IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain, edited by Courttia Newland and Kadija Sesay

('The Times')
2000

Your reaction to this collection will depend, I think, on which notion of writing you hold dearer: a ‘high’ view of writing as a discipline that demands a certain rigorous combination of intellectual and literary skills to be found only amongst a few, or an attitude to writing that sees it as something more akin to a community resource, a tool to be used by the many, whose value lies as much in its documentary and therapeutic worth as it does in the intrinsic quality of the work in question. If your bent is towards the former, then I fear this collection may disappoint....

As a record , and as an addition to the ahem, national conversation, it works quite well. There is little from the regions, but many of the commonly struck notes of black chat - the struggle to find a comfort zone amid mixed cultural identities, the sense of being second-class citizens – are heard here, as well as less widely known aspects of the black familiar: how black bouncers are often employed on a keep blacks-out basis and, in Linda Bellos’ excellent essay on Age, the sad consequences that spring from the absence of grandparents, ‘wise elders’, in most black lives here. While pieces such as Kechi Nwajiaku’s, who notes how ‘black’ is a term that has little currency outside of white parts of the world, and who rejects the ‘black-British’ label for herself because of its working-class connotations – will bring some awareness of nuance to those who mainly see monolith.

Unfortunately, these matters are sometimes in the hands of correspondents not fully equipped to illuminate them. Much of the work feels slight and stronger editorial steers at the top of the fairly arbitrary-seming sections would have given the whole greater weight....
 


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