Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis

Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis

Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis

Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis


London's histories of migration and settlement and the resulting diverse, hybrid communities have engendered new forms of social and cultural activity reflected in a wealth of novels, poems, films and songs. Postcolonial London explores the imaginative transformation of the city by African, Asian, Caribbean and South Pacific writers since the 1950s.John McLeod engages freshly with the work of both well-known and emergent writers, including Sam Selvon, Doris Lessing, V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Colin MacInnes, Bernardine Evaristo, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Fred D'Aguiar. In reading a select body of writing in its social contexts and exploring contrasting attitudes to London's diasporic transformation, he traces an exciting history of resistance to the prejudice and racism that have at least in part characterised the postcolonial city. Rewritings of London, he argues, bear witness to the determination, imagination and creativity of the city's migrants and their descendants.This is a superb study of the ways in which 'imperial centre' might be rewritten as postcolonial metropolis. It represents essential reading for those interested in British or postcolonial literature, or in theorisations of the city and metropolitan culture.


Locating postcolonial London

One afternoon, in May 1955, the anthropologist Sheila Patterson took a journey to Brixton in South London. Turning down a side-road away from the main shopping street, she was 'overcome with a sense of strangeness, almost of shock'. In the familiar environment of a South London street, she was surprised to find that 'almost everybody in sight had a coloured skin':

waiting near the employment exchange were about two dozen black men, most in the flimsy suits of exaggerated cut that, as I was later to learn, denoted their recent arrival. At least half of the exuberant infants playing outside the pre-fab day nursery were café noir or café au lait in colouring. And there were coloured men and women wherever I looked, shopping, strolling, or gossiping on the sunny street-corners with an animation that most Londoners lost long ago.


Patterson's shock at the London she sees emerging just off the main shopping thoroughfare, down an innocuous side-street, bears witness to a new London community in its interstices and hitherto neglected locations. Its transformative potential is adumbrated by the uses the newcomers make of urban space, liming Brixton's streets and turning the street-corners into sociable sites of community and communication that perhaps recall similar locations in Kingston, Bridgetown or Port of Spain. There is another London being created here, one which admits the times and places of overseas to the supposedly humdrum heart of the aged British Empire, creating a novel environment which also epitomizes the perpetually changing milieu of city living.

Yet some of the difficulties faced by these latest Londoners are suggested by the queue which has formed outside the employment exchange, and the fact that this neighbourhood seems enclosed by an imaginary border which

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