6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2005
Published in the US this year by Palgrave Macmillan this collection of essays aims "to provide an international perspective on ways to incorporate black British writing and culture in the study of English literature." Written by two academics in the US, one of whom is from the historically black Howard University this is a text aimed at teachers and lecturers who want their programmes to engage with contemporary black British writing and are open to the authors' "imaginative, theoretically sophisticated and practical strategies" for achieving this aim.
Altogether the eleven essays range from the pedagogical, as in Maria Helena Lima's article 'The Politics of Teaching Black and British', through the historical, such as Judith Bryan's 'The Evolution of Black London'. There are discussions specifically on novels-'Transformations Within the Black British Novel' by Kadija George Seisay and Jude Chudi Okpala's piece on Ben Okri. There's also a marvellous chapter on verse- Contemporary Black British Poetry by Lauri Ramey begins her discussion by citing and analysing SuAndi's poem 'Home'.
I found all of these essays interesting and compelling, both as a lecturer and a writer. But the last article by Tracey Walters, "A Black Briton's View of Black British Literature and Scholarship" was particularly immediate and relates to the vexed issue of black communities' largely unhappy relationship with the mainstream UK publishing industry.
In this piece the author talks about her growing up in the UK and now living and teaching in the US, her relatively new engagement with Black British Literature and the way the Windrush celebrations made it possible for her to get better access to such literature in the US. And yet in spite of the cultural activism that made considerable inroads into British publishing Walters remains critical of the British publishing industry which tends to ignore the vast population of black British writers. Of course you will see African American writers' work here in the UK, but that is because they are already published in the US by US publishers so there's no risk involved for what is usually the UK branch of the same company.
The publishing issue is also linked to the fact that Caribbean-born writers tend to enjoy relatively more exposure in the US and the UK, "whereas British born authors like Courtia Newland and Dorothea Smartt do not enjoy the same broad- based reading audience nor the critical attention they deserve." Of course we can think of a few exceptions- I'm thinking of Zadie Smith in particular. It is interesting that she has chosen to set her latest novel, On Beauty in the US. I've talked to some who have read the book and they do wonder to what extent was this move a market-driven decision?
Walters is keen to insure that Black British literature is visible and integral to all understandings of African diasporic literature, (or indeed Asian diasporic literature since at various times the term black has been used in a more inclusive way than it has in the US). She also stresses the importance of writers like Buchi Emecheta, David Dabydeen, Ferdinand Dennis, Hazel Carby and others who not only are terrific writers but who also "work as historians, critics and cultural interpreters".
Black British Writing is a deceptively slim volume. It's a book that opens up discussion and calls for strategic thinking and practical engagement with its ideas. It begs the question over and over again of how can this kind of book get published in the UK? How could it be written, edited and inclusive of Black authors? Not such a book every now and again but regularly and successfully, alongside and in step with the contributions we make to this country and the world.