Today’s post marks Black History Month. First, a short lecture introducing the first post-colonial novel, by Chinua Achebe, which opened the doors for black writers. It was the first book published in the Heinemann African Authors series, a ground-breaking enterprise in publishing at the time:
Much of the rest of this post was originally published back in June in the immediate aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Among the turmoil, many areas of life came under the microscope, including the publishing industry.
In the UK English GCSE, a consideration of the work of writers from a wide range of cultures used to be a compulsory element, until Michael Gove removed it in his reforms when he was Minister for Education, placing a stronger emphasis on English, pre-20th century literature. One of the attractions of IGCSE is cultural breadth, with specifications covering the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Benjamin Zephaniah and the journalist George Alagiah, for example. Post colonial literature and immigrant literature is featured in A Level specifications, including The Lonely Londoners Sam Selvon, himself a Windrush immigrant.
So here are some suggestions for your own explorations, starting with a BBC drama about the Windrush scandal, where Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policies led to many people, who had been legitimately in the UK since childhood, losing their jobs, being arrested and deported: Sitting in Limbo
Andrea Levy, a descendant of the Windrush generation, published her novel Small Island in 2004. It juggles chronology and narrative perspectives to create a warm, balanced, often comic but also deeply moving account of the Second World War, the arrival of the Windrush immigrants, their expectations and the realities they faced.
Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, spoke thoughtfully about the dangers of preconceptions of different races, cultures and countries in a TED talk which has become quite famous and is well worth a watch:
Her best novel, in my opinion, is Half of a Yellow Sun, an account of the Nigerian civil war; it is a narrative tour de force.
You could also have a look at Bernardine Evaristo, who shared the Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood last year, with her novel Girl, Woman, Other. Evaristo first really made her mark with The Emperor’s Babe, a verse novel published in 2001.
I could go on, but I’ll give the last word to Benjamin Zephaniah, whose writing and ideas go well beyond ‘Talking Turkeys’. Here he is interviewed recently on Radio 4’s Front Row. This is really worth listening to.