My New Statesman Review of 2 x Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Books

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The Emperor’s Babe

Nice to see such a great mention of my 2001 novel-in-verse The Emperor’s Babe in an Evening Standard piece by Mary Beard. Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 07.05.00

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BBC Radio 4 doc on Amiri Baraka, Black Arts Movement & my early career Oct 2015

I’ve just made a 2-part BBC R4 doc on the above with fab Front Row producer Ekene Akalawu.

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Marlon James winning the Man Booker Prize 2015

(Originally posted on Facebook, where I tend to post these kinds of pieces. )
Marlon James’ Man Booker win is staggeringly amazing on so many counts, not least because he’s only the SECOND black writer to win it in nearly 50 years, and the Prize has only ever had one black judge (this year), and 2 Asian judges. (The media won’t mention this.) It’s so blatant it has always felt like a statement.

I can really appreciate how his win signals renewed hope for many writers of colour.

The Prize is a career-maker, for sure, but will it also be a game-changer this time? When Ben Okri won it 25 years ago, it did not improve the fortunes of black African novelists. It took the The Caine Prize for African Writing to do this with its profile-raising winners, shortlists, anthologies and annual workshops in Africa, attended by many aspiring writers including Ngozi Adichie. Trend-watchers will observe that the industry has already slowed down in publishing African fiction (as we predicted…) and will probably turn its attention instead to Caribbean fiction, which has been shamefully overlooked for decades. ‘Where is the next Marlon James?’ it will ask. The fact that the decision-makers in the industry are from a demographic that is 99% not from an African-origin background is a huge factor.

Some prizes aim to raise the profile of whole continents, countries and demographics, such as the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature; The Complete Works II-Promoting diversity and quality in British Poetry, Paul Burston‘s Polari First Book Prize for LGBT writers, Kwame Dawes’ African Poetry Book Fund, and my own, Brunel University African Poetry Prize – As well as publishing initiatives such as Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd. And let us not overlook Peepal Tree Press, which has spearheaded publishing great Caribbean literature for the past 25 years.

I’ve watched publishing trends for thirty years and one person winning a major prize does not always change the game. It has to be backed up by work on the ground and publishers with a serious commitment to representing all kinds of writers – forever, not just as the latest trend.

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Bocas Litfest Trinidad Audio Interview

Audio Interview with me by Tyrone Ali at Bocas Litfest in Trindad, April 2014.

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Lovely Piece in Independent based on Mr Loverman

Ailment: Living a lie

Cure: Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

Living a lie might make life easier in the short term but usually means denying a fundamental part of yourself – which is sure to create problems in the long term. Whether the lie springs from being in the wrong career, spending more money than you have, or living with someone you do not love, the shaky foundations on which you build your life will show their cracks eventually.

For the sake of your own future, we urge you to come out of hiding now. Spend time in the company of irresistible Barry, the ‘loverman’ of Evaristo’s joyful novel, and be energised into putting all your cards on the table right now.

When Barrington Walker and Carmel were in their twenties, they were the hottest couple on the dance floor. Both tall, beautiful and graceful, their relationship was the envy of all in their native Antigua. Moving to London and having children seemed to cement their bond – and there, for the next 50 years, Barrington lived a lie. Because since he was 14 in Antigua, he has loved Morris; and Morris – who also married and moved to London – has loved him back.

Gay love being still illegal and socially unacceptable in the Caribbean, however, the two men were never able to express their love openly – and they brought their social strictures with them. Over the years they continued to meet in secret, spending the night together whenever they could; but even when Morris’s wife caught them in flagrante, resulting in divorce, Barry still bottled out of declaring himself, unable to face the reactions of his family.

Now in his seventies, Barry teeters on the verge of a confession – and we egg him on, for to the reader it is abundantly clear that his and Morris’s lives can finally begin only when the truth comes out. Be inspired by this tale of true love and bravado in the face of cultural contempt, and bring your own secrets into the light of day

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Exhibit B

I disagree with the protestors who wanted to, and in effect, shut down ‘Exhibit B’ last week. I had booked to see it and was looking forward to witnessing such a bold and challenging work of art. However, the protestors decided it was racist, accumulated over 20,000 signatures, and their protest at the venue on Monday night led to the show being cancelled, even though some of them, strangely, now seem to think it had nothing to do with the 200 of them gathered with drums and protest outside the venue doors with the explicit intent of not letting people through. And even though, when I casually mentioned I was going to Exhibit B at a talk I gave about my own work at Goldsmiths a week earlier, some of the audience said they objected to it and would be there outside the venue and would be among the people who would stop me entering.

The problem is that I’m perfectly capable of making up my own mind about whether a work of art is racist and I object to people deciding for me, people who have not even seen the performance, which they’ll proudly declare. Their debate on this matter ranges from dictating the terms on which we artists create art, what is acceptable and what isn’t (to them); to speaking on behalf of the ‘black community’ as if we are a homogenous entity in this country; to accusing those white people who object to their protest as racist. The campaign leader, Sara Myers, said on film that ‘our’ ancestors ‘memories will not be used for art’. It’s so ridiculous it beggars belief, really. I expect her to come up with a list of dos and don’ts, so that we know from now on what is acceptable to her as the self-appointed spokesperson of ‘the black community’. The protestors have been very vocal in the media in their opposition to the performance but their victory is their own, it is not mine. Actually, I’m furious and ashamed. We’ve just had a debate on Facebook about it  and their arguments are all over the place and don’t stand up to scrutiny. People are angry about racism, which I understand, but I think their anger is misguided in this instance. Join me on FB to see the posts. a90f05f0-23cf-11e4-_750971b

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