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Crossing Over and Shifting the Shapes: Sam Selvon’s Londoners

  • Susheila Nasta


Although a sense of the need to migrate clearly affected early writers born in the Caribbean such as the Jamaican Claude McKay, who left in 1912 for the United States, and the Trinidadian C. L. R. James, who arrived in Britain during the 1930s, the period immediately following the Second World War was particularly important for the arrival in London of a number of talented young West Indian artists. As Henry Swanzy, the producer of the influential BBC Radio programme Caribbean Voices observed, London had become a ‘literary headquarters’, a place where writers from the various islands were meeting for the first time and attempted, paradoxically perhaps, to establish a firm West Indian cultural identity. Yet, as he also notes, the imaginations of these writers were not formed within the ‘grey world city’; their ‘mental furniture was strangely different’.5 The status of London as such has always been a point of controversy in the criticism of postwar Caribbean literature.


Private Identity Colonial Culture Discursive Field Middle Passage Imperial History 
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  1. 2.
    Derek Walcott, ‘The Muse of History’, in What the Twilight Says: Essays (London: Faber, 1998), p. 36; this essay was first published in 1974.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    Simon Gikandi, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. xii.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    Roy Porter, London: A Social History (London: Hamilton, 1994), p. 354.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    See H. Tajfel and J. Dawson, eds, Disappointed Guests: Essays by African, Asian and West Indian Students (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).Google Scholar
  5. 31.
    Donald Hinds, Journey to an Illusion: A Study of West Indian Migration (London: Heinemann, 1966), p. 4.Google Scholar
  6. 33.
    Andrew Salkey, Escape to an Autumn Pavement (London: Hutchinson, 1960), p. 46.Google Scholar
  7. 38.
    George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (London: Joseph, 1960), p. 158.Google Scholar

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© Susheila Nasta 2002

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  • Susheila Nasta

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