Caryl Phillips

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Caryl Phillips
Born (1958-03-13) 13 March 1958 (age 65)
St. Kitts
OccupationNovelist, playwright, essayist
Alma materQueen's College, Oxford University
Notable worksThe Final Passage (1985), Crossing the River (1993), Dancing in the Dark (2005)
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize (1994)
Commonwealth Writers' Prize (2003, 2006)

Caryl Phillips (born 13 March 1958) is a Kittitian-British novelist, playwright and essayist. Best known for his novels (for which he has won multiple awards), Phillips is often described as a Black Atlantic writer, since much of his fictional output is defined by its interest in, and searching exploration of, the experiences of peoples of the African diaspora in England, the Caribbean and the United States.[1][2][3] As well as writing, Phillips has worked as an academic at numerous institutions including Amherst College, Barnard College, and Yale University, where he has held the position of Professor of English since 2005.[4][5]


Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts to Malcolm and Lillian Phillips on 13 March 1958.[1][4] When he was four months old, his family moved to England and settled in Leeds, Yorkshire.[1][6] In 1976, Phillips won a place at Queen's College, Oxford University, where he read English, graduating in 1979.[1][7] While at Oxford, he directed numerous plays and spent his summers working as a stagehand at the Edinburgh Festival.[1] On graduating, he moved to Edinburgh, where he lived for a year, on the dole, while writing his first play, Strange Fruit (1980), which was taken up and produced by the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.[1][8][9] Phillips subsequently moved to London, where he wrote two more plays – Where There is Darkness (1982) and Shelter (1983) – that were staged at the Lyric Hammersmith.[1]

At the age of 22, he visited St. Kitts for the first time since his family had left the island in 1958.[10] The journey provided the inspiration for his first novel, The Final Passage, which was published five years later.[1][11] After publishing his second book, A State of Independence (1986), Phillips went on a one-month journey around Europe, which resulted in his 1987 collection of essays The European Tribe.[12] During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Phillips divided his time between England and St. Kitts while working on his novels Higher Ground (1989) and Cambridge (1991).[13] At that time, Phillips was a member of the Black Bristol Writers Group, which helped to foster his creative writing.[14]

In 1990, Phillips took up a Visiting Writer post at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He remained at Amherst College for a further eight years, becoming the youngest English tenured professor in the US when he was promoted to that position in 1995.[1] During this time, he wrote what is perhaps his best-known novel, Crossing the River (1993), which won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.[15] After taking up the position at Amherst, Phillips found himself doing "a sort of triangular thing" for a number of years, residing between England, St Kitts, and the U.S.[16]

Finding this way of living both "incredibly exhausting" and "prohibitively expensive", Phillips ultimately decided to give up his residence in St. Kitts, though he says he still makes regular visits to the island.[16] In 1998, he joined Barnard College, Columbia University, as the Henry R. Luce Professor of Migration and Social Order.[7] In 2005 he moved to Yale University, where he currently works as Professor of English.[5] He was made an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2000, and an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2011.[17]

Works and critical reception[edit]

Phillips has tackled themes on the African slave trade from many angles, and his writing is concerned with issues of "origins, belongings and exclusion", as noted by a reviewer of his 2015 novel The Lost Child.[18] The Atlantic Sound has been compared to the travel writing in Looking for Transwonderland, by Nigerian writer Noo Saro-Wiwa.[19]

Phillips's work has been recognised by numerous awards, including the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the 1993 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Crossing the River and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book award for A Distant Shore.[citation needed]

Phillips received the PEN/Beyond Margins Award for Dancing in the Dark in 2006.[citation needed]


Caryl Philips unveiling a Leeds Civic Trust Blue Plaque to David Oluwale, 25 April 2022

Phillips is the patron of the David Oluwale Memorial Association, which works to promote the memory of the death of David Oluwale, a Nigerian man in Leeds who was persecuted to death by the police.[20] On 25 April 2022 Phillips unveiled a Leeds Civic Trust blue plaque commemorating Oluwale's death, which was torn down hours later.[21]



  • The Final Passage (Faber and Faber, 1985, ISBN 978-0571134373; Picador, 1995, paperback ISBN 978-0571134373)
  • A State of Independence (Faber and Faber, 1986, ISBN 978-0571139101; paperback ISBN 978-0571196791)
  • Higher Ground: A Novel in Three Parts (Viking, 1989, ISBN 978-0670826209)
  • Cambridge (Bloomsbury, 1991; Vintage, 2008, paperback ISBN 978-0099520566)
  • Crossing the River (Bloomsbury, 1993, ISBN 978-0747514978)
  • The Nature of Blood (1997; Vintage, 2008, paperback ISBN 978-0099520573)
  • A Distant Shore (Secker, 2003, hardback ISBN 978-0436205644; Vintage, 2004, paperback ISBN 978-0099428886)
  • Dancing in the Dark (Secker, 2005, ISBN 978-0436205835)
  • Foreigners: Three English Lives (Harvill Secker, 2007, ISBN 978-0436205972)
  • In the Falling Snow (Harvill Secker, 2009, hardback ISBN 978-1846553066; Vintage, 2010, paperback ISBN 978-0099539742)
  • The Lost Child (Oneworld Publications, 2015, ISBN 978-1780746999 hardback, 978-1780747989 paperback)
  • A View of the Empire at Sunset: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018, hardback, ISBN 978-0374283612)

Essay collections[edit]

As editor[edit]

  • Extravagant Strangers: A Literature of Belonging (Faber and Faber, 1997, ISBN 978-0571190867)





  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jaggi 2001.
  2. ^ Low 1998.
  3. ^ Bewes 2006.
  4. ^ a b Sethi 2009.
  5. ^ a b Phillips 2005–2010.
  6. ^ Metcalfe 2010.
  7. ^ a b British Council.
  8. ^ Phillips 2010.
  9. ^ Bell 1991, pp. 585–586.
  10. ^ Eckstein 2001.
  11. ^ Swift 1992.
  12. ^ Bell 1991, pp. 558–559.
  13. ^ Phillips 1995, p. 156.
  14. ^ Tempestoso, Carla (16 July 2020). "Silences that Ride the Air: Soundscaping Slavery in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River". Linguæ & - Rivista di lingue e culture moderne. 19 (1): 119–131. doi:10.7358/ling-2020-001-temp. ISSN 1724-8698.
  15. ^ Booker Prize Foundation.
  16. ^ a b Phillips 1995.
  17. ^ Phillips 2005–2010b.
  18. ^ Woodward, Gerard, "The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips, book review: Wuthering Heights relived in post-war Britain", The Independent, 26 March 2015.
  19. ^ Hållén, Nickla S. (1 January 2017). Travel Writing and the Representation of Concurrent Worlds: Caryl Phillips' The Atlantic Sound and Noo Saro–Wiwa's Looking for Transwonderland. Brill. pp. 59–76. doi:10.1163/9789004347601_004. ISBN 978-90-04-34760-1.
  20. ^ "David Oluwale: Blue bridge plaque theft treated as hate crime". BBC News. 26 April 2022. Retrieved 29 April 2022.
  21. ^ "Memorial to police racism victim stolen hours after unveiling". ITV News. 26 April 2022. Retrieved 29 April 2022.
  22. ^ "A Kind of Home: James Baldwin in Paris", Friday play, BBC Radio 4.
  23. ^ "Hotel Cristobel", Drama on 3, BBC Radio 3.
  24. ^ "A Long Way from Home", Drama on 3, BBC Radio 3.
  25. ^ "A Long Way from Home, by Caryl Phillips", Drama on 3, BBC .
  26. ^ Leadbetter, Russell (21 October 2012). "Book prize names six of the best in search for winner". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  27. ^ "Authors in running for 'best of best' James Tait Black award". BBC News. 21 October 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2012.


Further reading[edit]

  • Charras, Françoise, "De-Centering the Center: George Lamming's Natives of My Person (1972) and Caryl Phillips's Cambridge (1991)", in Maria Diedrich, Carl Pedersen and Justine Tally (eds), Mapping African America: History, Narrative Form and the Production of Knowledge. Hamburg: LIT, 1999, pp. 61–78.
  • Joannou, Maroula. "'Go West, Old Woman': The Radical Re-Visioning of Slave History in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River", in Brycchan Carey and Peter J. Kitson (eds), Slavery and the Cultures of Abolition: Essays Marking the Bicentennial of the British Abolition Act of 1807. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2007.
  • Ledent, Bénédicte. Caryl Phillips. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
  • Muñoz-Valdivieso, Sofia, "'Amazing Grace': The Ghosts of Newton, Equiano and Barber in Caryl Phillips's Fiction"[permanent dead link], Afroeuropa 2, 1 (2008).
  • O'Callaghan, Evelyn. "Historical Fiction and Fictional History: Caryl Phillips's Cambridge", Journal of Commonwealth Literature 29.2 (1993): 34–47.

External links[edit]