A Bajan Children’s Laureate

Today I want to post about Malorie Blackman who was the UK Children’s Laureate from 2013-2015.

Malorie was born in Clapham and has Barbadian parents who were part of the so-called ‘Windrush Generation‘. She is the author of a number of bestselling books including the ‘Noughts and Crosses Series’ and ‘Cloud Busting’. She’s also a successful writer for television, penning several episodes of the popular teenage drama ‘Byker Grove’, and created a stage play which was performed in 2002 called ‘The Amazing Birthday’.

MalorieBlackman

Malorie did not become a published author until the age of 28. Before that she was working in the field of computing after abandoning her dream to be an English teacher because a school career’s adviser told her black people didn’t become teachers.

But Malorie kept up writing in her spare time and later on in life tried to get her work published. Despite a few setbacks and rejections (which are the norm for most novelists), Malorie’s stories for teenagers, which mix horror and science fiction, were finally accepted by an editor at Women’s Press.

In June 2013, Malorie gained further recognition when she was named the UK’s first black Children’s Laureate.

In an interview with The Guardian’s Susanna Rustin following her appointment, Malorie spoke about how she didn’t read a book featuring black characters until the age of 23.  She added: “I was very aware that I was not in the books I was reading. I still remember feeling I was totally invisible in the world of literature… Then I thought either I can whinge about it or try to do something about it”.

Malorie revealed that she started her well-known ‘Noughts and Crosses Series’, which focuses on the elite black ‘Crosses’ and the underclass white ‘Noughts’ who are former slaves, after watching a documentary about the high-profile racist killing of black British teenager Stephen Lawrence. The books enabled Malorie to explore some of the racism she experienced as a child growing up in south London as the child of Bajan immigrants.

She believes (as I do and have written about on this blog) that it is important for black people to write their own stories from their own unique perspectives. She also advocates taking a wide approach to history in schools to ensure that children are aware of the past from a multitude of points of view, so they see themselves in the people and places that they are learning about, and don’t feel as if the past is literally being whitewashed.

Malorie told The Guardian: “We need more books that are specifically about the BME [black and minority ethnic] British experience, and that’s why I bang the drum for getting more diverse books out there, and for getting rid of the idea that if a book contains pictures of a black or Asian child, it’s going to have a limited market.”

In my opinion, Malorie’s own rise from the child of Caribbean immigrants to accomplished author and the UK’s first black Children’s Laureate is worth teaching to children who may feel their story is not worth telling. Her success and perseverance are an example to follow and her writing is an important voice for the minority in the UK.

Further reading: The British Council

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A historic voyage of discovery

The history of black Caribbean people in the UK is long and varied, as I hope I have been demonstrating through the posts on this blog, but there will always be one event that is forever linked with our past in this country and that is the arrival of the Empire Windrush in June 1948.

On that ship were over 490 passengers from Jamaica and Trinidad which was the largest number of black Caribbean people to come to Britain at one time.

The people that arrived on the Windrush were brave, bold and enterprising and the others that followed shortly afterwards would undoubtedly thank them for taking that first step and showing the way.

My video montage posted below (with captions) charts the arrival of the Windrush and highlights some of the achievements of those on board as well as their descendants.

The Windrush voyage was history in the making and its arrival nearly 70 years ago shows how far Caribbean people have come.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (Lao Tzu)”.

References / further reading:

http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/empire-windrush-jamaica-sails-british-history

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/windrush_01.shtml

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/arrival-ss-empire-windrush

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item107829.html