Deirdre Osborne on The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945-2010)



you one of the ways in which I entered the field was actually during my PhD on Victorian women's literature I was deputy head of education at once worth prison and that was then quite a high-security prison and my students were primarily young black london-born men most had dyslexia many were victims of abuse many had drug addictions and so my literate literature classes were actually GCSE and also basic literacy and the only text they could study on GCSE about black experience was to kill a mockingbird so I thought back in the 90s hmm this seems to be a bit strange so I started to investigate who might be some black British writers and those who were born in Britain were actually the generation that was starting to publish people such as court in uhland and I got him into the prison to speak to the men because his book the scholar had just come out and then via the yoga teacher I got linton crazy Johnson into the prison and so we became quite a cultural unit and the first time that a GCSE text by a black British author was offered and all the men passed their GCSE so that was pretty wonderful and that sort of made me I suppose what you might say as a literary activist Fred de Gaulle calls me an activist scholar but I'm determined to decolonize the curricula from a firm canonical foundation and I'm hoping that this book embraces that kind of dynamic well this book does have the starting point of 1945 in the title but actually it's Reach is much further back not only in my introduction where I look at the tropes of blackness and representation that go back to medieval performance techniques and also the presence of afro Romano people in Britain long before Britain was actually an empire nation it was a Dominion of the Roman Empire and so social Anastos chapter also then in the twentieth century sets the course for how we might view post-war literature as it's divided up so the book is aiming to cover the sort of the inheritance as I suppose historically of how representations of blackness have occurred in Britain as it became from 1707 and also the way in which that surge of people coming into the country post Second World War forever changed the English language I suppose having been called a scholar activist I was really quite aware of the way in which the critical mass about this field that emerged very much from this sort of post 90s had quite tenuous footing in the institutions in Britain be those schools or universities and often the work is taught more outside Britain in universities than it is actually within British humanities and so I thought it was very important to have some formal marking of the whole field and as one of the important responses to decolonizing the curricula which is absolutely necessary to respond to generations who are asking for a diverse range of voices in literature and in the cultural exposure that they have at school and at university this kind of book I hope will respond to that and it's not definitive it's not exhaustive what it aims to do is to open up possibilities for further exploration members of the public or people in formal education hopefully will use it as a resource for that purpose writers whose provenance is from Africa and South Asia have had an immeasurable effect on Anglophone literature it's absolutely I'd say something that's refashioned the way in which we even conceive of the English language and its uses the imaginary landscape that can be drawn upon what we hear so the sound of various poetics whether it's formally in the theatre on stage whether it's spoken word whether it's on the airways whether it's in readings of prose these have taken away this expectation that was very much post-war if we're thinking of the period of the book but there would be a certain kind of English spoken publicly and these liberationist poets as are referred to in the book they started to challenge what might be the expectations of what can be heard publicly and that inheritance was then of course carried on right up until now and it's an absolutely extraordinary heritage for British writing and for British literature and it's actually something that the MA and black British literature that I co convene works on because we need to embrace that in terms of Education and what people are exposed to in literary culture I think it's a question that's very close to decolonizing literature in terms of how British black and Asian literature will define the future of literature as a tort subject and as a cultural happening I think too that the fact that the Edexcel exam board will be launching their new a level in English literature with the black British list followed by a British Asian list is going to mean that young people will be educated with that as an expectation and furthermore that teachers will also in a way be encouraged and if needed given some education in how they might access the work and teach it and so this companion will be a vital accompaniment I hope to that and so the future for British black and Asian literature is as with any body of literature that's coming out in Anglophone writing it's some bright I would hope

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