Category Archives: Black British Literature

Films and Reads I’ve Enjoyed Lately

I usually post reviews of books on the blog. However, I know that people may not be able to access some of the books readily. I thought I’d share links from the internet so if you’re interested in reading and not be able to get a book, this post may be helpful in getting some content to enjoy.

Films

I watched Small Island on Netflix, which is a 2-part drama based on the prize-winning novel- Small Island by Andrea Levy. It’s about a Jamaican couple who move to England in the 1940s.

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The husband, Gilbert played by David Oyelowo arrives in England before his wife and sends for her. She is shocked to find that England wasn’t the country she thought it was. The wife, Hortense had always dreamt of teaching in an English school. She trained as a teacher for three years in Jamaica and her qualifications were not accepted when she applied to teach in England. They told her that she had to train again.

Small Island follows their struggles and explores what the experiences of early Caribbean immigrants in England.

The other show I’ve enjoyed watching is Kemi Adetiba’s episode with Tara Fela-Durotoye in the King Women series. If you’re unfamiliar with Tara, she’s a pioneer in the Nigerian make-up industry and is the CEO of the makeup brand, House of Tara.

I had seen Tara Fela-Durotoye’s interview on CNN African Voices so I thought I was quite familiar with her story. However, Tara went into a greater detail about her childhood and how she got married at 24 as a way of escaping her family in the King Woman episode. She grew up in a polygamous home without her mother and that affected the experience, she had at home. Even boarding school was a way of escaping from her family.

It made me think that sometimes we look at people and say they’re successful but we don’t know the challenges they’ve faced. I like stories on business people and the episode with Tara Fela-Durotoye was great.

Reads

I enjoyed reading Andrea Levy’s essay titled “How I learned to stop hating my heritage” on the Guardian. While watching Small Island, I wanted to know more about the author who wrote the novel and I googled her and the essay came up. The essay explores Andrea Levy’s experience as a child born to Jamaican parents in England. She discusses shade-ism and how parents felt they were better because they had a lighter skin tone than other people with a similar descent.

Andrea Levy’s father arrived in England on the Empire Windrush ship and I had heard about this ship’s arrival and how it marked the beginning of significant migration from the Caribbean to Britain. It was interesting to me because I had never heard of people who had direct relationships to passengers on the Empire Windrush.

Another post that I enjoyed was the 53 Painful, Horrible Experiences That Are Way Too Real For Black Women article on Buzzfeed. I could relate with everything in the article- from having to reject plans for a specific day because it’s the day I’ll be washing my hair to finding my headscarf’s slipped off my head in my sleep.

I remember when I’d spend hours watching hair tutorials on YouTube and I’d never be able to achieve those styles with my hair. That was frustration.

Do check out the links and let me know your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Goodreads

 

Three Lessons I Learnt on Black British History From Evelyn Dove’s Biography

This year has been my year of understanding more about the black British community. I moved to England six years ago and I feel knowing more about the people in my community is important. Evelyn Dove’s biography was one of the books I read this year that helped me learn more about the black community in Britain.

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You may be wondering who Evelyn Dove is. She was the first black female singer on BBC radio and the first black British female singer to work in America.

Here’s the blurb about her biography, Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen.

A pioneer and a trailblazer, Evelyn Dove left a mark in the arts industry. She was the first black female singer on BBC Radio and the first black British female singer to work in America, a quarter of a century before Shirley Bassey.

In a career lasting five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, Evelyn Dove embraced the worlds of jazz, musical theatre and cabaret. Refusing to be constrained by her race or middle-class West African and English backgrounds, she thrilled audiences around the world, courted admirers and fans wherever she performed and scandalized her family by appearing on stage semi-naked. Her mesmerising movie star looks and grace captivated those in her presence, yet her extraordinary career was one of many highs and lows.

Evelyn Dove – Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen is illustrated with over fifty rare and unpublished photographs from Evelyn’s private collection, now in the possession of the author.

There isn’t a lot of literature on black British musicians from her time and the author of her biography, Stephen Bourne mentioned in the book, “When I was growing up in the 1970s there weren’t that many books about black British history and next to nothing about black British singers and entertainers.”

I feel this book is necessary because it’s helped me understand the diversity of the black British experience. My grandmother was a Nigerian nurse in the England in the 1960s and I would hear stories from her perspective but reading this helped understand others who worked in other professions like the arts.

What did I learn about black British history from Evelyn Dove – Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen?

Black British history did not begin when the Empire Windrush arrived in England in 1948. I knew quite a bit about the migration from the West Indies and Africa in the 1940s to 1960s but I didn’t know much about earlier migration before this period.

Evelyn’s father, Frank Dove was a man of West African heritage, born in Sierra Leone. He trained as a lawyer in England in the late 1800s. Stephen Bourne describes Evelyn’s father and other Africans who had a similar experience to him as middle class West Africans who were more at home in England than in their home countries.

Frank Dove married an English woman, Augusta Winchester. Frank and Augusta were Evelyn’s parents. Their marriage was interracial but was not illegal. I wondered if their marriage was accepted in English society.

Leading roles for black actresses on British television in the 1950s were almost non-existent. Directors would not cast Evelyn as a middle class English woman, even though she could act the part. Times have changed now and black actresses can apply for mainstream roles.

However, there is a lot of discussion on the under-representation of black and minority communities in the creative industries. That was why I was happy when I was able to support the Black Ballad crowd fund which is a media platform tailored to the black British female audience. I didn’t just want to talk about the under-representation of black people in the media but I wanted to do something about it.

It was difficult for black people in Britain in Evelyn’s time to run arts organisations to represent their work. One of the organisations in the biography, the Edric Connor Agency was set up to represent actors, artists and writers of colour but struggled to convince casting directors that black actors could act.

Our pioneers faced challenges and black arts and media organisations continue to face their unique challenges in the 21st century. I’ll give the example of Black Ballad. Their major challenge was funding and having to depend on advertisers for revenue. They have now created a membership platform where you pay to subscribe to their content.

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Evelyn Dove faced her challenges working in the arts and left a mark in the industry. I would recommend reading her biography if you are interested in black British history. Plus, it has pretty pictures from Evelyn’s life in it.

*Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen was sent to me from Jacaranda Books. 

Books on my Christmas Wish List

I created a mental list of the books I wanted to get at the end of the year. But because, it was a list in my head, I would add new titles each time. This was making it difficult for me to decide what books to get. Also, it wasn’t going to be good for my bank account. Writing the list on the blog should help with my book shopping at Christmas and help me not go overboard with my spending on books. (Click the book titles to read the blurbs of each book on my wish list on Goodreads).

Not Working by Lisa Owens is a novel I first heard about on Emma Gannon’s podcast Ctrl Alt Delete. It’s a book about a young lady who quits her job to find her purpose. I am interested in this as I’ve always thought about the idea of work and our career interests. I’ve heard the book is really funny and it’s been compared to Bridget Jones so I’m looking forward to reading this.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was one of the most talked about books by an author of African descent in 2016. I read blog reviews about Homegoing, listened to a podcast on Homegoing and watched a YouTube review of Homegoing. I also came across a twitter chat about the novel too. Having heard so much about the novel, I want to read it for myself. Darkowaa from African Book Addict recommended that I read Homegoing before any of the books on my wish list.

Homegoing is a novel that tackles a big topic- slavery as it explores a family that is split by slavery where one sister is sold as a slave and ends up in the United States and the other sister stays in Ghana. It traces the experiences of the descendants of each sister in Ghana and in America. It’s a book I’m looking forward to reading based on the great reviews it has received.

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The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell is a  non-fiction book on my wish list. Jen Campbell is an author and booktuber. I watch her videos on books on YouTube from time to time and would love to read her work. The Bookshop Book is a book about bookshops around the world. As I love books, I would love to read the bookshops and how they have survived over the years. I also see it as a way of supporting Jen’s channel.

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My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal is about a young mixed-race boy whose white brother is adopted and Leon isn’t. Leon family is falling apart and the book explores their experience of social services and foster care. Leon’s experience on not being adopted is an important issue as sometimes white babies are preferred in adoption over black children.

I think reading My Name is Leon would help me understand what it’s like to require social services. Most of the discussion I hear on social services are from documentaries on people depending on benefits and I want to listen to a different perspective from people who genuinely need the social support that the state provides.

my-name-is-leon-by-kit-de-waal

While compiling the list, I went on Book Depository to gauge whether my budget would be able to cover all the books. Hopefully, I’m able to get all the books on the list.

Let me know in the comments what books are on your Christmas wish list.