The Literary Legacies of Black Britain and Black Canada: A Comparative Reading of the Early Works of Andrea Levy and Austin Clarke
Keywords:Andrea Levy, Austin Clarke, social citizenship, nationhood, anti-black racism
This essay offers a comparative, transnational, reading of Andrea Levy’s first two novels (Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994) and Never Far From Nowhere (1996)), and Austin Clarke’s Toronto Trilogy (The Meeting Point (1967), Storm of Fortune (1973), and The Bigger Light (1975)). These early works bear striking similarities, and are also notably different from those of the Windrush Generation, the first wave of Caribbean writers such as George Lamming and Samuel Selvon, publishing in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. While the Windrush writers framed themselves and their works as articulating a Caribbean consciousness, both Levy’s and Clarke’s early works demonstrate a profound interest in exploring Britain and Canada, the spaces in which they are set and from which they write. Levy and Clarke display a similar literary commitment to negotiating a place for blackness in nations that are, in the 1960s and 1970s, actively hostile to non-white presences. Their early novels indict and hold their respective nations accountable for the ways they marginalize the Black immigrants and their descendants who are, or will become, their legal if not their social citizens. The essay also examines the various literary traditions in which Levy and Clarke are – or are not – positioned, and the ways they position themselves vis-à-vis their respective nations.