Authors, artists and activists

From Samuel Selvon’s Lonely Londoners to Andrea Levy’s Small Island; from calypso to the birth of Black British music; and the pioneering work of activists, journalists and teachers.

Explore how the experiences of migration and settling in the UK, alongside the political landscapes of the Caribbean and Britain, have led to new artistic expressions, cultural movements and waves of activism.

Illustration by Hannah Buckman

Back to My Own Country: An essay by Andrea Levy

Article by:
Andrea Levy

In this reflective essay, Andrea Levy delves deep into notions of racism and pinpoints events which compelled her to use writing as a tool to explore and understand her Caribbean heritage.

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(c) Richard Haughton, book cover from Levy's 2004 Small Island, two women walking past St Pauls

An introduction to Andrea Levy's Small Island

Article by:
Hannah Lowe

Andrea Levy's Small Island is a story of post-war Caribbean migration, narrated from four different perspectives. Hannah Lowe explores how the novel is intrinsically linked with Levy's own Caribbean ancestry, as well as how it has become more widely associated with the Windrush experience.

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Banner for Lonely Londoners article, showing illustrated book cover of three people

The Lonely Londoners: a new way of reading and writing the city

Article by:
Susheila Nasta

The Lonely Londoners is an iconic chronicle of post-war Caribbean migration to Britain. Susheila Nasta explores how Samuel Selvon created a new means of describing the city by giving voice to the early migrant experience and capturing the romance and disenchantment of London for its new citizens.

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Banner for Beryl Gilroy 'In Praise of Love and Children' article, showing manuscript drafts of the novel.

In Praise of Love and Children: Beryl Gilroy’s arrival story

Article by:
Sandra Courtman

Written in 1959 but not published until 1996, In Praise of Love and Children is a rare account of a woman’s experience of migration from the Caribbean. Sandra Courtman examines the challenges that Gilroy faced as a writer, before focussing on how her novel engages with memory, family and the traumatic legacies of slavery as its heroine establishes a new life in London.

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Banner for article about Beryl Gilroy's Black Teacher

Woman version: Beryl Gilroy's Black Teacher

Article by:
Sandra Courtman

Beryl Gilroy was a pioneering teacher and writer. Tracing the critical reception of Gilroy's unconventional autobiography, Sandra Courtman argues for Black Teacher to be read as literature that is part of a tradition of black women's writing as a survival strategy.

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To Sir With Love

An introduction to To Sir, With Love

Article by:
Caryl Phillips

Caryl Phillips introduces To Sir, With Love, E R Braithwaite's autobiographical novel about a Guyanese man who, shortly after the end of the Second World War, finds himself teaching in one of the worst schools in London's East End.

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Illustration by Hannah Buckman

Close readings of John Agard's ‘Checking Out Me History’, ‘Flag’ and ‘Half Caste’

Article by:
Daljit Nagra

John Agard's poetry has political complexities. Daljit Nagra delivers close readings of three of Agard's poems, analysing how each engages with questions of identity, nationhood and the brutal legacies of empire and enslavement.

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Banner image for James Berry article, showing notes made by Berry.

An introduction to James Berry's Windrush Songs

Article by:
Hannah Lowe

Windrush Songs was published in 2007, by which time James Berry had been living in England for close to 60 years. Hannah Lowe explores how Berry’s collection negotiates the symbol of the Empire Windrush and positions post-war migration within the legacies of slavery and colonialism.

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Windrush Stories homepage; photograph showing people arriving at London's Victoria Station from the Carribean via Southampton

Windrush Stories creative writing activities (primary students)

Article by:
Joanna Brown

Creative writing ideas and activities that draw on the histories, people and objects featured on Windrush Stories.

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Windrush Stories homepage; photograph showing people arriving at London's Victoria Station from the Carribean via Southampton

Windrush Stories creative writing activities (secondary students)

Article by:
Petonelle Archer

Creative writing ideas and activities that draw on the histories, people and objects featured on Windrush Stories

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Black British theatre: 1950–1979

Article by:
Natasha Bonnelame

Postwar migration to Britain from Africa and the Caribbean led to the development of black British theatre in the 1950s. Natasha Bonnelame introduces several of the most important black playwrights of the period, including Errol John and Wole Soyinka and describes the contexts in which their plays were staged.

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Banner image for article: 'An introduction to Moon on a Rainbow Shawl'. Crop of the front cover of the Lord Chamberlains Office script

Migration stories in Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

Article by:
Lynette Goddard

Set in Trinidad, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl centres on a group of characters contemplating migration or other ways of leaving their shared tenement yard. Lynette Goddard examines the play’s setting, offstage spaces and the contrasting ambitions and perspectives of men and women.

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Directing The Black Jacobins

Article by:
Yvonne Brewster

The Black Jacobins, by Trinidadian historian C L R James, tells the story of the Haitian Revolution. Director Yvonne Brewster recalls how her groundbreaking production of the play in 1986 contributed to the development of black British theatre.

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An introduction to C L R James’s 'The Black Jacobins'

An introduction to C L R James's The Black Jacobins

Article by:
Rachel Douglas

Rachel Douglas traces the evolution of C L R James’s ground breaking work on the Haitian Revolution, which developed in the form of articles, a published history and stage plays.

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Kitchener image, crop for Calypso article

Calypso and the birth of British black music

Article by:
Lloyd Bradley

Fashioned out of a collective Commonwealth-comes-to-Britain experience, London calypso was always more that just a Saturday night feelgood soundtrack. Lloyd Bradley explores how the genre embraced social commentary, biting satire and a stock-in-trade bawdiness.

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Banner image for Sound Systems showing group at Notting Hill carnival installing a sound system

Sound systems

Article by:
Lloyd Bradley

Imported from Jamaica in the 1950s, sound systems offered UK audiences an alternative music industry with a nighttime scene of blues parties, makeshift dancehalls and word-of-mouth clubs. Lloyd Bradley considers sound systems' DIY culture, entrepreneurial innovation, and sonically superb technology.

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Banner for article by Errol Lloyd, showing print work of Althea McNish

Caribbean Artists Movement (1966–1972)

Article by:
Errol Lloyd

The Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) was born with the aim of celebrating a sense of shared Caribbean ‘nationhood’, exchanging ideas and forging a new Caribbean aesthetic in the arts. Errol Lloyd, an artist and member of CAM, explores the Movement's origins, work and legacies. 

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Banner image showing A A Garvey at the Fifth Pan African Congress

Caribbean anti-colonial activists in Britain before World War Two

Article by:
Hakim Adi

At the turn of the 20th century, colonialism meant that colonial subjects did not have the right to determine their own future. Hakim Adi introduces us to Pan-Africanism and some of the key figures and organisations who campaigned against colonialism and racism before the outbreak of World War Two.

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Banner showing 5 men reading a newspaper in 1948

Hidden histories: Indenture to Windrush

Article by:
Maria del Pilar Kaladeen

Maria del Pilar Kaladeen's great-great-grandmother was one of thousands of migrants who left their homeland in India to work as indentured labourers on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. Here, she explores the ‘hidden history’ of indenture and the lives of Caribbean people of Indian heritage who migrated to Britain in the Windrush era.

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Front cover for The Groundings With My Brothers and a rights card produced by the North Kensington Police Monitoring Group

Get Up! Stand Up!

Article by:
Colin Prescod

With a focus on the struggles for Black communities in Britain from the 1960s to the 1980s, Colin Prescod speaks on anti-racist activism and concludes by asking us to evaluate 'our now'.

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Image is a collage from Mirza's personal collection

'The Golden Fleece': The Windrush quest for educational desire

Article by:
Heidi Safia Mirza

Can education be revolutionary? With a focus on the experiences and work of black and Caribbean women in Britain, Heidi Safia Mirza interweaves stories from her life, family and academic research to reflect on education and its potential for social change.

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Banner for Colin Prescod's article taken from Denis Williams illustrations

'Why are people always banging on about racism?': Reflections on Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land

Article by:
Colin Prescod

Colin Prescod, lead external advisor to Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land, discusses the exhibition’s narrative and the need to acknowledge racism and Black resistance at the centre of this history. Many of the objects within the exhibition can now be viewed on Windrush Stories.

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Further themes

Waves of history

Following Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of the Americas in the late 15th century European imperial powers transformed the Caribbean. Explore the history of the region, the legacies of enslavement and colonialism, and how Caribbean society has been deeply shaped by rebellion, resistance and ideas of freedom.

The arrivants

From the late 1940s to the early 1960s thousands of men, women and children left the Caribbean, by sea and by air, for Britain. They were encouraged by the 1948 British Nationality Act that granted citizenship and right of abode in the UK to all members of the British Empire. Why did people come? What did they leave behind? What did they find when they arrived, and how did they shape Britain?

Authors, artists and activists

From Samuel Selvon’s Lonely Londoners to Andrea Levy’s Small Island; from calypso to the birth of Black British music; and the pioneering work of activists, journalists and teachers. Explore how the experiences of migration and settling in the UK, alongside the political landscapes of the Caribbean and Britain, have led to new artistic expressions, cultural movements and waves of activism.

The Windrush generation scandal

Learn more about the Windrush generation scandal and the experiences of Caribbean-born British citizens who have been affected by the 2014 Immigration Act.