When the SS Empire Windrush berthed at Tilbury docks in 1948 with 492 ex-servicemen from the Caribbean, it marked the beginning of the post-war migrations to Britain that would form part of modern, multicultural Britain. A significant role in this social transformation would be played by the literary and non-literary output of writers from the Caribbean. These writers in exile were responsible not just for the establishment of the West Indian novel, but, by virtue of their location in the Mother Country, were also the pioneers of black writing in Britain. Over the next fifty years, this writing would come to represent an important body of work intimately aligned to the evolving and contentious notions of “home” as economic migration became a permanent presence.
In this book, David Ellis provides in-depth analyses of six key figures whose writing charts the establishment of black Britain. For Sam Selvon, George Lamming and E. R. Braithwaite, writing home represents a literature of reappraisal as the myths of empire – the gold-paved streets of London – conflict with the harsh realities of being designated an immigrant. The unresolved consequences of this reappraisal are made evident in the works of Andrew Salkey, Wilson Harris and Linton Kwesi Johnson where radicalism in both political and literary terms can be read as a response to the rejection of the black communities by an increasingly divided Britain in the 1970s. Finally, the novels of Caryl Phillips, Joan Riley and David Dabydeen mark an increasingly reflective literature as the notion of home shifts more explicitly from the Caribbean to Britain itself.
Containing both contextual and biographical information throughout, Writing Home represents a literary and social history of the emergence of black Britain in the second half of the twentieth century.