Meet the female writers making the world of literature a more diverse, exciting and revolutionary place in 2019.
Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff : It’s impossible for things not to feel timely, in the wake of Brexit, Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, and of course the Windrush Scandal, but Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s book Mother Country could not be more necessary. Exploring both the immediate and long term effects of a perfect storm of political dishonesty, xenophobia and selective amnesia, it is an at-times uplifting, often-heartbreaking record of multiculturalism and mistreatment of the children of the Windrush Generation. With 22 stories from the likes of Lenny Henry, Corinne Bailey-Rae and David Lammy, the complexities of the British migrant experience are painted vividly across the book. “I was really passionate about telling the stories of Caribbean migrants who came to this country, but also disrupting and challenging some of the dominant narratives around that particular journey.” Describing her own role in collating and shaping these histories as that of a ‘vessel’, her ear and attention is palpable.One of the most affecting stories is that of Joy Gardner. It’s the chilling story of a mother who died in 1993 as a result of injuries sustained through violent arrest by UK police officers in front of her then five-year-old son. To make it worse, all officers involved in the incident were acquitted of charges. Another standout comes from Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, unpacking the more insidious effects of the hostile environment on the mental health of many. It’s no secret that unless change occurs, reflecting on the mistakes and patterns of the past, often serves as a warning or forecast for the future. The topics at the centre of Charlie’s book are both timeless and universal: raising questions of identity and belonging, justice and redemption.
Emma Dabiri : If there’s someone you want in your corner on the Twitter feed, when you’ve accidentally ended up in a heated debate with an influencer about why their “boxer braids”, adult-sized baby hairs and copious fake tan are not a good look, it’s Emma Dabiri. Taking multi-hyphenate culture to new levels, the author, presenter, academic, mother and former-model boasts an impressive academic background in African Studies and routinely uses her voice to ground today’s conversations about race and gender with socio-historical context.“I really don’t believe that information and knowledge should be kept within the Ivory Tower of academia,” Dabiri explains as we discuss the way in which political discussions seem to play out in the age of social media in response to current affairs and pop culture. Keeping our history accessible and current is also the inspiration for her upcoming book Don’t Touch My Hair. For black women, hair has been central to not just how we see beauty but also care for ourselves. In Don’t Touch My Hair Emma chronicles “the untold innovation in black hairstyling” as a blueprint for decolonisation, with the goal of equipping us with the hard evidence to dispel the dismissive sentiment often used to gaslight black women’s experiences today, that it is in fact, ‘just hair’. Born to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, Dabiri grew up as a young black girl in a starkly homogeneous ( read white) society in Dublin, where she says casually, “if people were trying to be polite, they would just refer to me as ‘the dark one’”. Afterwards, she went on to spend a lot of time in Atlanta and is now based in London. Navigating a range of communities since childhood, Emma is uniquely versed in the nuances of identity relations within a number of spaces, and her journey with identity and beauty reflects that. “The world communicates a message that beauty is of all importance”, freeing yourself of that for Emma looks like two things: firstly, rejecting the natural obsession with beauty and appearances as altogether unhealthy, and secondly, reprogramming exactly what and, importantly, who that definition extends to.