black England, black london, black UK

Andrea Levy is an award winning novelist in London

Hat tip: Euromight

In 1948 Andrea Levy’s father sailed from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush ship and her mother joined him soon after. Andrea was born in London in 1956, growing up black in what was still a very white England. This experience has given her an complex perspective on the country of her birth.

Andrea Levy did not begin writing until she was in her mid-thirties. At that time there was little written about the black British experience in Britian. After attending writing workshops Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read – entertaining novels that reflect the experiences of black Britons, that look closely and perceptively at Britain and its changing population and at the intimacies that bind British history with that of the Caribbean. In her first three novels she explored – from different perspectives – the problems faced by black British-born children of Jamaican emigrants. In her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994), the story is of a Jamaican family living in London in the 1960s. Never Far from Nowhere (1996), her second, is set during the 1970s and tells the story of two very different sisters living on a London council estate. In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black woman, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown and discovers a previously unknown personal history

In her fourth novel Small Island Levy examines the experiences of those of her father’s generation who returned to Britain after being in the RAF during the Second World War. But more than just the story of the Jamaicans who came looking for a new life in the Mother Country, she explores the adjustments and problems faced by the English people whom those Jamaicans came to live amongst. Immigration changes everyone’s lives and in Small Island Levy examines not only the conflicts of two cultures thrown together after a terrible war, but also the kindness and strength people can show to each other. The Second World War was a great catalyst that has led to the multi-cultural society Britain has become. For Andrea Levy acknowledging the role played by all sides in this change is an important part of understanding the process so we can go on to create a better future together.

In her latest novel, The Long Song, Levy goes further back to the origins of that intimacy between Britain and the Caribbean. The book is set in early 19th century Jamaica during the last years of slavery and the period immediately after emmancipation. It is the story of July, a house slave on a sugar plantation named Amity. The story is narrated by the character of July herself, now an old woman, looking back upon her eventful life.

Andrea Levy is a Londoner. She not only lives and works in the city she loves but has used London as the setting in many of her novels. She has been a recipient of an Arts Council Award and her second novel Never Far from Nowhere was long listed for the Orange Prize. Small Island was the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Novel Award, the Orange Best of the Best, and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. Besides novels she has also written short stories that have been read on radio, published in newspapers and anthologised. She has been a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Orange Futures and the Saga Prize.

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5 Comments

  1. Angela Shaw says:

    My book group here in Toulouse did her book Small Island about 3 years ago. We loved the book. Is there any chance that your black women's cyber group might create a short story compilation on an annual basis of black women authors, along the lines that the British group called “Granta” does??? I'd like to follow a global/diasporic black women's literature thread on a regular basis.

  2. BWIE says:

    Hi Angela. Can you send me the link, if there is one, to the most recent Grant compilation? I know you’ve mentioned a compilation previously and I haven’t forgotten.

  3. Thanks very much for this insightful post.

    I recently viewed a screening of the BBC's film of “Small Island” which included a Q&A with the producer, Vicky Licorish.

    To read more, see:
    http://ancestralenergies.blogspot.com/2010/02/s

    Have a great day!
    Zhana

  4. I'm hoping to see that BBC production here in Sweden.

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