive. This book looks closely at how Black women were radically resisting in the times after slavery. What I love about the book is that it looks at how inconspicuous and seemingly ordinary things were the starting points for black women to explore and express themselves.”

I Love My People by Kim Singleton

“I attended a seminar during the summer in Alabama, where the author presented the book which is a poem and has the title as the chorus after the achievement of the individuals presented, mostly women but also young people and men. The author had been sponsored by the publishers, Broadleaf Books and so, the books were free. The poem is a loving but unsentimental, lyrical testament of the achievements of Black American generations of the past and those of the present; A Black British equivalent?”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“The most incredible book, tracing the descendants of two half-sisters, from different tribes in Africa. I couldn't put it down.”

Hidden figures : the untold story of the African American women who helped win the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly.

“It relates the hidden history and achievements of women in the NASA space programme.”

Julie Robinson

“It records the vital role African American women played in the development of the US space programme throughout its history.”

Jennifer Milligan

Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis

“It is a timeless classic analysing the intersections of gender, ethnicity and social class.”

Julie Robinson

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminists Forgot by Mikki Kendall

“It examines the Intersectionality of feminist issues with the issues facing other marginalised communities, including black women”.

Sula by Toni Morrison

“The book is largely overshadowed by some of Toni's other work, but this particular book is so rich with societal expectations weaved with Morrison's superior writing style.”

Seamus Woolven

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sklot

“Henrietta Lacks was a Baltimore resident who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31 . Her cells which were harvested without her or her family's knowledge were used to create the HeLa cell line which has revolutionised medical research. Her story raises important ethical questions about medical ethics.”

Jennifer Milligan 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

"Insightful novel on medical malpractice and the ways in which racism and the justice system play a role in failed clinical practice.”

Ife Shoko 

Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann

“This work tells the story of ten people of African heritage in Tudor/Elizabethan/Jacobean England including Mary Fillis, Anne Cobbie, and Cattelena of Almonsbury, near Bristol.”

Jennifer Milligan

Why I am no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

“It is an honest exploration of racism and challenges white people to take responsibility for and examine their approach to racism, and do the work themselves.”

All about love by bell hooks

"It is the best book on love I have read. So insightful, thought-provoking and genuinely made me think about love in ways I have never considered before. Also made me challenge my definition of love and changed me for the better."

Dreams from my Mother by Elizabeth Anionwu

Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is an inspirational nurse, health care activist and academic who was the UK’s first sickle-cell and thalassemia nurse specialist. This memoir is her incredible story about childhood, race, identity, family and hope.

D. Sally

Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move by Nanjala Nyabola

“The book is an insightful, thought provoking collection of essays. These cover racism, migration, politics, identity and belonging.”

Be the Uplifter by Sharmay Mitchell

“It is a collection of poems that uplift, inspire and motivate with positivity. I am the author, a member of UCL staff and a black woman!”

Sharmay Mitchell

‘What are you doing here?’ My Autobiography by Baroness Floella Benjamin

“Its an honest, beautiful, heartfelt, uplifting and inspiring book. Her words light you up just like her incredible smile”.

George Halfin

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

“It's a beautifully written, thought-provoking tale of a family from Cameroon, who believe that through hard work, they too can have a piece of the American Dream.”

Adey Shallow

The Digital Adventures of Ava and Chip (children’s book series) by Beverly Clarke and Terry Cooper

“It is a children's book series, with a tech focus, and the main characters are a black woman and her children.”

Indignant Heart: A Black Worker's Journal by Charles Denby

“This is a timeless text in which Denby, whose real name was Simon Owens, presents an autobiographical account twentieth century struggles. Starting with his experiences growing up in 1910s and 20s Alabama, before later, like many southern black workers, migrating north to work in the car factories of Detroit. This book covers many topics through Denby's eyes - work, migration, riots, strikes and other struggles - with struggles against racism, both in his workplace and neighbourhood, as well as in the trade unions and socialist parties of the time.”

Matthew Lee

Edge of Here by Kelechi Okafor 

“because the short stories are like something out of Black Mirror centring black characters and referencing things that don't seem to far-fetched in the world we live in now.”

Sharmay Mitchell

The Black Londoner Experience: Exploring Black Life through Records of the Court, 1720-1840

“Black Londoners have lived in the city for centuries. This collection brings 10 Black London lives together in an accessible volume to share the diversity of their experiences in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with new readers. Drawing on the records of the Old Bailey criminal courthouse, these ten carefully selected trials have been chosen to show some of the breadth of Black experience in London during the age of enslavement (c. 1720-1840). The volume includes Black victims, witnesses, and defendants; men, women, and children; sailors, servants, and entertainers; locals, immigrants, and visitors. Some were treated well by the justice system, and others were met with cruelty. Each had their own experience. I put the volume together. The text is free, and fully open access and was illustrated by UCL graduate Manon Wright of the MA Publishing programme.”

Adam Crymble

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in UCL Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science

Photo of Steps to Progress exhibit in UCL Main Library
This activity was organised through the Library Liberating the Collections Group. The purpose of this group is to identify and oversee progress with a strategic set of actions intended to enrich the collections, increasing visibility of, and access to, works by authors who have been marginalised (and thus less heard) because of factors such as race, sexuality, gender and disability. Any titles that we don’t already own we will buy and add to our collections and will be available shortly.

More information

To discover more black scholarship in our collections, see the Black Studies subject guide, created and maintained by Subject Liaison Librarians to highlight both print and electronic resources available through UCL libraries.

Find out how UCL marks Black History Month 2023

More information on events nationally can be found nationally can be found on the Black History Month website.