Alex Wheatle

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Alex Alphonso Wheatle MBE (3 January 1963) is an award-winning black British novelist of Jamaican heritage, sentenced to a term of imprisonment after the Brixton riots.

Biography[edit]

Born in 1963 to Jamaican parents,[1] Wheatle spent much of his childhood in a Shirley Oaks children's home. At 16 he was a founder member of the Crucial Rocker sound system; his DJ name was Yardman Irie. He wrote lyrics about everyday Brixton life. By 1980 Wheatle was living in a social services hostel in Brixton, South London, and he participated in the 1981 Brixton riots and aftermath. While serving his resulting sentence he read authors such as Chester Himes, Richard Wright, C. L. R. James and John Steinbeck. He claims that a Rastafarian was his cellmate, and he was the one who encouraged Wheatle to start reading books and care about his education.[2] He features bits of his life in his books, such as East of Acre Lane characters Yardman Irie and Jah Nelson.

Wheatle has since spoken about the Brixton riots, most prominently in the 2006 BBC programme Battle for Brixton.[3] His early books are based on his life in Brixton as a teenager and his time in social services' care.[4]

He received the London Arts Board New Writers Award in 1999 for his debut novel Brixton Rock,[5] which was later adapted for the stage and performed at the Young Vic in July 2010.[6]

He wrote and performed Uprising, a one-man play based on his own life at Tara Arts Studios, Wandsworth, London. In 2011 he took Uprising on tour and performed it at the Writing On The Wall Festival, Liverpool; Oxford Playhouse; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; Ilkley Playhouse and the Albany Theatre, Deptford.

Wheatle lives in London. He is a member of English PEN, and he now visits various institutions facilitating creative writing classes and making speeches. He has also narrated an audio guide to the streets of Brixton.

Awards and honours[edit]

In the Queen's Birthday Honours 2008, Wheatle was awarded the MBE for services to literature.[7]

His Young-adult novel Liccle Bit was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2016.

His 2016 book Crongton Knights won the 50th Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (previous winners include Ted Hughes, Philip Pullman, Mark Haddon and Jacqueline Wilson). S. F. Said, one of the judging panel, said of the book: "Wheatle’s writing is poetic, rhythmic and unique, remaking the English language with tremendous verve. Though Crongton is his invention, it resonates with many urban situations, not only in Britain but around the world. Crongton Knights is a major novel from a major voice in British children’s literature."[8][9]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Brixton Rock (Black Amber, 1999)
  • East of Acre Lane (Fourth Estate, 2001)
  • The Seven Sisters (Fourth Estate, 2002)
  • Checkers (with Mark Parham; X-Press, 2003)
  • Island Songs (Allison & Busby, 2005)
  • The Dirty South (Serpent's Tail, 2008)
  • Brenton Brown (Arcadia Books, 2011)
  • Liccle Bit (Atom Books, 2015)
  • Crongton Knights (Atom Books, 2016)
  • Straight Outta Crongton (Atom Books, 2017)

Wheatle's books have also been translated into French, Italian, Urdu, Welsh, and Japanese.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Susijn Agency.
  2. ^ Khaleeli, Homa (19 November 2016). "Alex Wheatle: 'I felt like the token black writer who talks about ghetto stuff'". The Guardian (Review section). London. p. 15. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  3. ^ Broadcast 10 April 2008 on BBC Two. See "Opposite sides of Brixton's front line", BBC News article.
  4. ^ Alex Wheatle - Interview with Myvillage.
  5. ^ Alex Wheatle - Biography British Council, Contemporary Writers
  6. ^ Brixton Rock, Talawa Theatre Company. Retrieved 12 August 2010.
  7. ^ Birthday Honours List 2008
  8. ^ Armitstead, Claire (17 November 2016). "Alex Wheatle wins 2016 Guardian children's fiction prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  9. ^ "Wheatle wins Guardian Children's Fiction Prize", The Bookseller, 18 November 2016.