While conversations around anti-racist activism may have died down since the 2020 protests spurred on by George Floyd’s murder, educating yourself on Black culture, experiences, and how to be anti-racist is an ongoing process. The protests and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement saw a surge in the sales of books on systemic racism and anti-Blackness. However, these learnings and discussions should not be a reactive trend. One way to continue the conversation is by supporting Black owned-businesses.
Black-owned independent shops have served communities of the diaspora across the UK for decades. Black people make up 3% of the UK population and have not always been represented sufficiently in mainstream media. Black-owned businesses often act as a safe haven and a place of belonging for many.
This is particularly necessary in the literary world. A study by the Guardian concluded that Black authors made up only 6% of shortlisted authors in the UK’s top literary prizes in the past 25 years. And when looking at the same 25-year period, Black Britons made up just 3.1% of shortlisted nominees.
Despite the initial popularity of anti-racist literature, the engagement in these resources diminished quickly after the news cycle ended, but the need for them remains prevalent.
With that in mind, the below list of Black-owned bookshops in the UK is a great resource. It may be tempting to purchase books from the likes of Amazon, but supporting small businesses is more important than ever as a result of the pandemic. Whether you’re looking for books that celebrate the diverse history and culture of the Black British community, or literary bestsellers by Black authors, there’s something for everyone. So, here’s a list of both physical and online Black-owned bookshops to get you started.
Below are the bookshops that operate brick-and-mortar shops, as well as online stores.
A truly charming independent bookshop and cafe in Sevenoaks, Kent, this shop is a must for all of your reading needs. All books are for sale via the online shop, as well as special extras from publishers including posters, signed books and tote bags.
Round Table Books
Round Table Books, based in Brixton, is a new bookshop that began life as a pop up. It was such a huge hit that it quickly gained a massive following and now has a permanent presence as well as an online store.
The launch of this Sussex-based bookshop was sparked by the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, with an aim to increase diversity in the curriculum and school libraries. Founder, Carolynn Bain said she built the online bookshop for two reasons: firstly, to give Black authors a platform; and secondly, to create a bookshop for those who want to read books by Black authors. After starting up online, Bain opened up a physical store in Brighton in October 2021.
Pepukayi Books is a specialist in books that are African focused and celebrate African culture in the UK. The business is run by Elder Pepukayi who's long been (and remains) active in the African Liberation Struggle in the UK. The shop is based in The Maa Maat Cultural Centre in Tottenham.
My Book Basket
Although the Birmingham-based retailer mainly focuses on children's books, it also has a section for grown-ups too. A proud purveyor of books from across the African diaspora, Britain, America, the Caribbean, and beyond, the founder of My Book Basket believes that its selection caters to the masses, stating "everyone, regardless of cultural background, will find something to fall in love with”.
Black Cultural Archives
Based in Brixton, south London, the Black Cultural Archives is the only heritage centre in the UK dedicated to collecting, preserving, and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people. The centre boasts an exhibition space, library, cafe and shop, and stocks fiction and non-fiction books on Black British history and experiences. You can also check out their bookshop online.
Books Of Africa
Books Of Africa is a bookshop in London's East Dulwich that provides reading material for children, young adults, and adults with a focus on the African continent. This store offers works from all sorts of areas including history, literature, politics, and culture.
The store does appear to still be open, but most books can be found on its web page and blog.
Pempamsie translates to “unity is strength”. One of the many aims of the shop, which has four branches across London and has been trading for 20 years, is to support the African community in London. They stock not only reading materials but also beauty and healthcare products.
The bookshops below operate predominantly online.
An award-winning indie publisher, Jacaranda showcases diverse authors. They publish an array of fiction, non-fiction, and young adult books, centering the voices of Black people, people of colour, women and underrepresented voices. In 2019, they launched the #Twentyin2020 campaign, which saw them publish 20 books by 20 Black British authors in 2020, a first for any publisher in the UK.
Lantana Publishing is an Oxford-based children’s books publisher and social enterprise, dedicated to answering one key question: Where are all the books about children of colour? Lantana specialises in inclusive books celebrating diversity, social equality, and environmental sustainability. With every book bought in their online shop, Lantana donates a book to one of their charity partners, which include literary organisations in the UK, US and around the world.
A small, independent, award-winning publisher of commercial children’s books, Knights Of was co-created by the founders of Round Table Books (mentioned above). They create quality and diverse content for children from as many perspectives as possible. They’ve also created a community on Medium, #BooksMadeBetter, where they share book recommendations, industry news, and interviews.
Black Feminist Bookshop
Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the Black Feminist Bookshop launched in 2020 to open a “radical space of resistance, sisterhood and community.” While the bookshop remains online at the moment, the collective of writers, activists, educators, creatives, and healers want to open a physical bookshop, events and social space. Through their Patreon membership, you can receive recommendations and resources on diverse Black feminist reads, and connect with like-minded people.
No Ordinary Bookshop
No Ordinary Bookshop was set up by Angel Miller, a mum and grandma who passionately believes in the social, emotional, and personal wellbeing of all children, starting with their education. Miller was shocked at how impossible it was to find books for her children that would mirror their experience of the world. There were no Black princesses or superheroes to be found in bookshops at the time. Miller turned her disappointment into action and started No Ordinary Bookshop, which provides diverse books to help children understand the diverse world we live in.
New Beacon Books
New Beacon Books in North London was founded back in 1966 by John La Rose and his partner Sarah White. At the time, it was the UK’s first and only Black publisher and specialist bookshop. It’s now one of the country's leading distributors of books including literature, poetry, children's books, non-fiction, and history from Africa, Caribbean, Asia, African America, Europe, South America, and Britain. After 55 years in store, New Beacon Books announced its bricks and mortar closure in December 2021, moving online due to financial strain.
African Book Collective
African Books Collective (ABC) is an African owned, worldwide marketing and distribution outlet for books from Africa, including scholarly, literature and children's books. It's a UK-registered non-profit that seeks to earn money for its publishers.
Book Love is an award-winning collective of educators, artists, musicians, creatives, and families working in collaboration to showcase and bring together multicultural writing. As well as being an incredible travelling service, they have a brilliant online shop that's definitely worth a look.
UK Black Writers Forum
OK, while not technically a bookseller, the Black Writers Forum hosts all sorts of incredible events and also has a monthly book club subscription that funnels 15% of its profits into services that aid those suffering with mental health issues and people serving time in prison.
The UK Black Writers Forum website provided much of the information I need for this list and is a must-follow for those who want to know more about Black-owned businesses and how to support them.
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