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Black British Literature


Admission requirements

Required course(s):



In 2019 Bernardine Evaristo became the first black woman to win the Booker prize. Incidentally (and not coincidentally), 2019 was also the first year when the award was divided between two candidates; her co-winner that year was the acclaimed Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. In addition to the accolade being shared, the prize money was split as well. This bittersweet racial compromise is, unfortunately, very familiar across the Black diaspora. However, much of the dominant racial discourse that helps us name and address these racist dynamics comes from the United States of America. In this course, we will centralize the Black British experiences through literature, history, and music.

The writers' works emerge from 1954 onwards, but the periods that these works depict are significantly broader. The seven weeks are divided over roughly three periods: Transatlantic Slavery, Windrush Generation, and the 21st-century/present moment, notable for both Brexit and the Grenfell Tower fire. While these are not the only times of significant Black British presence or output or history, these three epochs will help shape our course narrative. To get a fuller picture of the history and the circumstances of the work, there will be supplementary reading from thinkers and scholars including Akala, David Olusoga, Zadie Smith, and Afua Hirsch.

Course Objectives

At the end of the course, the student will be able to:
1) Identify the links between Britain’s colonial past and its current cultural currents
2) Analyze the broader scope of British history through the lens of the Black British Literature
3) Speak to the nuances between the more dominantly portrayed African American experience and the Black British experience
5) Critically review the distinct yet interconnected roles of power, class, and race in these narratives
6) Demonstrate fluency in typically difficult taboo discourses, i.e., racism, the intersection of sexuality and slavery


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The lecture podcast will be released via Brightspace on Monday morning. For the purposes of facilitating discussion, the class will be divided into two groups, with the first group meeting on Tuesday morning, and the second group meeting on Thursday evening.

The centerpiece of course will be the novels. However, we will also explore essays, songs, music videos, films, and clips from television series. Attendance for every session is mandatory. Deadlines in this course are not negotiable. Students who miss more than two sessions without extenuating circumstances will automatically fail the course. Electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops are not permitted during the seminar, unless a student needs them for the purposes of accessibility.

Assessment Method

Students are required to write an informal response to the readings. The response will be between 250-500 words and due on Friday evening, before the podcast lecture is released on Monday. These reflections need to display two things: first, they need to demonstrate that you have close read and understood the nuances of the readings. Second, they need to demonstrate your analytical capabilities when applied to the material. This applies to the novels chiefly. But you must incorporate some of the supplemental reading as well. These are not mere summaries. They need to show engagement with the material. The following questions are helpful to think about:

  • What is the tone of the work, and how is this accomplished?

  • What are the narrative choices underpinning the world i.e., how is the story told, and why?

  • Rather than summarizing the plot, analyze the choices the author makes in crafting the plot and the structure.

  • How do they keep you engaged with the story? How is the passage of time treated?

The reflections will be assessed with comments (but not a letter grade) in week 4, and the final portfolio will be submitted in week 7. This portfolio will account for 40% of your grade.

Students will submit a 1,000-word midterm by midnight on Saturday, February 28th. Students will write these midterm papers primarily using course readings, prompted by set questions which will be circulated in advance. This paper will be worth 25% of your grade and assesses your understanding of the readings up until week 4.

Final Essay:
The final essay will have a 2,500-word maximum and account for 35% of your final grade. This final paper will assess your comprehension of the material from the block. Like the midterm, the prompts will be circulated in advance.

Please note the following points regarding your performance and assessment. On all assessment, including weekly reflections, midterm paper, and final essay, students have the standard plus/minus 10% regarding word count. The final portfolio, midterm paper, and final essay will be submitted for plagiarism via a Brightspace link. Late submissions (of the weekly reflections, the midterm paper, the portfolio, or the final essay) will lose a full letter grade per day of delay. Students must submit all graded assignments to pass this course, with extensions subject to the Board of Examiners. Leiden University’s OER regulations apply in instances of academic dishonesty. Plagiarism will be dealt with strictly; when encountered, students will automatically fail this course. Please tell the course convener of any illness or disability that affects your performance and utilize Leiden’s Fenestra Centre for assistance.

Reading list

There are seven mandatory novels that students must acquire. Should you choose to experience these readings as an audiobook, that is acceptable. However, for the purposes of citation in essays, I need corresponding page numbers to refer to. The supplementary reading, with the exception of week 1, will be printed and provided to students. Week one’s reading will be mailed as a PDF.

Primary Reading List by Week:

  1. Caryl Phillips. 1991. Cambridge. Bloomsbury: London. ISBN: 9780679405320
  2. Sara Collins. 2019. Confessions of Frannie Langton. Penguin: UK. ISBN: 9781432865467
  3. Sam Selvon. 1956. Lonely Londoners. Penguin: UK. ISBN: 9780141188416
  4. Andrea Levy. 2004. Small Island. Headline Review: UK. ISBN: 0755307496
  5. Michael Donkor. 2018. Hold. 4th Estate: London. ISBN: 0008280347
  6. Bernardine Evaristo. 2019. Girl, Woman, Other. Hamish Hamilton: UK. ISBN: 9780802157706
  7. Shola von Reinhold. 2020. Lote. Jacaranda Press: London. ISBN: 9781913090111


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Lenore Todd,