Monday, 17 February 2014

Book Club: Sunday 23 February 2014



For February's Black Reading Group we shall be discussing Kerry Young's second book - Gloria. On this occasion we shall be at Waterstone's Trafalgar Square in the Costa Coffee Bar, as our usual Watersone's is undergoing refurbishment. The Trafalgar Square branch overlooks the square where at the corner of The Strand and Northumberland Square. Its not far from Charring Cross Station and Embankment tube station. Hope to see you on Sunday February 23 at 3pm. 

About the author

Kerry Young was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a Chinese father and mother of mixed Chinese-African heritage. She came to England at the age of ten. Kerry’s background is in youth work where she worked both locally and nationally, and has also written extensively. She has Master’s degrees in organisation development and creative writing, and a PhD in youth work. Kerry Young is a Buddhist in the tradition of Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. Her interests include Tai Chi, weight lifting and golf. She also loves jazz and plays alto and tenor saxophone. Read more about Kerry on her website

What's it about

Jamaica, 1938. Gloria Campbell is sixteen years old when a single violent act changes her life forever. She and her younger sister flee their hometown to forge a new life in Kingston. As all around them the city convulses with political change, Gloria’s desperation and striking beauty lead her to Sybil and Beryl, and a house of ill-repute where she meets Yang Pao, a Kingston racketeer whose destiny becomes irresistibly bound with her own.

Sybil kindles in Gloria a fire of social justice which will propel her to Cuba and a personal and political awakening that she must reconcile with the realities of her life, her love of Jamaica and a past that is never far behind her.

Set against the turbulent backdrop of a country on the cusp of a new era, Gloria is an enthralling and illuminating story of love and redemption.
What they say about it

Kerry Young is a stand alone talent in the new emerging generation of writers from the Caribbean region. Her stories are gritty and also funny and very real. Read her if you want to know about the Caribbean. Kerry Young is unique 
Monique Roffey, winner of the OCM BOCAS Prize for Caribbean Literature

Gloria is a brilliant, observant, sometimes complex read, but with clear and simple messages, it speaks to the feminist and equal rights campaigner in all of us. 
Western Mail

A very authentic portrayal of a woman's lot in 1950s, 1960s Jamaica. I fell in love with Gloria and was turning over the pages rapidly, willing her to conquer her situation. A triumph 
Alex Wheatle, author of Brenton Brown

A vivid portrayal ... Kerry Young's heartfelt, sparky and affecting debut novel is a chronicle of multicultural Jamaica, both in its cultural richness and in its strife and tensions 
Guardian

A pacy but absorbing saga of domestic struggle and gangland manoeuvring set against the violent backdrop of postwar Jamaican politics 
(Independent on Sunday)

Kerry Young tells the absorbing, uplifting story of a young woman's escape from the brutal poverty of rural Jamaica to a new life in the violent world of its capital, Kingston ... Written in the gentle, hypnotic patois and encompassing the birth pangs of Jamaican independence, this is a highly evocative portrait of a country in transition, and of one woman's search for self-awareness and self-respect 
Mail on Sunday

First impressions

When we read and discussed Pao, Kerry Young's first book, back in 2012, the one person that we wanted to know more about was Gloria. So here it is - Kerry Young's second book sets her story during 1950s & 1960s Jamaica - pre- and post-independence. I am determined to get into it, but so far I have struggled a bit. It's all my fault, I really need a good few hours just focused upon it. Instead I've been rushing about and doing other things, so I am not yet quite as absorbed by Gloria as I thought that I would be at this stage. I am not yet 100 pages in. I think also that I'd not realised I'd recall Pao so quite so vividly, so in these early pages of Gloria, I've found myself confused; it's has taken me a while to realise that the two books cover the same story - so I have been going back through the early pages to make sense of it. I imagine that this will continue until Gloria finds her own self and the story moves on. 

Nonetheless I am really looking forward to learning about this period of Jamaica's history. While my mother was in Jamaica during early part of the book, by the 1960s she was here in the UK. Jamaica was only discussed in a personal family kind of way. By the time I was reading about Jamaica by myself, mostly through our weekly delivery of The Jamaica Gleaner, this era was long gone.  

Of course our discussions will pick up on the connections and differences between the two books. I love the way that Kerry writes the Jamaican accent it bounces of the page. I am sure also that we shall analyse the role and impact of Jamaica in the region and beyond - . I hope also that we shall discuss Cuba and what might have been had their been stronger collaboration across the Caribbean. The role of women in the Caribbean will be very much on our minds - Gloria is such a character to be admired - so conscientiously taking care of her own. It's the nature of the business that is the challenge. Kerry's agent will be at this book club meeting and I hope that we shall also cover the role of the agent in the contemporary publishing.


   



Sunday, 9 February 2014

Book Reviews on TV

It is always such a pleasure to be invited inside other people's world's however briefly, to see how they make things happen. Last month through mutual friends I was invited to be the book reviewer/commentator on Rosemary Laryea's Culture Vulture's TV show and the filming took place last Wednesday. Culture Vulture's is a Sky channel show made by the TV company OHTV. - a UK based black TV company. It was a fascinating experience. Not long before this opportunity came up, I'd observed a Twitter conversation amongst book lovers remarking on the fact that there is no book review programme on any of the mainstream channels. Previously The Review Show that used to come on after  BBC2's Newsnight would have a monthly book review show, but now that The Review Show has been cut loose and appears randomly, I rarely catch it, and I've no idea whether they continue to do books. It seems to be me that the best book review programmes are on the radio. So I was delighted, if a bit anxious, to have a go at reviewing on  Culture Vultures. Fortunately I hit off from the first moment I met with my co-reviewer  Natialie Mcleod, who was doing the theatre reviews, and runs her own drama group. We chatted away as if we'd known one another for ages. The format of the show is that Natalie and I talked to the show's host about Rosemary, about two selections we'd made in the first half of the show. In the second half a keynote/celebrity guest came on and talked about their work. Three shows were filmed over the day, and the guests for each show were actor/director, Femi Oyeniran; singer songwriter Hil St Soul and the vocalist from the musical Thriller, Tyrone Lee. It was a a huge pleasure to meet them all and hear about their work and inspirations. These are the books that I selected, the first two will be on episode, 5, the second two on episode 6, and the final two on episode 7.  Series 4 of Culture Vultures will air throughout the spring months : Culture Vultures on OHTV






Every Day is for the Thief will be out in March.

Fifteen years is a long time to be away from home. It feels longer still because I left under a cloud.
 A young Nigerian living in New York City goes home to Lagos for a short visit, finding a city both familiar and strange. In a city dense with story, the unnamed narrator moves through a mosaic of life, hoping to find inspiration for his own. He witnesses the “yahoo yahoo” diligently perpetrating email frauds from an Internet cafĂ©, longs after a mysterious woman reading on a public bus who disembarks and disappears into a bookless crowd, and recalls the tragic fate of an eleven-year-old boy accused of stealing at a local market. Along the way, the man reconnects with old friends, a former girlfriend, and extended family, taps into the energies of Lagos life—creative, malevolent, ambiguous—and slowly begins to reconcile the profound changes that have taken place in his country and the truth about himself. In spare, precise prose that sees humanity everywhere, interwoven with original photos by the author, Every Day Is for the Thief—originally published in Nigeria in 2007—is a wholly original work of fiction. This revised and updated edition is the first version of this unique book to be made available outside Africa. You’ve never read a book like Every Day Is for the Thief because no one writes like Teju Cole.




The first ever biography of Eartha Kitt was published last August 

'The most exciting woman in the world' Orson Welles. 'A sadistic nymphomaniac' The CIA. 

Eartha Kitt was a skinny, mixed-race woman with an odd, angular face who was able to persuade fifties white America that she was the sexiest thing they'd ever seen. She could count Marilyn Monroe, T.S. Eliot, Prince Philip, James Dean and Albert Einstein amongst her friends and admirers. As comfortable in playing Catwoman as she was acting in avant garde theatre, as likely to be investigated by the CIA as to appear with Frankie Howerd, there had never been anyone like her in showbusiness before and hasn't been, sadly, since. 
In this panoramic account of Eartha Kitt and the convulsive era in which she lived, racism, music, and politics combine in an unforgettable portrait of an extraordinary woman.


Malika Booker's first poetry collection was published last year, by Peepal Tree Press. Read Bernadine Evaristo's review here 
.


A new edition of Tropic Death will be published later this year, and a biography of the Harlem Renaissance Caribbean writer, Eric Walrdond will be out in June. 

Eric Walrond (1898-1966), in his only book, injected a profound Caribbean sensibility into black literature. His work was closest to that of Jean Toomer and Zora Neale Hurston with its striking use of dialect and its insights into the daily lives of the people around him. Growing up in British Guiana, Barbados, and Panama, Walrond first published Tropic Death to great acclaim in 1926. This book of stories viscerally charts the days of men working stone quarries or building the Panama Canal, of women tending gardens and rearing needy children. Early on addressing issues of skin color and class, Walrond imbued his stories with a remarkable compassion for lives controlled by the whims of nature. Despite his early celebrity, he died in London in 1966 with minimal recognition given to his passing. Arnold Rampersad's elegant introduction reclaims this classic work and positions Walrond alongside the prominent writers of his age.


Helen Oyeyemi's 5th book will be out on 27 February

BOY Novak turns twenty and decides to try for a brand-new life. Flax Hill, Massachusetts, isn’t exactly a welcoming town, but it does have the virtue of being the last stop on the bus route she took from New York. Flax Hill is also the hometown of Arturo Whitman – craftsman, widower, and father of Snow.

SNOW is mild-mannered, radiant and deeply cherished – exactly the sort of little girl Boy never was, and Boy is utterly beguiled by her. If Snow displays a certain inscrutability at times, that’s simply a characteristic she shares with her father, harmless until Boy gives birth to Snow’s sister, Bird.

When BIRD is born Boy is forced to re-evaluate the image Arturo’s family have presented to her, and Boy, Snow and Bird are broken apart.

Sparkling with wit and vibrancy, Boy, Snow, Bird is a deeply moving novel about three women and the strange connection between them. It confirms Helen Oyeyemi’s place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of her generation.

Nnedi Okorafor's Lagoon will be out in April. 

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria's legendary mega-city, they're more alone than they've ever been before.

But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways never imagined. 

Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world... and themselves. 'There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.'

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Book Club: Sunday 26 January 2014


The first book of  the Black Reading Group of 2014 will Bernardine Evaristo's Mr Loverman and I am absolutely delighted to be announcing that Bernardine will be us. A brilliant start to our literary year.  3pm - be there sharp, at Watersone's Piccadilly  (London) on Sunday 26 January.

What's it about

Barrington Jedidiah Walker is seventy-four and leads a double life. Born and bred in Antigua, he's lived in Hackney since the sixties. A flamboyant, wise-cracking local character with a dapper taste in retro suits and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare, Barrington is a husband, father and grandfather - but he is also secretly homosexual, lovers with his great childhood friend, Morris.

His deeply religious and disappointed wife, Carmel, thinks he sleeps with other women. When their marriage goes into meltdown, Barrington wants to divorce Carmel and live with Morris, but after a lifetime of fear and deception, will he manage to break away?

Mr Loverman is a ground-breaking exploration of Britain's older Caribbean community, which explodes cultural myths and fallacies and shows the extent of what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves.

What they say about it

Mr Loverman is hilarious, poignant, clever, controversial and courageous in equal measure. Loved, loved, loved it! (Dawn French)

A brave and important story... I enjoyed it enormously (Jonathan Kemp, author of London Triptych)

Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life (Ali Smith)

An undeniably bold and energetic writer, whose world view is anything but one-dimensional (Sunday Times)

This riproaring, full-bodied riff on sex, secrecy and family is Bernardine Evaristo's seventh book. If you don't yet know her work, you should - she says things about modern Britain that no one else does (Maggie Gee Guardian) Read the full review: here

Evaristo has a lot going on in this unusual urban romance, but beneath her careful study of race and sexuality is a beautiful love story. Not many writers could have two old men having sexual intercourse in a bedsit to a soundtrack of Shabba Ranks's Mr Loverman and save it from bad taste, much less make it sublime. But the hero of this book, and his canny creator, make everything taste just fine (Melissa Katsoulis, Daily Telegraph) Read the full review: here 
A pacey fable about summoning both the daring and the art to live a truthful life . . . her writing simply fizzes with musical energy (Express)  Read the full review: here
A brilliant study of great characters in modern London (Independent)

Funny, brave ... I loved Mr Loverman (Ian Thomson, Spectator)

Transforms our often narrow perceptions of gay men in England . . . Comical, agonising and, ultimately, moving (Independent)

About the author

Bernardine Evaristo’s seven books of fiction and verse-fiction are: Mr Loverman (Penguin, 2013), Hello Mum (Penguin 2010), Lara (Bloodaxe 2009), Blonde Roots (Penguin 2008), Soul Tourists (Penguin 2005), The Emperor’s Babe (Penguin 2001), Island of Abraham (Peepal Tree, 1994).
Her editorial credits include the Winter 2012 centenary issue of Poetry Review: the poetry anthology Ten: new black and Asian poets (Bloodaxe 2010); Wasafiri: Black Britain-Beyond Definition (Routledge 2010); and the British Council anthology NW15 (Granta 2007). She reviews books for the Guardian, Times, Independent and Financial Times and has written fiction and drama for BBC radio.
Her honours include an MBE in 2009 and several awards for her writing; 12 ‘Book of the Year’ honours in British newspapers; and she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of  Literature in 2004 and of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006. She has also chaired and judged several literary prizes and founded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2011.
She has taught creative writing widely since 1994 including at the University of East Anglia (UEA) as Writing Fellow in 2002, and again from 2011 onwards for the UEA-Guardian Masterclasses partnership. Since 1997 she has undertaken over eighty international tours as a writer giving talks, readings, courses and workshops. These include visiting professorships/writer residencies at several US universities including Barnard College and Georgetown University, and in South Africa and Germany. She has also taught courses for the British Council in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

She initially trained in theatre at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and latterly earned her PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Visit Bernardine's website here

First Impressions

Mr Loverman is easily one of the best releases of 2013. If you did not read it then, now is the moment. I had the pleasure of discussing Mr Loverman and Bernadine's work and inspiration at the the last Black Book Swap [4] back in November : photos here The thing that stood out for me is when she said: 'I don't write victims.' A wonderful mission that is completely achieved in a book that covers the ultimate in relationships…a romance, committed friendship and hard won partnership that lasts well over 50 years. A married life of that length would be happily celebrated. Yet in the relationship between Barrington and the love of his life Morris, most of that time is spent in fulfilling friendship, but hiding its true nature.


This book is a challenge to something that some people sincerely hold dear - the belief that such partnerships are not equal. Media coverage here in the west suggest that the black nations of the world are unwilling or unable to live and let live. All the while we know that even here in liberal London the freedom to be - to love who you want to love, is not open to all. If you are in a happy relationship - married or otherwise, surely it is hard to see why that equity of relationship should not be available to all who want it.

While there are no victims in Mr Loverman (in the end), not everyone behaves well through out the story. I am sure that in the book club discussion we shall cover truthfulness and honesty in relationships - and where the line is on that will be contentious. How you find the you that you want to be; how do we make the foundations and place for the next generation; how should parents be with the favoured and not so favoured child - will all be up for challenging discussion. Finally, in addition to the wonderful characters that Bernardine has created here, London features as quite a character, Hackney comes up in many books that we've read. It's trendy Stoke Newington in particular this time, [now that I no longer live in Shoreditch 'trendy' is not the irritating word that it used to be], features strongly here, but the West End and Soho too - all providing us with the opportunity to consider this changing and challenging city of ours.







Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year: 2014

Alice Walker's The Colour Purple: Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, with Steven Spieilberg
Happy New Year. Can't quite believe that it is 2014 already, 2013 seems to have disappeared  so swiftly.

First of all I'd like to thank everyone who has supported Black Book News blog , whether by following and quietly reading the posts, leaving comments, coming along to the Black Reading Group or attending Black Book Swap events. I appreciate your support and am honoured that you continue to read this blog.  

Here a few of the books and literary events that I enjoyed most in in 2013 and the new ones that I am looking forward to in 2014.

2013
The best moment of 2013 was seeing Alice Walker at the closing event of the Women of the World (WOW) festival back in March. I was only able to get tickets for the second viewing at 9pm on a Sunday. Trust me, there are not many people that I'd leave home on a Sunday night for. Pratibha Parmar 's film (Alice Walker, In Beauty & Truth) is brilliant. And I happily watched the it again when it was on TV not long after the London premier. 

Here's the link to the interview that took place after the first viewing of the film earlier in the evening. http://youtu.be/UadveROnHHk  I know that that the way that the interview was handled caused concern, but to hear Alice deal so graciously and firmly with the questions put to her was inspiring.  (It is Damian Barr of Shoreditch Literary Salon who asks the first question (about Alice's love for chickens), in my opinion he would have carried out a much better interview.) It was also a wonderful moment to hear Zadie Smith's mother - Yvonne, tell Alice how both she and Zadie had been inspired by Alice's work.

My second favourite event of 2013 was seeing Zadie Smith at Swiss Cottage Library (in July), one throw away line right at the end of an interview in the Evening Standard, and a bunch of £3 tickets were mine. An absolute bargain. Zadie gave an enlightening talk about her how she believes books are the making her, and how she want's to write the books that she want's to read. Of course books about London are not unusual, what I still continue to love about NW is the way that some of the narration take place in a way that are inner thoughts/dialogue that are just running through the mind. (I know that I do sometimes read out loud the street, shop and poster signs that I see on my everyday journeys, all the while thinking about other things.) I did not mind at all that the lead women were not 'good', it made them more real, and as Zadie said, women's lives are more complex and [women] readers do want to read that.  Here's an interview that Zadie did in Denmark http://youtu.be/SIh3swyGYX4 and she also led this season's Desert Island's Discs - listen to it here: www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/castaway/598210b7 

My favourite book of 2013 was Courttia Newland's The Gospel According to Cane, the characters of Beverly Cotterell and her lost son Malakay have stayed with me all year. 
I wrote about it for the April Black Reading Group: www.tricia-blackbooknews.com/2013/04/book-club-sunday-28-april-2013 Thriller is not quite the word for this book, I was not 'thrilled' as the subject matter is so heartbreaking, but the way that the tension is held throughout this book is quite startling.

I also loved Americanah - it made me laugh throughout, especially the London episodes and conversations with 'white van' man. However how the romance/relationship between the two main characters was drawn over time was the real highlight. I missed the Jamaican author, Lorna Goodison, when she came to Bristol for the littlest there, I hope that she will be back again if her collection of  intense short stories about love at different stage, By Love Possessed is published in a UK edition. 

The book that I wish more people had taken up was Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon. It was published in paperback during 2013. I loved the black characters - the couple Archy & Gwen Stallings. The way that she stood up for herself in both her career and her relationship was totally moving. I hope that someone makes this into a good quality film  - the soundtrack alone would be incredible. Here's Attica Locke's review: Telegraph Avenue

2014
On the books front, I am looking forward to Helen Oyeyemi's new book Boy, Snow, Bird and I have also  just heard that there is going to be a biography of the Caribbean Harlem Renaissance writer, Eric Walrond. I wrote about the re-issue of his short stories here: Tropic Death.  

In relation to films from books, I am still yearning to see Half a Yellow Sun; and the first film of 2014 that I plan to see is 12 Years A Slave, which is based upon the Solomon Northup book of the same title. 

With all best wishes for 2014, xTricia



Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Favourite Books of 2013


It is the time of the year when the serious newspapers and magazines have been full of  of books of the year lists and books for Christmas. So far I have only seen that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (in The Guardian) and Junot Diaz (in the FT) have been asked for their views - which is all great; but where are the spokesmen and women for the books that the readers of Black Book News want to read about? I had expected Taiye Selasie's highly praised Ghana Must Go, and NoViolet Bulawayo's celebrated We Need New Names, to appear on recommended lists, both are exceptional, and share memorable drama and themes that leave you breathless. But, what else has proved unforgettable in 2013? I asked a number of writers, bloggers and curators what has made their literary year and here's the selection. 

Bim Adewunmi, Journalist & blogger

From the first page, right through to the last, Adichie's Americanah infused in me a warm glow. Yes, this was great literature (in my view), but here also was familiarity, and recognition and an important sort of pride at both those things. Ifemelu felt like me, even when she was acting the least like me. Here were worlds and experiences I knew first hand, and subjects I knew of intimately. I've had this feeling before - of course I had - books are made precisely to invoke these kinds of reactions in the general readership, even when the specific story or protagonist is a world away from a reader's reality. But rarely in fiction has the specific story - a passionate, intense, complex and layered one at that - been about a heroine who probably looked a little like me. That's the biggest part of my love for Americanah. The rest of my affection for it comes from it being a well-told tale of love and diaspora and hair and self-reflection and choices, all rooted in entirely believable worlds. It is a powerhouse of a novel and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Bim's full review of Americanah can be found at www.yorubagirldancing.com/2013/08/22/emotion-nostalgia-recognition-and-americanah

Rotimi Babatunde, Author

I read a lot of new poetry from Nigeria in 2013. The two standout volumes are The Sahara Testaments by Tade Ipadeola and through the window of a sandcastle by amu nnadi. Tade Ipadeola fertilises the Sahara desert with the alchemy of his poetic imagination, transforming that arid expanse into a trope enchanting enough to serve as the inspiration for a thousand or so well-measured and alluring quatrains that interrogate the hopes, histories, fears, beauties and pains of an entire continent. amu nnadi plumbs private experience and, in the best tradition of lyric poets from time immemorial, fashions from it stunning song-scapes whose intensity of feeling and delicacy of expression consistently leave one gasping for breath. The Sahara Testaments and 'through the window of a sandcastle' could not be more different in their styles and purposes, but both books look set to continue fascinating readers wherever excellent poetry is valued.

Bernardine Evaristo, Author & academic

The Butterfly Hotel is Roger Robinson's stunning third collection of poetry travels between Trinidad and London. It is a brilliant and haunting exploration of the past and the present, black boyhood and manhood, history and memory. 

Malika Booker's first collection of poems, Pepper Seed, has the power to amaze and move. Hers is a voice of  Caribbean womanhood. These poems speak of hurt, loss and survival, and Booker brings the unspoken and the taboo to the surface with an intensity that shocks.

Colin Grant, Author & broadcaster

Vauxhall by Gabriel Gbadamosi, a heart-rending tale of exuberance and vitality amongst the squalor of 1960s Lambeth tenements, is my favourite novel of year. It just pips the rediscovery of John Williams's Stoner, a spring awakening of love in the soul of the middle-aged university lecturer. The books I've returned to again and again, though, are poetry collections: Hannah Lowe's love letter to her Chinese-Jamaican gambling father, Chick; and Roger Robinson's tough and tender The Butterfly Hotel

Sonia Hope, Writer & Librarian, INIVA

I heard Hannah Lowe reading from her book, Chick, on Radio 4’s Midweek programme in January. Chick is a collection of poems that focus primarily on the life and death of Lowe’s father, a Chinese-Jamaican professional gambler. The poems are perfectly formed, vivid and evocative of specific moments. They are also very poignant – I lost my own father this year. Hannah’s skill in turning life into poetry is exemplary.’

Sheila Ruiz, Curator, Africa Writes, The Royal African Society

I picked up Igoni Barrett's Love is Power, or Something Like That because of its alluring title and colourful cover. I didn't know the author beforehand and wasn't sure what to expect, but my gut chose well. I was totally impressed by all of the nine short stories that make up this brilliant book. They greatly differ in style and subject matter, but all have the stamp of Igoni Barrett's fearless, pulsing narrative that brings contemporary Nigeria to life.

Minna Salami, Writer & blogger

I've often referred to Sula as the book that made me aware that I was a feminist though I did not call myself that when I read it as a teenager. Rereading it in 2013 has reminded me of three things: 1) That there is something at our core, our unique take on humanity, that never changes. We simply (hopefully) become more aware of it with time; 2) that women of African heritage should be encouraged to write more because writing is both protest and healing (I wrote about this once in a blogpost entitled Why African women should blog) and 3) that Toni Morrison is everything. EVERYTHING.
Minna blogs at www.msafropolitan.com 

Chika Unigwe, Author

I am going to cheat and choose two books which blew my mind away this year. NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names and Chinelo Okparanta's Happiness Like Water. Bulawayo's Darling is a compelling character and her language is always, always an excursion into the miraculous. Okparanta writes delightfully  and thoughtfully of contemporary Nigeria and its challenges. each story in the collection is a beautifully wrapped present. Nothing predictable about them.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Book Club: Sunday 24 November 2013




The final Black Reading Group of 2013 will celebrate the life and work of Chinua Achebe. We shall be reading the second of his African Trilogy, No Longer at Ease. It will take place at  Waterstone's Piccadilly at 3pm on Sunday 24 November.

What's it about?

Obi Okonkwo is an idealistic young man who, thanks to the privileges of an education in Britain, has now returned to Nigeria for a job in the civil service. However in his new role he finds that the way of government seems to be backhanders and corruption. Obi manages to resist the bribes that are offered to him, but when he falls in love with an unsuitable girl - to the disapproval of his parents - he sinks further into emotional and financial turmoil. The lure of easy money becomes harder to refuse, and Obi becomes caught in a trap he cannot escape.

Showing a man lost in cultural limbo, and a Nigeria entering a new age of disillusionment, No Longer at Ease concludes Achebe's remarkable trilogy charting three generations of an African community under the impact of colonialism, the first two volumes of which are Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God.

About the author

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He was raised in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centers of Anglican missionary work in Eastern Nigeria, and was a graduate of University College, Ibadan. His early career in radio ended abruptly in 1966, when he left his post as Director of External Broadcasting in Nigeria during the national upheaval that led to the Biafran War. Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and represented Biafra on various diplomatic and fund-raising missions. He was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began lecturing widely abroad. For over fifteen years, he was the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. He was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and professor of Africana studies at Brown University. Chinua Achebe wrote over twenty books - novels, short stories, essays and collections of poetry - and received numerous honours from around the world, including the Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as honorary doctorates from more than thirty colleges and universities. He was also the recipient of Nigeria's highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. He died in 2013. 
Wikipedia profile of Chinua Achebe

About this book: The African Trilogy by the Everyman Library

Here, collected for the first time, are the three internationally acclaimed novels that comprise what has come to be known as Chinua Achebe’s ‘African Trilogy’. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe’s first and perhaps best-loved novel, the individual tragedy of Okonkwo, ‘strong man’ and tribal elder is intertwined with the transformation of traditional Igbo society under the impact of Christianity and colonialism. In No Longer at Ease, his grandson, Obi, educated in England, returns to a civil-service job in colonial Nigeria, only to clash with the ruling elite to which he now believes he belongs. In Arrow of God, the conflict is explored from the point of view of Ezuelu, an Igbo priest, and Captain Winterbottom, a British district officer. In spare and lucid prose, Achebe tells a universal tale of personal and moral struggle in a changing world which has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere.

What they say about Chinua Achebe

  • An Igob Elegy on Hearing of the Passing of Professor of Chinua Achebe
 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


  • "Chinua Achebe is a magical writer — one of the greatest of the twentieth century."

Margaret Atwood

  • "He is one of the few writers of our time who has touched us with a code of values that will never be ironic. This great voice."

Michael Ondaatje

  • Toni Morrison reads Chinua Achebe's English & the African Write: http://bit.ly/17VlQX8

First Impressions

No Longer at Ease begins:

We returned to our places, these KingdomsBut no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,With an alien people clutching their godsI should be glad of another death. 
T.S. Eliot. 'The Journey of the Magi'

Published in 1960, No Longer at Ease appeared the very year that Nigeria became an independent nation. So obviously written during the years of the late 50s when independence was negotiated, No Longer at Ease gives us Achebe defining the key issues that make the country an amazing place - a love of country and family, the collaboration to give the beloved son an education. On the other hand though, the  things that will see it struggle to take up its rightful place in the world - bribery and corruption, that pretty much everyone expects and takes part in, hold it back.  Here is the Ghanian economist George Ayittey talking about what that means in today's world - www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-25048851  

Obi Okonkwo is not necessarily a bad man at all, he is though, one overwhelmed by his responsibilities, whether they are financial or the expectations of him as a leader. Everyone whether stated or unstated require their little piece of him, as he straddles both worlds - the English Oxbridge-educated aesthete and the traditionalist home loving Nigerian. Okonkwo on his return from England, never settles. 

No Longer at Ease begins at the end. We know that Obi is not in a good place. However the tension in the story is how despite his honourable intentions, he ends up where he is. I've not enjoyed this book quite as much as Things Fall Apart, but I have no doubt as we look around the world, particularly at those nations that were formerly part of the British Empire,  it hard not to wonder where the excitement and hope of independence and a good life for all their people has gone. 

At the start of 2012 we spent three months discussing what a black classic might be. Books by Toni Morrison, E.R. Braithwaite and Chinua Achebe were read and considered. When it came to the final vote the clear favourite was Chinua Achebe's book. The Black Reading Group defined it (Things Fall Apart) as the book that you most want your children to read, and you'd be comforted that they too would love it and pass it on. Thus a book for the generations.  It has been a sad year, the loss of Chinua Achebe leaves all readers and lovers a literature without a champion, one who clarifies both seriously and with humour, how we think a good life or world could be. Most simply a wholesome and better place. On Sunday afternoon the Black Reading Reading Group, together with the London African Caribbean Book Club, sadly, recognises our loss and pays tribute to a wonderful man and writer. 


Monday, 18 November 2013

A London Address: The Artangel Essays


All 12 essays that were created from the time a selection of writers spent in The Heart of Darkness boat (Roi des Belges), a studio on roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at Southbank, have been published, It is called A London Address: The Artangel Essays. I ranted on wrote about it here, all the while enjoying the insights that Teju Cole, Caryl Philips and Alain Mabanckou shared of their experiences from the writer's eyrie in the heart of London. 

In the 12 months only four women authors took part and so I also draw your attention to Kamila Shamsie's essay A Room, With a View, of One's Own, where she not only draws on Virginia Woolf's famous essay on what women need to create, but also notes how few women author's were mentioned throughout  the year. The boat/studio is still perched on the roof, where it is being run as one of the most exclusive river-side hotel's in London.  Currently sold out until the end of this year, bookings re-open in early 2014.