British author Andrea Levy was born on 7 March 1956 to Jamaican parents. Her father came to Britain on Empire Windrush in 1948, and her mother followed not long after. It is no surprise then, that Levy’s experience of growing up black in a country that was still predominately white is reflected in her novels which focus on the Windrush Generation, British Jamaicans and their experiences of racial, cultural and national identity.
Her first four novels explored black British-born children of Jamaican emigrants, their experiences and the issues they would face growing up in Britain. Her first novel, Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994) is semi-autobiographical and tells the story of a Jamaican family living in London during the 1960s. Her second novel, Never Far from Nowhere (1996) moves onto the experiences of the 1970s, telling the story of two sisters growing up living on a council estate in London. While her third novel, Fruit of the Lemon (1999) tells the story of Faith Jackson who travels to Jamaica to discover more about her family history.
Her fourth novel, is the award-winning Small Island which won the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004), the Whitbread Book of the Year (2004), and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – Overall Winner, Best Book (2005). Small Island explores the experiences of British-Jamaican immigrants from her father’s generation who came to Britain after serving in the RAF after World War Two. This novel from Levy was adapted for television in 2009 for a two-part series for the BBC starring Naomie Harris and Ruth Wilson as the female leads Hortense Roberts and Queenie Bligh, both trying to fulfil their dreams in a difficult balance between London and Jamaica.
Andrea Levy’s latest, and sadly final, novel goes further back in time to the end of slavery, The Long Song won the Walter Scott Prize and was also recently adapted for TV at the end of 2018, starring Hayley Atwell and Tamara Lawrence. Since The Long Song, Levy has also published a collection of short stories, Six Stories and an Essay and a short story, Uriah’s War which marked the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.
Unfortunately, Levy died from cancer aged just 62 on the 14th February 2019. Her publisher Headline told the BBC that it was “hugely saddened” by her death. While the spoken-word poet, Benjamin Zephaniah stated, “In the future if anybody wants to have a look at how the Windrush generation arrived here and how we the sons and daughters of the Windrush generation survived and are surviving, they have to refer to Andrea’s work.”