All posts filed under: Literature

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 …

Chibundu Onuzo talks love in The Spider King’s Daughter

“She doesn’t treat anyone like an equal. That’s the way she’s been brought up. She’s like her father; but she still manages to have moments of kindness.” Chibundu Onuzo is defending the protagonist in her debut novel, The Spider King’s Daughter. She sits opposite me in an airy delicatessen in London Bridge, a fork dancing in her hand, her youthful face animated. She’s supposed to be eating a plate of mushroom pasta, but after I suggest her story of friendship across Nigeria’s economic lines cannot really be a friendship when the rich man’s daughter, Abike, insists on referring to the book’s other central character as The Hawker, denying him an identity beyond his poverty, Chibundu launches an earnest defence. “She was raised in a very unhappy home. I applaud Abike for all her humanity,” she insists. Chibundu is softly spoken and self-effacing. There can’t be many 21-year-old university students who find themselves juggling essay deadlines with promotion for a published novel, and there are certainly no others who can claim to be the youngest female …

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

If you took GCSE English then chances are you’ve read a Mildred D Taylor novel. My sister and I were ahead of the curve. I read everything she read and since our Nigerian parents restricted our movements to school, Safeway and the local library, I’d read everything Taylor had published long before I stepped foot in secondary school. It was in her books I first heard of segregation. It took me a while to make the connection and understand that parallel to the dirt-poor Waltons who lived on Waltons’ Mountain and whom we watched religiously on a Sunday morning, were black communities languishing under the mass deception of ‘separate but equal.’ Yet while Taylor’s narratives engaged me, it was her authorial voice, the musicality of a unique English dialect that enthralled me. She stood on the shoulders of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker in telling stories in that colourful, metaphorical voice intrinsic to the Deep South. I hadn’t planned on reviewing The Help for this site. A story about African American maids written by …