All posts filed under: Literature

Literary agent, Nelle Andrews sits in her office

Nelle Andrew is crafting a new narrative in publishing

“I love the deal. I LOVE the deal. I mean to be an agent you have to love the deal. I love sending out a book and getting those emails 24 hours later saying ‘I loved it! Don’t let someone else buy it.” It’s a sunny Tuesday morning and I’m chatting with literary agent Nelle Andrew in a coffee shop in Bloomsbury. We are opposite the offices of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop where she works as a primary agent, a ‘hunter-gatherer’ as she puts it, searching out and representing the UK’s brightest writing talent.

Homegoing calls out African complicity in slavery and offers healing

Last year I visited Elmina Castle, a slave fortress on the coast of Ghana. It’s a beautiful white-washed building, very similar in style to Cape Coast Castle, the slave fortress where Yaa Gyasi sets key pieces of action in Homegoing. The castles are two of about 40 such structures that were built along the Ghanaian coastline by Europeans. They were trading posts that became holding prisons for millions of West African slaves who were then shipped off to the Caribbean, the US and South America. The structures are huge. They dominate the coastline. Markets and towns would have grown up around them, like the town of Elmina that sprouted up around Elmina castle. It is impossible that the locals did not know what the primary trade from these castles was. Did it trouble them? Why was the trade in African bodies accepted? Gyasi takes us aside, sits us down, and says, ‘let me a paint you a picture, let me show you how the system worked.’

How Racism in ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ mirrors life in the UK

I was in primary school when I first read Mildred D Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Cassie Logan was my hero. Dark skinned, kinky haired, bold and outspoken. However, her life with her three siblings, school-teacher mother, farmer father and Big Ma was something I did not envy, mired as it was by extreme poverty and violent, overt racism. It seemed a world away from my quiet life in South East London. I’ve read the novel many times since then. It has never felt dated or clichéd or simplistic. It is one of those remarkable books that will meet you whenever you are. As a child in the 1980s, I connected with the simple story– the protagonist overcoming a monster. I rooted for the family facing down the menace of racism. But it was very much like reading a fantasy novel, the spitting, clawing racism of Cassie’s world bore no resemblance to my reality. Her world was 1930s rural Mississippi, Mississippi Burning, Mississippi Goddam, as Nina Simone cursed it. It was lynchings, burning …

5 Black Publishers You Should Be Supporting

When Margaret Busby launched her publishing company in 1967, she was the youngest and first black woman to do so in England. Decades later, when she was asked why she’d fought so hard to launch an indie publishing house, she said: “So that you don’t only get one perspective all the time, with everything filtered through the usual gatekeepers— we know who they are, whether in London, New York or wherever… Other voices need to get a look-in, not just those that already have the power.” Trinidad and Tobago Guardian

Melancholy and magnificent: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

I found I couldn’t read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie as a straight shot. The narrative was so relentlessly bleak I had to take the odd break to remind myself that joy exists in the world. But I returned to the novel eagerly each time, partly because the story is compelling, but largely because the writing is flawlessly beautiful. We first meet Hattie, the title character, at 17-years-old. She’s holed up in the bathroom of her rented house, fighting to save her twin babies from pneumonia. The children, Philadelphia and Jubilee, have been named to reflect Hattie’s hopes for life in the north. She “wanted to give her babies names that weren’t chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and hope, reaching forward names, not looking back ones.” When the babies die, Hattie’s optimism leaves with them. Her grief is compounded by disappointment in her husband. He turns out to be a self-defeating man who drinks his pay cheques and sleeps around with women who …

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah opens with a hair salon and a major turning point. Ifemelu has decided to close her hugely successful blog, break up with her Black American boyfriend, sell her apartment and (after 13 years away) return to Nigeria. She tells herself there’s no specific cause for the move, just “layer after layer of discontent that settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her”. But while she sits in the hairdressers having her hair braided for this monumental trip home, she thinks of the Obinze, “her first love, her first lover, the only person with whom she had never felt the need to explain herself”, and it’s clear part of her homesickness is the longing to see her former flame. Impulsively she fires off an email to Obinze informing him of her return. Cut to Obinze who receives her email as he sits in Lagos traffic. From his reaction we know the feelings are mutual, which is complicated since he is now a husband and father. Amidst the turmoil Ifemelu and Obinze fall …