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Jackie Kay selects Britain's 10 best BAME writers

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The acclaimed poet and author introduces favourite authors who ‘open up the world to you and give you the world back’

When I was a teenager, the only black writer I came across was Wole Soyinka in his poem Telephone Conversation. When I was 17, I went to university and did a course on the Indian novel and discovered writers such as Anita Desai and Mulk Raj Anand. They were a revelation; through reading, I travelled halfway across the world. A little later, I found Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Gloria Naylor. I found that reading helped me understand myself, and my complex identity. It helped me piece myself back together again. Books kept me company in the dark. I suddenly found characters that looked like me and asked some of the same questions. I was not alone any more. I had the very finest of company.

It took me a long time, though, to find writers of colour from the UK. The first I came across was Buchi Emecheta back in the late 1970s; then I found a whole family of Caribbean poets – among them James Berry, Grace Nichols, Fred D’Aguiar, Jean Binta Breeze. It was like extending your family. Good writers offer the reader something so deeply affecting that the impact stays with you for a very long time. Books you love become part of you. You are partly formed by them.

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