Alex Wheatle

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Alex Wheatle

BornAlex Alphonso Wheatle
(1963-01-03) 3 January 1963 (age 61)
London, United Kingdom
Pen nameThe Brixton Bard
Alma materShirley Oaks Children's Home
Literary movementBlack British literature
Notable worksBrixton Rock (1999)
Crongton Knights (2016)
Cane Warriors (2020)
Notable awardsGuardian Children's Fiction Prize

Alex Alphonso Wheatle MBE (born 3 January 1963)[1] is a British novelist, who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment after the 1981 Brixton riot in London.[2]


Born in 1963 in London[3] to Jamaican parents,[4] Wheatle spent much of his childhood in a Shirley Oaks Children's Home. At the age of 16, he was a founding member of the Crucial Rocker sound system; his DJ name was Yardman Irie. He wrote lyrics about everyday life in Brixton, south London. By 1980, Wheatle was living in a social services hostel in Brixton, and he participated[clarification needed] in the 1981 Brixton riots and their aftermath. While serving his resulting sentence,[clarification needed] he read authors such as Chester Himes, Richard Wright, C. L. R. James and John Steinbeck. Wheatle's cellmate, a Rastafari, was the one who encouraged Wheatle to start reading books and care about his education.[5] He features aspects 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.[6] His early books are based on his life in Brixton as a teenager and his time in social services' care.[7]

He received the London Arts Board New Writers Award in 1999 for his debut novel Brixton Rock,[8] which was later adapted for the stage and performed at the Young Vic in July 2010.[9]

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, the Oxford Playhouse, the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, the Ilkley Playhouse and the Albany Theatre, Deptford.[citation needed] The play re-toured theatres and literature festivals in 2012, marking the 50th year of Jamaican Independence.[10]

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.[11]

Awards and honours[edit]

In the Queen's Birthday Honours 2008, Wheatle was awarded the MBE for services to literature.[12]

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. 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."[13][14]

Wheatle's life story features in Alex Wheatle, the fourth film in Small Axe, a 2020 anthology of five films by Steve McQueen about the West Indian community in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s. Alex Wheatle depicts Wheatle's life up to and just after the Brixton uprising.[15][16][17]

In March 2024 the Arbeitskreis für Jugendliteratur, the German national section of IBBY, nominated Cane Warriors in the category Jugendbuch for the 2024 Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis.


  • 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)
  • Uprising (Spck Books, 2017)
  • Nicolas Cage (Barrington Stoke, 2018)
  • Home Boys (Arcadia Books, 2018)
  • Home Girl (Little Brown, Akashic, Hachette UK, 2019)
  • Cane Warriors (Andersen Press, 2020)
  • Cringel (Pringles, 2020)
  • Kemosha of the Caribbean (Andersen Press, 2022)

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


  1. ^ "About". Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  2. ^ Wheatle, Alex (29 December 2021). "I felt so alone and rejected – until my prison cellmate taught me about belonging". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  3. ^ "Alex Wheatle". British Council. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Alex Wheatle". The Susijn Agency.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Opposite sides of Brixton's front line". Broadcast on BBC Two. BBC News. 10 April 2008.
  7. ^ "Alex Wheatle". Interview with Myvillage. Archived from the original on 14 September 2012.
  8. ^ "Alex Wheatle - Biography". British Council, Contemporary Writers.
  9. ^ "Brixton Rock". Talawa Theatre Company. Retrieved 12 August 2010.[dead link]
  10. ^ "Touring Literature Festivals & Theatres in 2012 marking the 50th year of Jamaican Independence". Uprising (2011 & 2012). Retrieved 9 December 2020.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "London – Brixton with Novelist Alex Wheatle". GuidiGo. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  12. ^ "Birthday Honours List 2008". Archived from the original on 23 July 2008. Retrieved 11 August 2008.
  13. ^ Armitstead, Claire (17 November 2016). "Alex Wheatle wins 2016 Guardian children's fiction prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  14. ^ "Wheatle wins Guardian Children's Fiction Prize". The Bookseller. 18 November 2016.
  15. ^ Famurewa, Jimi (5 December 2020). "Alex Wheatle: 'I have nightmarish moments where my past comes back and hits me'". The Guardian.
  16. ^ "Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (TV)". FilmAffinity. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  17. ^ Leigh, Danny (2 December 2020). "Small Axe: Alex Wheatle — a hymn to south London's West Indian links". Financial Times.

External links[edit]