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Abstract

Six Stories & An Essay (2014), Andrea Levy’s only collection of short stories, opens up with the writer’s critical reflections on her hybrid identity, her family’s encounter with the Mother Land, their frustrated expectations of an improved life and the social ostracism they experienced on account of racist attitudes.

Levy’s hybrid identity, posed in an interstitial position with respect to her Jamaican and British cultural background —not fully an outsider yet not quite belonging to either category— is metaphorically signalled in the narrative by the presence of liminal, interstitial spaces placed at the margins of culture as well as by her choice of displaced, ex-centric subjects as narrators. Six Stories & An Essay Levy articulates an exploration —from a variety of angles and situations— of the survival strategies which British Jamaicans have historically used to “fit in” the metropolis and of the difficulties they most often encountered. The story here under examination, “Deborah”, figures prominently as the second narrative in the collection, and connects Levy’s personal experience with the collective history of the Jamaican diaspora. The narrative provides a reflection on the liminal position of the post-colonial subject by addressing how place, class and cultural identity crucially intervene in the making of both individual and collective identities as perceived by a first-person child-narrator.

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction
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Abstract

The adolescent in fiction is reminiscent of Homi Bhabha’s description of the colonial subject as a “partial presence” oscillating between what he really is and what others expect him to be (2003, 81–86). A case in point is Nadia, a diasporic adolescent in Leila Aboulela’s cycle of three short stories “The Tuesday Lunch”, “Make your Own way Home” (Coloured Lights, 2011) and “The Maze” (Elsewhere Home, 2018). The three short stories give fragmented insights into episodes crucial to the identity construction of Nadia, a second-generation immigrant, from the age of eight to her last year of high school. This chapter explores how Nadia, like other second-generation immigrants, embodies the image of the diasporic subject as a condition of “creatively disruptive impurity which imagines emergent transnational and post-ethnic identities and cultures” (Cheyette, 2013, P. xiii). Her journey depicts “a forfeiture of a well-defined cultural identity” (Alex Tickell, 235) thus opening for new applications of the term diaspora. The choice of this cycle is formally important because the motif of dislocation and fragmentation associated with the short story genre (Paul March-Russell, 2016) is amplified in the cycle of short stories. The glimpses into Nadia’s life in different spatio-temporal contexts, once inserted in a network of connected narratives, map in impressionistic brushstrokes an identity in progress, a diasporic subject negotiating cultural pressure, temptation, regret, incomprehension and desire in relation to conflicting codes, values and institutions. The genre is propitious to describing a young-adult experience insofar as it allows only hints but never resolutions, fleeting revelations without any conclusive outcome (Burgess, 1984).

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction

Abstract

‘Mixed’ is an ethnicity category used in the British census, with official subcategories including “White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White and Asian, Other Mixed”. The fact that this far from homogenous category has been identified as the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK has prompted much discussion recently, but the intricacies of the social status and histories of mixed heritage British citizens have long been the subject of academic and journalistic research, as the successful BBC series ‘Mixed Britannia’ (2011) proved. In literary terms, renown writers like Zadie Smith, Monica Ali or Jackie Kay have written stories about growing up in mixed families in varying contexts, and have dealt with the nuanced and unique experiences that are part of being British while not always entering, in other people’s minds, the imaginary of Britishness. This chapter will deal with writers from the crucial turn-of the-century generation but also with more contemporary stories, born from a Britain where dual and multiple heritage has seemingly been acknowledged and embraced, but where new forms of tension come to the fore. It will explore the manner in which the short stories, and the genre itself, enter into dialogue with mixed heritages.

Open Access
In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction

Abstract

Drawing on diaspora youth studies and recent theorisations on liminality in the short-story genre (Achilles & Bergmann, 2015), this essay seeks to examine the social and psychological anxieties affecting the teenage protagonists of two short stories set in contemporary Britain: “We Who?” by Nikesh Shukla and “Fortune Favours the Bold” by Yasmin Rahman, both published in A Change is Gonna Come (2017). This multi-authored collection testifies to a recent upsurge in the publication of identity-based anthologies in Britain, and it certainly stands out for containing more than one short story centred on mental health issues—a topic that is still taboo within many ethnic minority communities, and one that is largely unexplored within social research (Mirza, 2017). Albeit to different degrees, the two short stories under scrutiny here portray ethnic-minority teenagers that experience mental distress as a result of their liminal position in a British society riven by new cultural anxieties, the pre-Brexit debate in Shukla’s “We Who?” and the threat of terrorism in Rahman’s “Fortune Favours the Bold”. Confusing the boundaries between page and screen, the authors incorporate social media into the fabrics of the texts; and, in so doing, they glimpse at both the way adolescents make meaning of their identity positions and positionalities through the Internet, and the impact of social networking on the fragile subjectivity of their adolescent female protagonists.

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction
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Abstract

Since its development as a distinct literary genre in the 1950s, the black British short story has changed dramatically in theme and aesthetics. The shift from postcolonial to ‘postethnic’ subject matter has been accompanied by a shift from young to middle-aged and older characters. Whereas Dhondy’s stories from the late 1970s directly explore the ‘double liminality’ of postcolonial adolescence, there are only few contemporary stories that portray adolescent characters—Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” (1995) is certainly the most famous example. Against this background, this chapter discusses select stories by Zadie Smith that depict postcolonial adolescents/young-adult characters. I will trace the ways in which Smith links female adolescence with the feminist struggle against patriarchy and stereotypical gender roles, while the experiences of male adolescence range from an inclination towards Muslim fundamentalism to a dedication to the idea of a blissful and peaceful living together of diverse groups. Through an in-depth discussion of “I’m the Only One” (2000), I will show that Smith’s short stories playfully expose how problems of belonging and identity tend to be projected onto these adolescent/young-adult characters—frequently by white adult characters—but are not experienced by them. In so doing, Smith uses the short story form to subvert the expectations that postcolonial writing faces and articulate a more general critique against essentialist and exclusionary approaches to questions of identity and belonging.

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction

Abstract

In the context of globalisation, the term “multicultural” broadly refers to ongoing intersections and interactions among identity vectors stemming from differences in culture, language, gender, race, ethnicity, ability status, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, socioeconomic status, religion, spirituality, immigration status, education, and employment, among other variables. These dynamics are particularly intense in the case of so-called postcolonial, migrant or diasporic subjects whose sense of identity and psychic balance depend upon their ability to negotiate some or many of these heterogenous and sometimes conflicting multicultural interpellations. Adolescence is par excellence the liminal stage in an individual’s life cycle, located as it is in the transition between childhood and adulthood, thus exacerbating the identitary conflicts at work in interstitial multicultural subjects. This chapter draws on Erik H. Erikson’s developmental pattern of identity formation and his conception of adolescence as a “psychosocial moratorium”, the stage in which the subject experiments with social roles and positions (1980 [1959], 119). More recent approaches to diasporic adolescent subjectivity (Dwyer 2000; Werbner 2000; Bucholtz 2002; Durham 2004; Schachter 2005; Sneed, Schwartz and Cross 2006; Ferguson 2007; Van Meijl 2013; Lovel and White 2019) will serve to amplify Erikson’s theory beyond its Eurocentric bias to better deal with the particular identitary vicissitudes of the multicultural young characters of the short stories chosen for discussion: Hanif Kureishi’s “Touched” (2010 [2002]), Leila Aboulela “The Boy from the Kebab Shop” (2001) and Diriye Osman’s “Shoga” (2013).

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction

Abstract

British-Indian author Jamila Gavin’s reputation as “someone who could write authentically about different cultural backgrounds” was quickly established after she produced her first short story collection, The Magic Orange Tree, in 1979 with the intention of reflecting the British multicultural society in which her own children were growing (Eccleshare). In January 2019, forty years later, her volume Blackberry Blue and Other Fairy Tales (2013) has been selected by the children’s book magazine Books for Keeps as one of the to-date still few exceptions to the “shortage of quality literature featuring meaningful ethnic minority presence” for young readers (Serroukh 12). Although both are praised for their portrayal of bame (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) youths, Gavin’s collections belong to different short fiction genres and, as such, resort to different strategies to meaningfully introduce ethnicity and other identity issues. Through a revision of these two collections in connection also with other texts by the author, this paper will analyse and compare narrative strategies such as the configuration of fictional chronotopes, the functional role of paternal figures, or the politics of fantasy and gender, in order to elucidate how Gavin’s multicultural short stories contribute to outlining the diversity of cultures, traditions and social identities in which bame British children and youths navigate.

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction

Abstract

Roshi Fernando offers in Homesick (2012) a collection of seventeen interlinked short stories about a group of Sri Lankan immigrants in Britain, set at different points of time. The view of adolescents as a separate group is particularly revealing because it points to the special status of these characters that, being liminal in their condition of postcolonial subjects, are in themselves undergoing the liminal transition of adolescence. Understood as a rite of passage, adolescence emerges as a key phase for the forging of the adult identity, as it is reflected in the stories of Homesick that focus on adolescent characters: “Sophocles’ Chorus” and “Mumtaz Chaplin”. In this context, the aim of the present chapter is to examine the experience of postcolonial adolescence (from the female and male perspectives) in “Sophocles’ Chorus” and “Mumtaz Chaplin”, paying attention at the same time to the other narratives in Homesick that depict these characters in their adult lives. This analysis will address adolescence as a liminal transition in the wake of Victor Turner’s studies of liminality, while approaching identity as a multi-layered composite of different dimensions (including, among others, the psychological, the sexual, and the socio-cultural ones), whose development and intersection in the adolescent stage determine the formation of the adult self and its place in the social structure.

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction

Abstract

Youth and the postcolonial are united in that both inhabit a liminal locus where new ways of being in the world are rehearsed and struggle for recognition against the impositions of dominant power structures. Departing from this premise, the present volume focuses on the experience of postcolonial youngsters in contemporary Britain as rendered in fiction, thus envisioning the postcolonial as a site of fruitful and potentially transformative friction between different identitary variables or sociocultural interpellations. In so doing, this volume provides varied evidence of the ability of literature—and of the short story genre, in particular—to represent and swiftly respond to a rapidly changing world as well as to the new socio-cultural realities and conflicts affecting our current global order and the generations to come.

Open Access
In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction

Abstract

This chapter explores the formal qualities and patterns of twenty-first-century postcolonial children’s fiction about terror. It engages with children’s literature as an instrument of social change that offers powerful imaginative interventions into the new world orders following 9/11 and 7/7. Throughout, the focus is on British writing for the young that has variously explored terrorism’s effects, and which is read as providing fruitful instances of an aesthetics that confronts and thinks beyond terror events and their global repercussions. While this chapter remains committed to a critical reading attentive to the contexts from which these texts emerge, it also argues that an analysis of the formal characteristics of postcolonial terror writing for the young gives us a renewed appreciation of the value of such texts to grassroots, youth-led resistance, and of the possibilities that reside in the literary response to periods of crisis. The chapter offers new readings of a range of children’s novelists of the period, including Sita Brahmachari, Elizabeth Laird, Bali Rai, Alan Gibbons, and Nikesh Shukla, and considers the ways in which their writing about different modes of terror can convey both the experience of trauma and moments of resilience and recovery. These texts transport young people across different worlds, whether national, cultural, or cognitive, while constantly encouraging some critical reckoning in them as readers and travellers.

In: Postcolonial Youth in Contemporary British Fiction