Skip navigation

News

Andrea Levy

Black History Month: Andrea Levy, a Tribute

25 October 2019

Andrea Levy, who died earlier this year, was a black British author of Jamaican parentage whose father came to Britain on HMS Windrush in 1948, her mother following six months later. Andrea was born in London, in 1956, where she lived all her life.

Her award-winning career started when she took up writing in her thirties. She was one of the first writers to document the experiences of black Britons, in particular those of families and daughters. Her works have gathered numerous awards and at the same time are immensely popular and readable.

The first of her novels to attract wide critical acclaim was her fourth, Small Island (6824). Published in 2004 it won the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Novel Award and the Whitbread Book of the Year, as well as the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best Book Award. It also won the Orange ‘Best of the Best’ prize. It focuses on the experiences of those from her father’s generation who came to Britain after serving in the RAF during the Second World War. As well as looking at their new lives in Britain, it describes the reactions, both good and bad, of the English people they came to live amongst. In 2009 the story was beautifully told in the two-part BBC television drama of the same name starring Naomie Harris, and David Oleyowo as Hortense and Gilbert, the young married couple from Jamaica, and Ruth Wilson as good-hearted Queenie.

Her final novel, The Long Song, (8841) goes back in time to the beginning of the 19th century and the final years of slavery and the transition to freedom in Jamaica. The story is told by July, an old woman looking back on her life as a house slave on a sugar plantation. In it she looks at the shared history of Britain and the Caribbean, the slaves and the slave owners. The book won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was also adapted for television by the BBC and starred Tamara Lawrance as July and Hayley Atwell as Caroline, the plantation owner’s sister. The copy of the audiobook we have in the library is narrated by the author herself.

You can also borrow Andrea Levy’s third novel The Fruit of the Lemon (7249) from the Calibre Library. Here she looks at the family history of her main character Faith Jackson, a young black Londoner, through her visit to Jamaica and the storytelling of her Aunt Cora.

As well as writing novels, Andrea Levy also wrote a number of short stories and sat as a judge for the Orange Prize, the Orange Prize Futures and the Saga Prize. She was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature in 2005.