Andrea Levy (born 7 March 1956) is an English author, born in London to Jamaican parents who sailed to England on the Empire Windrush in 1948. Levy's novels frequently engage topics related to Jamaican diaspora peoples in England and the ways in which they negotiate racial, cultural, and national identities.
Identity and background
Growing up on a council estate in Highbury, London, "she ate a lot of sweets, watched a lot of soap operas and 'lived the life of an ordinary London working-class girl'." In her mid-twenties she did work for a social institution that included dealing with racist attacks. She also worked part-time in the BBC costume department, while starting a graphic design company with her husband Bill Mayblin. During this time she experienced a form of awakening to her identity concerning both her gender and her race. She also became aware of the power of books and began to read "excessively": it was easy enough to find literature by black writers from the United States, but she could find very little literature from black writers in the United Kingdom.
Writings and critical reception
When in 1994 Levy's first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin′, was published, it attracted favourable reviews. The Independent on Sunday stated: "This story of a young girl in the 60s in north London, child of Jamaican migrants, stands comparison with some of the best stories about growing up poor – humorous and moving, unflinching and without sentiment." Levy has spoken of the year of rejections that followed that first novel's publication: "Publishers have a herd mentality. They were worried that I'd be read only by black people.... Apart from African-American writers and Yardie, there was nothing to show I'd sell.... No one had been really successful as a black British writer writing about everyday things."
Levy's second novel, Never Far from Nowhere is a coming-of-age story about two sisters of Jamaican parentage growing up in London in the 1960s and '70s. The novel is narrated from the perspectives of Vivien and Olive and chronicles their difficulties living in '70s England. The narrative focuses specifically on the physical differences between the sisters in terms of skin color, eye color, and hair type, that causes them to be treated differently by British people and the ways in which they negotiate and constitute racial and national identities. The novel was longlisted for the Orange Prize. After its publication, Levy visited Jamaica for the first time and what she learned of her family's past provided material for her next book.
Fruit of the Lemon, set in England and Jamaica in the Thatcher era, "explores the notion of home, and how it differs for the formerly colonized and their descendants," as the New York Times noted: "Though Levy writes specifically about black Jamaican Britons and their struggles to be acknowledged as full members of the larger society, her novel illuminates the general situation facing all children of postcolonial immigrants across the West, from the banlieue of France to the Islamic neighborhoods of New York to the Hispanic ghettos of Los Angeles."
Levy's fourth novel, Small Island (2004), put her in a new major literary league. As Mike Phillips wrote in The Guardian: "Small Island is a great read, delivering the sort of pleasure which has been the traditional stock-in-trade of a long line of English novelists. It's honest, skilful, thoughtful and important. This is Andrea Levy's big book." It won three prestigious awards: Whitbread Book of the Year, the Orange Prize for Fiction, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. The novel has since been made into a television drama that was broadcast by the BBC in December 2009.
Levy's fifth novel, The Long Song, won the 2011 Walter Scott Prize and was short-listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. The Telegraph called it a "sensational novel... [that] tells the life story of July, a slave girl living on a sugar plantation in 1830s Jamaica just as emancipation is juddering into action." Kate Kellaway in The Observer commented: "The Long Song reads with the sort of ebullient effortlessness that can only be won by hard work." The Washington Post reviewer, calling it "insightful and inspired", went on to say of Levy's work: "The Long Song" reminds us that she is one of the best historical novelists of her generation."
- 2004: Orange Prize for Fiction, winner, Small Island
- 2004: Whitbread Book of the Year, winner, Small Island
- 2005: Commonwealth Writers Prize, winner, Small Island
- 2010: Man Booker Prize, shortlist, The Long Song
- 2011: Walter Scott Prize, winner, The Long Song
- Every Light in the House Burnin′ (1994)
- Never Far from Nowhere (1996)
- Fruit of the Lemon (1999)
- Small Island (2004)
- The Long Song (2010)
- Six Stories and an Essay (2014). Tinder Press, ISBN 978 1 4722 2267 1
- "Birthdays", The Guardian, 7 March 2014: 39.
- Levy, Andrea (19 February 2000), "This is my England", The Guardian.
- Gary Younge (30 January 2010), "'I started to realise what fiction could be. And I thought, wow! You can take on the world' - Andrea Levy interview", The Guardian.
- Ruth Scurr, "Andrea Levy’s islands", The Times Literary Supplement, 4 December 2014.
- Raekha Prasad, "Two sides to every story", The Guardian, 4 March 1999.
- Interview with Andrea Levy, City Lit, 30 July 2010.
- "Lazy days of summer reading", Independent on Sunday, 2 July 1995.
- George Stade & Karen Karbiener (eds), Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to the Present, Volume 2, NY: Facts on File, 2009, p. 297.
- Uzodinma Iweala, "Colonial Castoff", The New York Times, 11 February 2007.
- Lisa Allardice, The Guardian profile: Andrea Levy, 21 January 2005.
- Mike Phillips, "Roots manoeuvre", The Guardian, 14 February 2004.
- "Welcome to my website", Andrea Levy. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- Alison Flood. "Andrea Levy wins Walter Scott prize", The Guardian, 20 June 2011.
- "The Long Song", The Man Booker Prizes.
- Holly Kyte, "The Long Song by Andrea Levy: review", The Telegraph, 27 January 2010.
- Kate Kellaway, "The Long Song by Andrea Levy", The Observer, 7 February 2010.
- Tayari Jones, "Book review: 'The Long Song,' by Andrea Levy", Washington Post, 8 May 2010.
- Chris Dolan, "Andrea Levy: Six Stories And An Essay (Tinder Press)" (review), Herald Scotland, 15 November 2014.
- Katy Guest, "Six Stories & an Essay by Andrea Levy: This is a slight collection, but full of important insights", The Independent, 22 November 2014.
- Andrea Levy, official website
- Andrea Levy at British Council: Literature
- Interview with Andrea Levy, City Lit, 30 July 2010.
- Interview by Gary Younge: "I started to realise what fiction could be. And I thought, wow! You can take on the world", The Guardian, 30 January 2010.
- Bonnie Greer, "Empire's child", The Guardian, 31 January 2004.
- Nicola Barranger, "Andrea Levy – Addressing the Question of Slavery" (interview), NewBooks Magazine.