Mainstream publishing’s deep and enduring love of Black Pain doesn’t leave much room for different types of work by Black authors. And non-literary humour is pretty much at the bottom of the list. If, like me, you’re a Black writer who aspires to seriousness but can’t resist the pull of comedy, this is discouraging. That said, there are some brilliant role models out there.
Here are 3 of my favourites.
Scotch bonnet-spicy romance novels with Black and Brown main characters? Yes please! It’s validating – and unusual – when books in this usually as-white-as-a-major-publishing-house-team-meeting, genre are not only set in the UK, but also position women who look like me as (non-fetishized) objects of desire. So the day that I found Talia Hibbert’s work was a happy one. Hibbert’s witty and crisp dialogue is a comedy writing masterclass. Her characters are smart, relatable and flawed, and there’s a touch of a modern day Jane Austen about their observations.
For example, in the excellent Take a hint, Dani Brown, the titular protagonist says, “…handsome men must never be allowed to know the full extent of their sexual appeal. They couldn’t be trusted with the knowledge.” And “…he was tall, blond, and in possession of an easy, handsome smile that said he’d never met a boundary he couldn’t bulldoze.” Another satisfying feature of Hibbert’s writing is that she centres the health status diversity, and neurodiversity, that surrounds us, but most romance authors still choose to ignore.
Irby’s a self-deprecating, American essayist and Hollywood TV writer, who merrily documents the kind of everyday indignities that you’d think twice about sharing with your closest friends. Dandruffy eyebrows, lesbian bed death, her long term conditions – not much is off-limits for Ms Irby. But does she care that she can come across as a middle-aged kidult who maybe shouldn’t have access to a credit card?
No she does not.
Because airbrushing her life so it’s acceptable for public consumption is not what she’s about. Her honesty about her hopes, fears and hangups makes it hard not to see yourself in the pages of her essays. The specificity in her writing pulls you into her world and helps to paint gloriously vivid images. They’re sometimes a bit too vivid, though. Like in Wow, no thank you where she describes what happened when she stopped tracking her period in high school. “Every subsequent month, or six weeks, or eight weeks, after I’d forgotten to be on the lookout or to figure out my body’s cues for my period’s impending arrival, in the middle of a math test it would throw a surprise pool party all across the crotch of my Goodwill lavender corduroys.”
I’ve made Irby out to be a Black, female version of the slobby characters that Seth Rogen made his name playing. But she’s not a one-dimensional gross out merchant. She also writes incredibly movingly, and without self pity, about living in poverty and being a young carer for a mother who had MS.
Luvvie Adjayi Jones
This 3-time New York Times bestselling author, speaker and entrepreneur expresses herself with the energy of Queen Bey’s backing dancers. Adjayi Jones has an enviably strong voice and her joke quotient is high. Her quips come at you like tennis balls from those machines that alpha males in movies use to help them improve their game.
A self-styled, “professional troublemaker”, her brand is, in her own inimitable way, articulating what ordinarily cannot be said. This involves tackling topics like “Dinner Scrooges” (people who behave badly when its time to pay for a meal), rape culture and privilege. In her first essay collection, I’m judging you: the do-better manual, she advises, “if you ever find yourself uttering those words [“Not to be racist, but….”], go find some duct tape and put it over your mouth until the urge to complete the sentence passes. What you were about to say is not okay, so you might as well swallow it. In fact you just won at Prejudice Bingo.”
As well as taking down the status quo’s inequities with precision and finesse, her books proudly reference her Nigerian heritage. The way Adjayi Jones crafts her arguments, and her turns of phrase, are so damn enjoyable that, at times, it’s hard not to stop reading and give her a chef’s kiss.
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Dawn is an Edinburgh-based content designer who’s working towards having just 1% of her cat’s chutzpah. She finds editing indecently satisfying, and enjoys coaxing people’s ideas out of their heads and onto the page. Her main pastime is buying more books than she’ll ever have time to read, and she’s a fan of anything written by Ijeoma Oluo, social and cultural documentaries and butter.