19 July, 2000
IC3 - The Collective Identity
A relatively new pool of writing
talent has emerged in Britain. Politics and prejudice, food
and fashion, music and men are just some of the themes found
in a new anthology of black British writing out this month.
Entitled IC3 - The Penguin Book of New Black Writing
in Britain, it is a mixture of poetry, short stories, essays
and memoirs reflecting the experiences of first, second and
third generations of black people living in Britain. Everywoman
discusses the collection with one of its editors, Kadija Sesay,
herself an established award-winning writer.
- The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain
is a slice of contemporary black culture in Britain, dissected
and examined by those who make up this culture. It takes a close
look at their dreams, hopes fantasies and desires. With contributions
from almost 100 writers from first to third generations, it
is a comprehensive celebration of black culture in the here
What Does IC3 Mean?
The title is a tongue-in-cheek reference
to the system of British police identity codes - IC1 is Caucasian;
1C2 Mediterranean; IC3 Black and IC4 refers to Asians. Baring
in mind how different people's backgrounds can be the authors
recognised the irony of using a collective identity to refer
to themselves. Author Kadija Sesay comments:
'You could say that some people are African, but then some
would say "I am Caribbean". You can't necessarily have Afro
Caribbean, as a lot of these terms are very political. We were
also conscious of the fact that none of these terms have been
picked by black people to call themselves. We knew that IC3
would be a very good debating point, it would open up discussion
and issues about what is British identity these days.'
The book embraces all aspects of written expression and is a
collection of essays, short stories, poetry and memoirs. Contributors
include Ferdinand Dennis, Ray Shell, Floella Benjamin, Linda
Bellos, Labi Siffre, Benjamin Zephaniah and Leone Ross. The
authors may come from different backgrounds, but each of them
has had specific experiences of being Black and being in Britain.
One contributor to the anthology is Vanessa Richards, a Canadian
writer currently living in Britain. Using poetry as a means
of expression, Richards has expressed her views on identity.
She explains why she feels this to be an important issue:
'I think that anybody who has to stop and consider what they
are doing on planet earth has to think about who they are, where
they are from and what their identity is within a family structure.
They also need to consider their identity within the culture
of their homeland and within the culture of the world at large.'
The anthology provides a comprehensive collection of writing
and is a useful chronicle, for future generations, of a distinctive
and changing culture. There was a time when British residents
from African descent were concerned with issues of immigration
and of settling in the motherland, today the issues covered
are broad ranging. From relationships, to politics and war a
variety of subjects are covered from different angles and are
categorsied in three sections: Settlers, Explorers and Crusaders.
The sections reflect both the writing style and content, as
much as the age of the writers.
One interesting aspect of the writing comes from those who really
see themselves as having a dual identity. As a black Canadian
currently residing in the UK, Richards perhaps has had more
opportunity to reflect and explore her own identity. She comments,
'As a Canadian I had often thought there was a very distinct
difference between myself and people from the US. When I came
to England, the black community felt similar to my own home
experience because it had a lot to do with the Caribbean. So
I felt more of an affinity here than in the US. After a while
I started to see that as a North American, there are particular
cultural waves, more than attitudes which actually brought me
a lot closer to my American neighbours than I had ever anticipated.'
Everyone Has An Identity
have met people from
who are almost musing with this idea of identity
Whilst Richards experience is very specific, the general issue
of identity affects everyone. The anthology may focus on black
issues, but whether black, Caucasian, Mediterranean or Asian,
each and everyone of us has an identity, which is subject to
our surroundings. This is a point that Richards is keen to reaffirm:
'I think that it not just people from African descent who
have these issues to consider and it's not just black folks
from the diaspora that have this consideration. I have met people
who are almost musing with this idea of identity from every
With an array of cultural identities to draw from, it is unlikely
that IC3 will be the only collection of expressive writing,
perhaps IC1, IC2 and IC4 will grace our shelves in the near
The Penguin Book Of New Black Writing In Britain
is edited by Courittia Newland and Kadija Sesay,
published by Hamish Hamilton, 2000.
A percentage of the royalties from the sale of this
book will be donated to The Sickle Cell Society
and The African and Caribbean Finance Forum.
Sesay is a writer and editor whose work in creative
arts has won her Cosmopolitan and Candace
Woman Of Achievement awards in addition to The
Voice Community Award for Literary Achievement.
Courttia Newland is the author of the acclaimed
novels The Scholar and Society Within,
and has recently adapted Euripides' The Women
Of Troy for the stage. He also writes screenplays
and short stories.