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  News about Britain
October 2003
The background to a story about Britain, with explanations and other sites to visit.

    Black history month 2003

Black history month is a celebration of the history and culture of ethnic communities across the UK. The idea, which has been recognised in the UK over ten years, began in the 1920's in the United States. Dr Carter Godwin Woodson, the son of slaves, was a historian who was not happy at the way in which African Americans were represented in history books. Education, he felt, determined the way people feel about themselves. When you control the way someone thinks you do not have to worry about their actions.

We've interviewed a successful writer who was born in Jamaica. Sonia Icilyn talks to us about her origins, her books - and the language she uses. You'll also find links to other sites.


Interview with Sonia Icilyn

Sonia Icilyn is a black British romance novelist who has sold over 50,000 copies of her work in the UK and the USA. In this interview with Remi Oduyemi she talks about her heritage, her work, the language she uses and the problems that black writers face in the UK.

Read the summaries of Sonia's answers then listen to the audio.

Her background

Sonia Icilyn is from Sheffield in the north of England. She is an established writer and novelist. In this part of the interview she talks about herself, what she does for a living and also gives out her web address for those who wish to learn more about her and her work.

In one of her earlier books she developed a character called Impy. Her intention was to teach children how to be safe around strangers. In her early 20's, after giving birth to her first child, she was able to get back into writing. Upon reading a romance novel she decided to write her own
, featuring black couples. Her aim was to challenge negative black stereotypes and to improve the image of black people the best she could.

Listen to the whole answer

Her heritage

Sonia's family background includes a mix of Jamaican, Jewish and Scottish. Many other black people also have a mixed family history. Coming from a mixed heritage has affected the way Sonia writes.

She talks passionately about feeling empowered to improve the black male image on behalf of her father and her brothers. The black male image is often portrayed in a negative way. By making a hero/heroine out of black characters in romance novels she hopes to change the negative imagery that society has of black people.

Listen to the whole answer


Why romance?

The global romance market is large and ever expanding. In such a vast area, black romance novels are very rare. Sonia wants to change that situation, as she believes that the romance area is a positive one in which to represent black people.

Listen to the whole answer

The language she uses

Sonia combines English with Patois in her writing. She sometimes uses Ebonics as well. Ebonics is African American Vernacular English (AAVE). For example: 'You peep nice in the hood' - means 'you look nice' or 'wha da dilly yo?' - means 'hello my friend'.

She talks passionately about Ebonics and gives an example of what it is and also talks about the black Diaspora.

Listen to the whole answer

Black writers face a challenge

There are a lot of limitations for black writers in the UK. Sonia talks about these limitations. She expresses a wish for publishers to take a more serious look at black writers in England and to support them to the full.

Listen to the whole answer


    The words

  romance novelist
a writer of love stories

customs or qualities passed down over many years within a family or social group.

to question or present a different view of something

fixed ideas about what a person is like

    mixed heritage
a family background of different cultures

  feeling empowered
having the power or right to do something

  negative imagery
unflattering representation
a spoken language or dialect used in small Caribbean islands

African American Vernacular English
an ethnic group of people outside their country of origin


Useful Links

BBC Multicultural History
Trace the experiences of communities worldwide.

BBC News
A BBC reporter posed as a trainee police opfficer to report on racism in the police force. The programme has led to the resignation of several officers.

Some Black History month 2003 events

BBC Birmingham
Kendra Haste is a sculptor who draws animals in galvanised wire.

BBC Liverpool
Black History events include a Food Feast.

BBC London
MAS-O-RAMA carnival arts organisation displayed some of their Notting Hill costumes.

BBC Norfolk
Award-winning novelist and 2002 UEA Writing Fellow, Bernadine Evaristo performed a reading at the Forum library in Norwich.

BBC Southern Counties
Did you know that the personal shampooist of George IV was an Indian surgeon who set up the first curry house in England?

BBC Suffolk
'Lion King' actor Sello Maake Ka-Ncube joins Equality advisor Jerome Mack and singer /songwriter Fayze and Owen Deacon in a major lecture.

BBC Tyne
England was once ruled by a Libyan - during the Roman occupation.

BBC Wales
There's a new organisation which aims to represent the interests and views of Black and Ethnic Minority Communities in Wales.

Non BBC Links

Sonia Icilyn's website

Ebonics library

(The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites)




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