My creativity can be traced back to my heritage, to the skin colour that defined how I was perceived. But, like my ancestors, I wouldn’t accept defeat

When I won the Booker prize in 2019 for my novel Girl, Woman, Other, I became an “overnight success”, after 40 years working professionally in the arts. My career hadn’t been without its achievements and recognition, but I wasn’t widely known. The novel received the kind of attention I had long desired for my work. In countless interviews, I found myself discussing my route to reaching this high point after so long. I reflected that my creativity could be traced back to my early years, cultural background and the influences that have shaped my life. Not least, my heritage and childhood

Through my father, a Nigerian immigrant who had sailed into the Motherland on the “Good Ship Empire” in 1949, I inherited a skin colour that defined how I was perceived in the country into which I was born, that is, as a foreigner, outsider, alien. I was born in 1959 in Eltham and raised in Woolwich, both in south London. Back then, it was still legal to discriminate against people based on the colour of their skin, and it would be many years before the Race Relations Acts (1965 and 1968) enshrined the full scope of anti-racist doctrine into British law.

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