Image showing the inside of the Community Black Book Library in Croydon, located at the Croydon BME Forum in the Whitgift Shopping Centre. There are two large white book cases filled with a variety of different books written by Black authors.

Community library showcasing Black writers opens in Croydon

A community library showcasing the work of Black authors has opened in Croydon as part of the Black British Book Festival’s mission to promote the joy of reading within marginalised communities.

The community library, located at the Croydon BME Forum in the Whitgift Shopping Centre, was formally opened on October 24.

The project was turned around in just four weeks and is a collaboration between the Black British Book Festival and Pan Macmillan, who donated books.

CEO of the Croydon BME Forum, Andrew Brown said: “The Croydon Black Book Community Library is more than just a reading space.

“It’s a hub for nurturing understanding, promoting learning, and embracing the rich tapestry of black literature.”

He emphasised that the mission is to enhance well-being within the community at grassroots level, ultimately enriching lives in Croydon’s diverse and vibrant borough.

When asked what the response has been from the community, he said: “Seeing young people come into the space and sitting down with their parents is wonderful.”

CROYDON BLACK BRITISH BOOK LIBRARY: A selection of some of the books on offer at the community library – Photo credit: Andrew Brown

The aim of the Black British Book Festival annual event is to give a platform to established and emerging Black British authors to celebrate their work.

The idea for the festival came about in 2014, and in 2021 the first Black British Book Festival took place in Birmingham.

The festival holds events all year round with a notable event which took place this summer at Glastonbury Festival – showcasing the first black author panel.

Founder and CEO of the Black British Book Festival, Selina Brown, is a Birmingham born children’s book author, who has been a lover of books for as long as she can remember.

She recalled her first memory of falling in love with books being as a child visiting her local library in Nottingham.

Her mother used to leave her in the library to read books while she quickly went to the market to buy yams and green bananas.

Brown said: “I used to love it, being free in a library oh my God.”

Brown published her first self-published book, ‘Before Breath’, in 2015 when she returned to the UK after living in New York for two years.

She toured the book in Jamaica, Kenya, New York, and the UK.

Describing the feeling of touring, Brown said: “It was an absolute dream and people were so supportive – just to see your thoughts come alive on the pages.”

When the nation was put into lockdown, Brown decided to use the time to follow her dream of publishing a children’s book for the first time.

The result was the publication of a children’s book with a focus on healthy eating called ‘Nena: The Green Juice’.

Battling discrimination in the publishing world

Recalling the journey towards the publication of the book, Brown explains that she faced some barriers and challenges.

While initially thinking that her experience was unique, after speaking to other black authors and writers she quickly realised that this was not the case.

She explained that one of the main issues she had encountered took place during a conversation with a representative from a publishing organisation.

Brown was told that there was no market for her book because it illustrates a young black girl with an afro on the front cover.

The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education published its ‘Reflecting Realities’ 2022 survey of ethnic representation within UK Children’s Literature.

The report states that all children deserve to encounter books that provide affirmation by reflecting their realities and broadening their outlook by experiencing realities beyond their own.

The Black Book Community Library is the first of its kind devised by the Black British Book Festival.

Brown explains why she chose Croydon as the beneficiary.

Founder and CEO of the Black British Book Festival, Selina Brown, being interviewed on Zoom by Cheryl Fergus-Ferrell – Video credit: Cheryl Fergus-Ferrell

Reflecting on the importance of representation in British literature, Brown explains that a key aim of the Black British Book Festival is to promote reading for pleasure within marginalised communities.

BLACK BRITISH BOOK FESTIVAL CROYDON TOUR: Display of books from a book tour event held in September – Photo credit: Cheryl Fergus-Ferrell

KENNY IMAFIDON: The author reads an extract from his book ‘That Peckham Boy’ – Photo credit: Cheryl Fergus-Ferrell

TASHA BAILEY: The author shares what inspired her to write the book and how she thinks it will help others to open up about discussing their mental health. – Photo credit: Cheryl Fergus-Ferrell

The Black British Book Festival held several events across Croydon in September.

Dr Stuart Lawrence attended as a guest author and took the time to discuss his latest book ‘Growing Up Black in Britain’.  

DR STUART LAWRENCE: The author attended the Black British Book Festival book tour in Croydon and spoke about his latest book ‘Growing Up Black In Britain’. Photo credit: Cheryl Fergus-Ferrell

He read passages from his book and reflected on his own experiences and those of family members growing up Black in Britain.

Dr Stuart Lawrence – talking about his Great Aunt Lil who features in his latest book ‘Growing up Black in Britain’ – Video credit: Cheryl Fergus-Ferrell

Following the success of the third festival, Brown said that she plans to continue the annual events and increase their work within schools.

She added: “The aim for BBBF 2024 is to bring the joy of reading diverse books to all young people up and down the county.”

The Croydon BME Forum runs the Black Book Community Library exclusively and members of the public are welcome to use the services in centre.

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