Caryl Phillips, born in St Kitts and brought up in Leeds, has written for television, radio, theatre, and cinema and is the author of three works of non-fiction and eight novels, including Crossing the River which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1993.
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and an Honorary Fellow of Queens College, Oxford University, among his literary prizes and awards Phillips has won the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Fellowship, and Britain’s oldest literary award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His novel A Distant Shore won the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize, and Dancing in the Dark won the 2006 Pen/Beyond the Margins Prize.
Much of his writing – both fiction and non-fiction – has focused on the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade and its consequences for the African Diaspora. The Final Passage (1985), his first novel – which won the Malcolm X Prize for Literature, is the story of a young woman who leaves her home in the Caribbean to start a new life with her husband and baby in 1950s London. His second novel, A State of Independence (1986), is set in the Caribbean and explores the islands’ growing dependency on America. Higher Ground (1989) consists of three narratives linking the lives of a West African slave, a member of the Black Panther movement and a Polish immigrant living in post-war Britain.
Cambridge (1991), his fourth novel, centres on the experiences of a young Englishwoman visiting her father’s plantation in the Caribbean and won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Crossing the River (1993) which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) and was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize, follows the separate stories of two brothers and a sister from slavery to a dislocated emancipation. The Nature of Blood (1997) draws parallels between the persecution of Jews in Europe and the black victims of slavery. His most recent novels are In the Falling Snow (2009), The Lost Child (2011), and A View of the Empire at Sunset (2018).
Caryl Phillips’ non-fiction includes a travel narrative, The European Tribe (1987), winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, and The Atlantic Sound (2000), an account of a journey he made to three hubs of the Atlantic slave trade: Liverpool, Elmina on the west coast of Ghana, and Charleston in the American South. In Colour Me English (2011), Phillips explores the notion of identity, how is constructed, thrust upon us, how we can change it.
Phillips is a writer who often appears most at home when he is away, journeying between places. Accordingly, he has remarked that he wishes to be ‘buried’ in the Atlantic, at the crossroads between Britain, Africa and the Caribbean.
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