Sathnam Sanghera on Wolverhampton
By Tessa Burwood
The award winning author on his success, and returning to his home city, which, he says, has "a curious charm".
Anyone reading interviews with Sathnam Sanghera, or the reviews of his recently published memoir, could be forgiven for thinking that his slightly unorthodox Black Country upbringing put him off the county for life, and that he would be loathe to darken Wolverhampton's doorway again.
This is far from the case, as he was keen to explain: "I feel bad about Wolverhampton because I was happy there, I go back loads now."
Wolverhampton city centre
Facing his critics
The Culture Show on BBC2 recently showed Sanghera's anonymous return to the city, as part of a book group discussing his memoir, If You Don’t Know Me by Now. Although readers were impressed by his work, they seemed less happy about his views on Wolverhampton. So how did it feel to sit incognito amongst a group of people pulling his memoirs apart, unaware that the subject of their debate was in the audience?
In a subsequent article for The Times, Sanghera's fears about facing the book group reveal that his emotional response to the city of his youth runs much deeper than a shallow criticism: "Given the intensely personal nature of the subject matter, I was concerned I might end up crying or punching individual book group critics in the face when the moment came to reveal my presence."
After all, few teenagers, when questioned, are particularly happy with their home soil during formative years, when almost everything is coloured by hormonal upheaval, changing relationships with parents and family, and a yearning for responsibility and autonomy in an urban landscape populated by adults who seem only to tell you not to do what you want.
Something resembling privacy
So how has his success affected him? It must be a surreal experience letting utter strangers into his life. "It's very strange to have readers. I spent a lot of time, after the book was completed, making sure my family were happy about what I revealed about them, but didn't really think about the stuff I said about myself. Now, when complete strangers write, expressing intimate knowledge of my life, it freaks me out sometimes - it's like finding yourself walking naked down a street."
A return to his roots
Over the years, as his priorities have changed, the city that triggered resentment in his youth is now much closer to his heart: "I feel much warmer about the place now, I didn't give it the benefit of the doubt."
Sanghera feels there is far more for young people to do in Wolverhampton these days, with more cafes and facilities. Things have improved, and his visit next month to the Alan Garner Centre will be a chance to show that the award winning author is proud of his roots.
last updated: 01/05/2008 at 15:06