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Black British Literature: Fiction from Windrush to Brexit


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 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:

  • Identify the links between Britain’s colonial past and its current cultural currents

  • Analyze the broader scope of British history through the lens of the Black British Literature

  • Speak to the nuances between the more dominantly portrayed African American experience and the Black British experience

  • Critically review the distinct yet interconnected roles of power, class, and race in these narratives

  • 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 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The two-hour twice weekly session will be run with multiple teaching methods and resources. The first session of the week will be a lecture, the second session will be a seminar discussion.

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.

There is an optional field trip during to the Anatomisch Museum of Leiden University. Time and date TBA.

Assessment Method

Students will submit a 1,000-word midterm by midnight on Friday at the end of Week 4. 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 30% of your grade and assesses your understanding of the readings up until Week 4.

The final essay will have a 2,500-word maximum and account for 50% of your final grade. It is due on This final paper will assess your comprehension of the material from the block. Like the midterm, the prompts will be circulated in advance. This will be due Wednesday of Reading Week.

The week before both the midterm and the final essay, you will have to submit a draft outline. Each draft will be 10% of your final grade.

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 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:

  • Week 1: Caryl Phillips. 1991. Cambridge. Bloomsbury: London. ISBN: 9780679405320

  • Week 2: Sara Collins. 2019. Confessions of Frannie Langton. Penguin: UK. ISBN: 9781432865467

  • Week 3: Sam Selvon. 1956. Lonely Londoners. Penguin: UK. ISBN: 9780141188416

  • Week 4: Andrea Levy. 2004. Small Island. Headline Review: UK. ISBN: 0755307496

  • Week 5: Natasha Brown. 2021. Assembly. Penguin Random House UK: ISBN 9780241515709

  • Week 6: Michael Donkor. 2018. Hold. 4th Estate: London. ISBN: 0008280347

  • Week 7: Shola von Reinhold. 2020. Lote. Jacaranda Press: London. ISBN: 9781913090111

Part 1: Slavery

  • Week 1: Caryl Phillips. 1991. Cambridge. Bloomsbury: London.

  • David Olusoga. 2017. Black and British: A Forgotten Story. Macmillan: London. “Blackamoors”, (57-76)

  • Franz Fanon. 1952, English translation, 2008. Black Skin, White Masks. Grove Press: New York. “Chapter One: The Black Man and Language,” (1-23)

  • Week 2: Sara Collins. 2019. Confessions of Frannie Langton. Penguin: UK.

  • Trevor Burnard. 1998. “The Sexual Life of an Eighteenth-Century Jamaican Slave Overseer.” (163-189) In Merril D. Smith’s (ed.) Sex and sexuality in early America. NYU Press.

  • David Olusoga. 2017. Black and British: A Forgotten Story. Macmillan: London. “For Blacks or Dogs”, (77-112)

Part 2: Windrush

  • Week 3: Sam Selvon. 1956. Lonely Londoners. Penguin: UK.

  • Zadie Smith. 2019. Grand Union. Hamish Hamilton: UK. “Kelso Deconstructed” (181-200)

  • Week 4: Andrea Levy. 2004. Small Island. Headline Review: UK.

  • Paul Gilroy and Adam Shatz. 18 August 2020. The London Review of Books Podcast. “The Absurdities of Race.”

  • Optional: Maya Goodfellow. 2019. Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats. Verso: London. “‘Keeping’ the Country White” (47-91)

Part 3: The 21st Century

  • Week 5: Michael Donkor. 2018. Hold. 4th Estate: London.

  • Michael Donkor. 7 July 2018. “My Blackness seemed curious, difficult to handle: the day I ran away from Oxford University”. In The Guardian.

  • Optional: Afua Hirsch. 2018. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity, and Belonging. Vintage. “Places” (169-214)

  • Week 6: Natasha Brown. 2021. Assembly. Penguin Random House UK

  • Johny Pitts. 2019. Afropean: Notes from Black Europe. Penguin Random House UK. “Prologue: Sheffield” (11-30), and “Brussels: A Meeting with Caryl Phillips” (116-126)

  • Optional: Stuart Hall. 2018. Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands. Penguin: UK. “Encountering Oxford: The Makings of a Diasporic Self” (149-172)

  • Week 7: Shola von Reinhold. 2020. Lote. Jacaranda Press: London.

  • Emma Dabiri. 2019. Don’t Touch My Hair. Penguin: UK. “Ancient Futures: Maths, Mapping, Braiding, Encoding” (209-234)

  • Optional: Gemma Romain. 2017. Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: The Biography of Patrick Nelson, 1916-1963. Bloomsbury: London. “Introduction: Archival Discoveries and Life Histories,” (1-8) and Chapter Four, “Queer Black Spaces and Cosmopolitan Interwar London” (73-103)


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,