Actively resisting colonial notions in literature is a difficult project when literature is largely dominated by one group of people. Living in a postcolonial world, where the continuities of colonial ideology and practice are rife, it is especially challenging to recognise and unlearn our internalised bias. One of the ways that we can begin the process of unlearning is through decolonising our bookshelves.
We are individuals with agency and with the capacity to dissect our understanding of the world, so it is our duty to do so in a productively diverse and well-rounded manner. This does not mean that you should only be reading PoC authors or indigenous authors. It merely means that you should reconsider what your bookshelf really looks like, and how you can decolonise it.
I have comprised a heterogenous list of some of my favourite books that touch on topics of decoloniality without engaging too deeply in academic discourse. For this reason, these books are not daunting, however, they are extremely powerful in content and experience.
Five books to decolonise your bookshelf:
The Island by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona
This is a tragic play set in an unnamed prison in South Africa. It is widely believed to have been the notorious Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The two protagonists, Winston and John, are prisoners on this island. One has been sentenced for life, and the other has just appealed his sentence.
Winston and John are set to perform Antigone by Sophocles, and through this, the layers of the impact of apartheid in South Africa unfold.
Fugard, Kani, and Ntshona wrote this play in 1973, a time when the South African apartheid was brutal. This play was illegal at the time and was written and performed in secret — making it all the more revolutionary.
Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka
Death and the King’s Horseman is another tragic play, set in colonised Nigeria. It is based on a true event that took place during British colonial rule.
When the Yoruba King died, his horseman began to prepare himself for a traditional, ritual suicide. However, he is prevented by British colonial authorities. This is a thought-provoking story of cultural criticism and Western interference and what that means for the personal livelihoods of the natives.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I would recommend any of Toni Morrison’s books. She writes like a dream, with her painfully rich prose. This book is especially provoking, as it is set in Morrison’s childhood hometown, Lorrain, Ohio. She tells the story of a young Black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who prays and prays for blue eyes so that she can be as beautiful as the white, blue-eyed children of America. Each character in this book is fully fleshed out with a purpose to the central theme of navigating the aftermath of racism in America.
Content warning: rape, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, child molestation, and incest.
Out of Place: A Memoir by Edward Said
I am sure most social sciences students have come across Edward Said before and his theory of Orientalism, in particular. When he was unfortunately diagnosed with a fatal leukemia, he thought that he should leave a record of his life in what has become the lost Arab world.
This a memoir that details his experiences of diaspora, exile, and exclusion. It is an exploration of grey spaces and contradictions, both internal and external. Reading this candid book delivers a stunning insight into Said’s brilliant mind and the experiences that shaped him, and arguably, informed/inspired his theory of Orientalism.
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
Eddo-Lodge’s book explores the role Great Britain has played in racism throughout history and into the everyday. It is a deeply informative book without being too dense. It is digestible and simultaneously eye-opening and thought-provoking. She tackles ideas of white emotional disconnect and willful ignorance with the experiences of people of colour. This book is an essential read if you are willing to challenge your (potential) internalised bias.
These are just a few of my recommendations of powerful literature that aren’t Eurocentric. I encourage you to check out the list of books compiled for Black History Month to help you decolonise your bookshelf. The list of decolonial literature is ever-expanding, and it crosses all genres. There is absolutely something for everyone, you just have to find your book!