I was much struck by the exhortations by Sophie Williams and especially Emma Dabiri in my reading in July to stop wallowing about in Black misery and have a look at and share examples of Black joy. So when I saw this one pop up on NetGalley, it was an easy choice to request it.

Charlie Brinkhust-Cuff (who also edited the excellent Windrush book I read last year, as well as being a former member of the gal-dem collective) and newcomer to editing Timi Sotire add their voices to twenty-eight other Black British writers, from pop stars to politicians, film-makers to queer activists, to share what brings them joy. I want to make sure I share everyone’s names, so there’s a list at the bottom of this piece.

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Timi Sotire (eds.) – “Black Joy”

These essays are uplifting, but they do not ignore the raw realities of our existence – and nor should they. Black joy in this climate is an undoubtedly political reaction to the world we are living in, but we must be careful to push the conversation beyond this moment, and beyond a hashtag.

After introductions by the editors which do make the point above that this is not an either/or, it’s a both/and (and this is reflected in many of the essays), we have a lovely set of life-affirming and often inspiring pieces on such a wide range of topics, body positivity, recipes, music, queer London life, dancing, reading, sport … It’s also very notable for its inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people and women of size – truly inclusive.

Very much written for Black British people by Black British people, readers outside the particular cultures mentioned will sometimes have to do some work looking things up, or just let the names of music, food, dances, clothing wash over them (but it’s fun to look up the things you don’t know and learn something). Some aspects are of course universal, some particular to Black British culture, some particular to parts of that non-monolithic culture, such as Ghanaian or Nigerian British culture, some particular to people of mixed heritage. So the book really shows up the variety of experiences (and joys) that come from these places, literal or more amorphous.

There’s a lot to enjoy but also a lot to learn: what Prince meant to someone of the same colour exploring their masculinity, how studies on dyslexia don’t take into account Black people’s experiences, how the film industry pressures creatives into boxes that their White cohort aren’t forced into, how tiring workplace microaggressions are (“We got things to do! Black people don’t sit around at work waiting to deliver TED talks to people actually called Ted” [Munya Chawawa]), and, in a very moving piece, the joys, connection and strength of communities on housing estates.

I loved how the contributor list at the end included a music track that brings joy to each person – and, in my second book that includes a QR code, there’s even a playlist at the end. The illustrations will be more powerful in a print copy but are varied and attractive and add an extra dimension to the essays.

Highly recommended, especially if you’ve been wading through Black misery book lists and/or are a Black reader looking to see yourself and your positive interests represented.

Contributors to the book: essays by Diane Abbott – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé – Fopé Ajanaku – Athian Akec – Travis Alabanza – Haaniyah Angus – Rukiat Ashawe – Bukky Bakray – Richie Brave – Munya Chawawa – Ruby Fatimilehin – Theophina Gabriel – Lauryn Green – Ife Grillo – Isaac James – Chanté Joseph – Vanessa Kisuule – Henrie Kwushue – Tobi Kyeremateng – Mikai McDermott – Jason Okundaye – Tope Olufemi – Melz Owusu – Leigh-Anne Pinnock – Mayowa Quadri – Lavinya Stennett – Timi Sotire – Sophia Tassew; and art works by Jovilee Burton – Tomekah George – Emma Hall – Chioma Ince – Olivia Twist.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.