Windrush chronicler/writer Andrea Levy, has died, aged 62, from cancer. Levy started writing in her 30’s and the three novels she published in the 1990s brought her to our attention. But it was Small Island, her forth novel that catapulted her to a notable literary force, the book won the 2004 Orange prize, Whitbread book of the year and the Commonwealth Writers’ prize, it sold over 1m copies globally and was adapted for TV in 2009.
Levy was born in 1956 in London, her parents were the generation who helped to build postwar Britain, both parents arrived on the Empire #Windrush her father in 1948 and her mother arrived not long afterwards. She grew up in Highbury, north London.
A chronicle of Andrea’s Career…………
Her 1994 Levy’s first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin′, was published, attracting good reviews. The Independent on Sunday stated: “This story of a young girl in 60s in north London, child of Jamaican migrants, stands comparison with some of the best stories about growing up poor – humorous and moving, unflinching and without sentiment. Levy has spoken of the year of rejections that followed that first novel’s publication: “Publishers have a herd mentality. They were worried that I’d be read only by black people…. Apart from African-American writers and Yardie, there was nothing to show I’d sell…. No one had been really successful as a black British writer writing about everyday things.”
Levy’s second novel, Never Far from Nowhere (1996), is a coming-of-age story about two sisters of Jamaican parentage growing up in London in the 1960s and 1970s. The novel is narrated from the perspectives of Vivien and Olive and chronicles their difficulties living in 1970s England. The narrative focuses specifically on the physical differences between the sisters in terms of skin colour, eye colour, and hair type, which causes them to be treated differently by British people, and the ways in which they negotiate and constitute racial and national identities. The novel was long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction. After its publication, Levy visited Jamaica for the first time and what she learned of her family’s past provided material for her next book.
Levy traveled to Jamaica in the late 1990s, and her third novel followed that trip. Fruit of the Lemon (1999), a novel set in England and Jamaica in the Thatcher era, “explores the notion of home, and how it differs for the formerly colonized and their descendants,” as The New York Times noted: “Though Levy writes specifically about black Jamaican Britons and their struggles to be acknowledged as full members of the larger society, her novel illuminates the general situation facing all children of postcolonial immigrants across the West, from the banlieue of France to the Islamic neighborhoods of New York to the Hispanic ghettos of Los Angeles.
Levy’s fourth novel, Small Island (2004), was a critical success. The Guardian‘s Mike Phillips wrote, “Small Island is a great read, delivering the sort of pleasure which has been the traditional stock-in-trade of a long line of English novelists. It’s honest, skilful, thoughtful and important. This is Andrea Levy’s big book.” It won three prestigious awards: Whitbread Book of the Year, the Orange Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The novel was subsequently made into a two-part television drama of the same title that was broadcast by the BBC in December 2009.
Levy’s fifth and final novel, The Long Song, won the 2011 Walter Scott Prize and was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.The Telegraph called it a “sensational novel… [that] tells the life story of July, a slave girl living on a sugar plantation in 1830s Jamaica just as emancipation is juddering into action.” Kate Kellaway in The Observer commented: “The Long Song reads with the sort of ebullient effortlessness that can only be won by hard work.”The Washington Post reviewer, calling it “insightful and inspired”, went on to say that the work “reminds us that she is one of the best historical novelists of her generation.” The Long Song was adapted as a three-part BBC One television series that was broadcast in December 2018.
Her short book Six Stories and an Essay was published in 2014, described by Katy Guest in The Independent as “a slight collection, but full of important insights”.
Andrea Levy died on 14th February 2019, she will be remembered for her determination to bring social issues to the conversation despite resistance.