Without doubt, in the coming academic year the course I’m most excited about teaching is my new module ‘There is Black in the Union Jack’ on the Black and South Asian presence in Britain. You can find out more about the course, including a selection of readings, in a previous post and the documentary from which I’ve borrowed the title from the Black South West Network.
Recently, I spent some time finalising course readings. It’s been a fantastic exercise in helping me reconnect with so much work that I read for my PhD and catching up with new work in the field. Many people have been incredibly generous with sharing their own ideas and syllabi, and I’m grateful to them for their contributions and feedback. However, I felt that I was still lacking first person accounts and so I took to Twitter to ask people for recommendations of memoirs and semi-autobiographical works on Black and South Asian British history.
I received an immensely generous response, as you will see from the original Twitter thread. Below is everything that I had on my original list, that others have suggested and work that I have found through chasing up suggestions. I’ve included everything even if they’re not easily available or even if I won’t be using them myself. However, I hope they’re of use to anyone else interested in this material either for its own sake or for teaching. All the publishing details provided are as listed in the British library or Cambridge University Library catalogues, COPAC or WorldCat. I’ve tended towards either first editions or those reprinted editions that I think would be the most useful for teaching. I’ve also included links to online versions if available, but not all these will be the same editions for which bibliographical details are provided.
If you have any other suggestions, please do comment and leave details.
Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging (London: Vintage Digital, 2018).
Akala, Natives: Race and Class in the Rooms of Empire (London: Two Roads, 2018).
Amanda Ira Aldrige, letter to W. E. B. Dubois regarding her father Ira Aldridge (London, 1908).
Anita Desai, Bye-Bye, Blackbird (Delhi, Hind Pocket Books, 1971).
Buchi Emecheta, Head above Water (Oxford: Heinemann, 1994).
Buchi Emecheta, Second-Class Citizen (Oxford: Heinemann, 1994).
Carl Vaughan, From Jamaica with Love. I can’t find any publishing details for this as it doesn’t appear to be listed in the catalogues I checked. If anyone knows where this book might be available, please let me know. You can read about Vaughan in this article from the Clydebank Post.
Charlotte Williams, Sugar and Slate (Aberystwyth: Planet, 2002).
Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home (1937), new edition edited by Gene Andrew Jarrett (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007)
Colin Grant, Bageye at the Wheel: A 1970s Childhood in Suburbia (London: Vintage, 2013).
Darshan S. Tatla, ‘A passage to England: oral tradition and popular culture among early Punjabi settlers in Britain’, Oral History 30 (2002): 61-72, has information on early Punjabi poetry.
Doreen Lawrence with Margaret Busby, And Still I Rise (London: Faber & Faber, 2011).
Ernext Marke, In Troubled Waters: Memoirs of My Seventy Years in England (London: Karia, 1986).
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave (Boston, 1845)
Henry Box Brown, Narrative of the Life of the Box Brown (Manchester: Lee and Glynn, 1851).
Ignatius Sancho, Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho, an African. To which are prefixed, memoirs of his Life (London: J. Nichols, 1784).
Isaac Gordon, Going with the Work Is (London: Hackney Reading Centreprise, 1979)
Louise Shore, Pure Running: A Love Story (London: Hackney Reading Centreprise, c1982).
Martin Noble, Jamaica Airmen: A Black Airman in Britain 1943 and After (London: New Beacon, 1984).
Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave. Related by Herself (London: F. Westly and A. H. Davis, 1831).
Mary Seacole, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole (London: Blackwood, 1857).
Mulk Raj Anand, Conversations in Bloomsbury (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Nikesh Shukla, ed., The Good Immigrant (London: Unbound, 2017).
Nirad C. Chaudhuri, A Passage to England (London: Readers Union, 1960).
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African…Written by Himself (London, 1789), edited by Werner Sollors (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001).
Ottobah Cugoano, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Humbly Submitted to the Inhabitants of Great Britain (London, 1787).
Paul Stephenson and Lilleith Morrison, Memoirs of a Black Englishman (Bristol, Tangent books, 2011)
Pauline Wiltshire, Living and Winning (London: Centreprise, 1985)
Sarfraz Manzoor, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock ‘n’ Roll (London: Bloomsbury, 2007).
Sathnam Sanghera, The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton (London: Viking, 2012), also a wonderful TV adaptation.
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, Love in a Headscarf: Muslim Woman Seeks the One (London: Aurum, 2009).
Stuart Hall, Familiar Stranger: A Life between Two Islands (London: Allen Lane, 2017).
Suresh Singh, A Modest Living: Memoirs of a Cockney Sikh (London: Spitalfields Life Books, 2018).
Trilokya Nath Mukharji, A Visit to Europe (Calcutta: W. Newman, 1889).
The Motherland Calls: African Caribbean Experiences (London: Ethnic Communities Oral History Project, 1992).
Ursula Sharma, Rampal and his Family (London: Collins, 1971).
Zia Chaudhry, Just Your Average Muslim (Guildford, Surrey: Grosvenor House Publishing, 2013).
Semi-Autobiographical Novels, Fiction, Films and TV
Andrea Levy, Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994).
Andrea Levy, Small Island (2009). There’s also a wonderful TV series of this novel.
Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners (1959).
George Lamming, The Emigrants (1954).
Hanif Kureishi, My Son the Fanatic (1997), also adapted into a film.
Hanif Kureishi, The Black Album (1995).
Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), also a wonderful televised series.
Joan Riley, The Unbelonging (1985).
Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire (2017).
Meera Syal, Anita and Me (1996), also a film.
Monica Ali, Brick Lane (2003), also a film.
Nikesh Shukla, The One Who Wrote Destiny (2018).
R. Braithwaite, To Sir with Love (1959), also a wonderful film.
Sam Selvon, Lonely Londoners (1956).
Stephen Frears (director) and Hanif Kureishi (screenplay), My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). An extraordinary film.
Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000), also a brilliant televised series.
4 thoughts on “Memoirs from Black and South Asian Britons”
Bernardine Evarisro’s LARA is fantastic seniautobiographical fiction. Thanks for the list.
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Thank you for this list!
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Hi there… I ghosted Carl Vaughan’s book for him (he was my next door neighbour) and then he self-published it for distribution around his big network of friends and local organisations… the family get a reprint done wheneevr they need more. Finding this has reminded me that I really should speak to them about making it available online…
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Thank you so much. I think there would be huge interest in this so please do encourage them to consider this. In addition, they could donate copies to places such as the Black Cultural Archives if they haven’t already.