Grace Nichols has written books for both adults and children and has received several awards for her poetry including the Guyana Poetry Prize; The Commonwealth Poetry Prize and a Cholmondley Award. Her published books include; I Is A Long-Memoried Woman, The Fat Black Woman’s Poems, Sunris and Startling the Flying Fish all by Virago who also published her novel; Whole Of A Morning Sky. Her more recent collections are; Picasso, I Want My Face Back and I Have Crossed An Ocean both by Bloodaxe Books. She was poet-in-residence at the Tate Gallery, London, and is among the poets on the current GCSE syllabus. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2007. Her newest collection is The Insomnia Poems (Bloodaxe 2017).
Wide Sargasso Sea
A response and 'prequel' to Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's famous novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, has a special place in my memory. Herself a 'white creole' who grew up in Dominica, Jean Rhys gives a voice and history to the mad woman kept hidden in Rochester's attic. A deeply relevant novel of how literature can keep reinvesting and reinventing itself. Many a night when I couldn't sleep I would find myself reaching for the concise clarity and shadows of this book with its capturing of 'local West Indian speech' and the disquieting beauty and intensity of the landscape.
The Bronze Horseman
Alexander Pushkin (translated by D.M. Thomas)
If you don't know Alexander Pushkin, please read and fall in love with him, for he is the sweetest of writers, at once tender and exuberant, inventive and anarchistic, defying any easy categorization. Although Eugene Onegin is regarded as his masterpiece, I would like to recommend The Bronze Horseman, which contains both his lyric and longer narrative poems and dramas and which make use of Russian folklore. Pushkin, who had an African great grandfather, is frequently described as 'The father of Russian literature'. This collection includes The Gavriliad, regarded as blasphemous at the time.
In The Name Of Identity
Amin Maalouf (translated from French by Barbara Bray)
Amin Maalouf offers a clear compelling insight into the divisive dangers of religious, ethnic, and national identities, arguing that these identities often allow and encourage people to engage in horrific acts of violence. Maalouf was born in Lebonon and speaks Arabic but has been living in France for many years and writes in French and describes himself as a Christain. He suggests that we should be embracing our multiplicity rather than a single fixed identity. A thought-provoking book that's also very readable.
For her fearless honesty and lyrical musicality and for her understatedness and exploration of just about every human emotion (all of which we can access and recognise ourselves in) I recommend the English poet, Elizabeth Jennings, whose poetry for children (A Spell Of Words) I also love. Like any great poet, she illuminates the everyday and takes us beyond that place. Even when she's writing out of her own Catholicism, she manages to rise above religious dogma. Here are her concluding lines about Mary (Jesus' mother) in her poem, The Annunciation: It is a human child she loves/Though a god stirs beneath her breast/And great salvations grip her side.