Andrea Levy was born in London, England in 1956 to Jamaican parents. She is the author of five novels, each of which explore – from different perspectives – the problems faced by black British-born children of Jamaican emigrants. Her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994), is the story of a Jamaican family living in London in the 1960s. Her second, Never Far from Nowhere (1996), is set during the 1970s and tells the story of two very different sisters living on a London council estate.
In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black Londoner, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown and discovers a previously unknown personal history. Small Island (2004), set in 1948, explores the interaction between a black couple, Gilbert, a former RAF recruit, who has returned to Britain on the SS Windrush, and his Jamaican wife Hortense, and a white couple: Queenie, their landlady, and her recently demobbed husband, Bernard. It won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction, the 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year, and the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Small Island was adapted for BBC television and broadcast in 2009.
Her latest novel is The Long Song (2010), set in early 19th-century Jamaica, telling the story of July, a house slave. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In 2014 her collection Six Stories and an Essay was published by Tinder Press. It includes an essay where she talks about her Caribbean heritage and the motivation this has given her to write.
Andrea Levy has been a judge for the Saga Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She lives in north London.
Andrea Levy Full Biography and Profile
In 1948 Andrea Levy’s father sailed from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush ship and her mother joined him soon after. Andrea was born in London in 1956, growing up black in what was still a very white England. This experience has given her an complex perspective on the country of her birth.
Andrea Levy did not begin writing until she was in her mid-thirties. At that time there was little written about the black British experience in Britian. After attending writing workshops Levy began to write the novels that she, as a young woman, had always wanted to read – entertaining novels that reflect the experiences of black Britons, that look closely and perceptively at Britain and its changing population and at the intimacies that bind British history with that of the Caribbean.
In her first three novels she explored – from different perspectives – the problems faced by black British-born children of Jamaican emigrants. In her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994), the story is of a Jamaican family living in London in the 1960s.
Never Far from Nowhere (1996), her second, is set during the 1970s and tells the story of two very different sisters living on a London council estate. In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black woman, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown and discovers a previously unknown personal history
In her fourth novel Small Island Levy examines the experiences of those of her father’s generation who returned to Britain after being in the RAF during the Second World War. But more than just the story of the Jamaicans who came looking for a new life in the Mother Country, she explores the adjustments and problems faced by the English people whom those Jamaicans came to live amongst.
Immigration changes everyone’s lives and in Small Island Levy examines not only the conflicts of two cultures thrown together after a terrible war, but also the kindness and strength people can show to each other. The Second World War was a great catalyst that has led to the multi-cultural society Britain has become.
For Andrea Levy acknowledging the role played by all sides in this change is an important part of understanding the process so we can go on to create a better future together.
In her latest novel, The Long Song, Levy goes further back to the origins of that intimacy between Britain and the Caribbean. The book is set in early 19th century Jamaica during the last years of slavery and the period immediately after emmancipation. It is the story of July, a house slave on a sugar plantation named Amity.
The story is narrated by the character of July herself, now an old woman, looking back upon her eventful life.
Levy’s latest publication is Six Stories and an Essay, a collection of short stories that she has written over her career, along with an essay where she talks about her Caribbean heritage and the motivation this has given her to write.
Andrea Levy is a Londoner. She not only lives and works in the city she loves but has used London as the setting in many of her novels. She has been a recipient of an Arts Council Award and her second novel Never Far from Nowhere was long listed for the Orange Prize.
Small Island was the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Novel Award, the Whitbread Book of the Year award, the Orange Best of the Best, and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.
Her latest novel The Long Song was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, and was the winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Besides novels she has also written short stories that have been read on radio, published in newspapers and anthologised. She has been a judge for the Orange Prize for Fiction, Orange Futures and the Saga Prize.
- 2014: Six Stories and an Essay
- 2010: The Long Song
- 2004: Small Island
- 1999: Fruit of the Lemon
- 1996: Never Far from Nowhere
- 1994: Every Light in the House Burnin’
- 2011: Walter Scott Prize
- 2010: Man Booker Prize for Fiction
- 2005: British Book Awards Decibel Writer of the Year
- 2005: British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award
- 2005: Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book)
- 2005: Orange of Oranges Prize
- 2005: Romantic Novelists’ Association Award
- 2004: Orange Prize for Fiction
- 2004: Whitbread Book of the Year
- 2004: Whitbread Novel Award
- 1998: Arts Council Writers’ Award
In addition to winning several prizes, in 2007 Levy’s novel was the chosen text for the largest mass-read event ever held in the UK. Involving the distribution of 50,000 free copies of the novel to readers across the country (from Cornwall to Glasgow, Hull to Liverpool), Small Island was read in conjunction with the abolition of slavery commemorations in 2007. While some black British readers have expressed scepticism about the novel’s conspicuous success, others have claimed it a contemporary classic.
Most notably perhaps the respect poet and political activist Linton Kwesi Johnson has said ‘It is a work of great imaginative power which ranks alongside Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, George Lamming’s The Emigrants and Caryl Phillips’ The Final Passage in dealing with the experience of migration’.
Update 14 February 2019: Andrea Levy: Small Island and Long Song author dies aged 62
British author Andrea Levy, whose award-winning novels captured the black British experience in the years after Windrush, has died at the age of 62.
A statement released on behalf of her family said she died of cancer. Levy was born in 1956 to Jamaican parents who had travelled to England on the Empire Windrush in 1948.
Sir Lenny Henry, who played a slave in the BBC adaptation of her novel The Long Song, said he had “loved hanging out with this pugnacious woman”.
Levy was best known for Small Island, about two Jamaicans who came to England after World War Two, and The Long Song, her last novel. The 2010 novel was nominated for the Booker Prize and was adapted by BBC One last year.
Jane Morpeth, Levy’s editor at Headline, said she was “incredibly honoured to be Andrea’s publisher and to call her my friend”.
“Her legacy is unique, and her voice will be heard for generations to come,” she continued.
- Andrea Levy Biography and Profile (Andrea Levy / BBC / British Council)