Andrea Levy: lee-vee
Andrea Levy is a child of the Windrush. She is the daughter of one of the pioneers who sailed from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush ship. Her father and later her mother came to Britain in 1948 in search of a better life. For the British born Levy this meant that she grew up black in a very white England. This experience has given her an unusual perspective on the country of her birth neither feeling totally part of the society nor a total outsider.
In her novel Small Island she puts this perspective to work. She examines the experiences of those of her fathers generation who returned to Britain after being in the RAF during the Second World War. But more than just the story of the Jamaicans who came looking for a new life in the Mother Country, she uses her understanding of the white society to show the adjustments and problems faced by the English people whom those Jamaicans came to live amongst. Immigration changes everyones lives and in Small Island Levy examines not only the conflicts of two cultures thrown together after a terrible war, but also the kindness and strength people can show to each other. The Second World War was a great catalyst that has led to the multi-cultural society Britain has become. For Andrea Levy acknowledging the role played by all sides in this change is an important part of understanding the process so we can go on to create a better future together.
Andrea Levy did not begin writing until she was in her mid-thirties. At that time there was little written about the black British experience in Britian. After attending writing workshops Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read. In her first three novels she explored from different perspectives the problems faced by black British born children of Jamaican emigrants. In her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin (1994), the story is of a Jamaican family living in London in the 1960s. Never Far from Nowhere (1996), her second, is set during the 1970s and tells the story of two very different sisters living on a London council estate. In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black woman, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown and discovers a previously unknown personal history. In Small Island (2004), Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken and her resolve intact. The Long Song (2010), set in 19th century Jamaica, is told in the irresistibly willful and intimate voice of Miss July, a slave, with some editorial assistance from her son, Thomas.
Andrea Levy is a Londoner. She not only lives and works in the city she loves but has used London as the setting for her first four novels. She has been a recipient of an Arts Council Award and her second novel Never Far from Nowhere was long listed for the Orange Prize. Besides novels she has also written short stories that have been read on radio, published in newspapers and anthologised. She has been a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Orange Futures and the Saga Prize.
Small Island is the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
This biography was last updated on 05/11/2010.
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Andrea Levy discusses The Long Song
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