Arguably THE chronicler of the Windrush generation Andrea Levy has died today at the age of just 62. Her death from cancer is a shame to the literary community, who were indebted to Levy for showcasing the generation of Jamaican and Caribbean citizens who uprooted themselves to move to Britain and the challenges they faced.
Her most renowned novel is probably Small Island, the story of interracial relationships and wartime hardships among the Jamaican Windrush community during the late 1940s. The novel was a bestseller, and as a result was later serialised on by the BBC.
The BBC also serialised her her novel Long Song, the only one of her books not set in post-war Britain, but instead showing the final years of slavery in Jamaica, written as a memoir by a woman who grew up on as a slave on sugar plantation.
Although these two books are renowned by readers thanks to their TV adaptations, Levy’s other novels, as well as her short stories and essays, gained her acclaim long before these two. Her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin’, and her second, Never Far from Nowhere are both coming-of-age tales that showcase the difficulty of growing up in an alien country that, at the time, despised immigrants at the same time as it courted them.
Levy’s rise to prominence within the literary market was remarkable, working first as a costume designer, the co-founding a graphic design company, before realising that, although black, Caribbean writers have some prominence in other countries, in Britain their stories were not being told. Considering how entwined the UK’s history is with colonialism, immigration and racial tension, the market, even to this very day, remains predominantly white and male, and as such Levy set out to change this by making her voice heard and putting across the stories of the Windrush generation.
Her powerful, evocative and engaging work quickly gained both critical and commercial praise, with readers and reviewers alike devouring her novels. There are so many messages, from overarching themes on race and historical racial abuse through to smaller, more human touches that spark joy or sadness.
As the literary community mourns, now is the time to read or reread Andrea Levy’s work and see how important her messages are even in today’s society, where many cultures and races still face their own unique fights to be recognised and supported. These amazing books set the scene for a whole new way of thinking, and the fact that Levy will never write another makes the work she did create all the more important.