Diverse Histories

Writing West Midlands has teamed up with Speaking Volumes to collect stories from Birmingham residents who emigrated to the UK in the 1960s from across the Caribbean.

Working with a group of people in Handsworth over 4 weeks – who are in their 80s and 90s and none of whom are writers –  journalist, historian and award-winning author Colin Grant has encouraged the group to conduct their own interviews, talk about their memories and write their stories in whatever form they like. Writing West Midlands brought Sue Brown on board as a local writer and poet who would bring another dimension to the project.

The group have so far shared memories of food, recalling the smells from their grandparents’ kitchens, and the food they were surprised by when they arrived in the UK as children. They’ve brought in items of clothing that their parents and grandparents had, and talked about how important photographs were in keeping a link with family back home.

Colin says:

“Throughout my childhood, I always considered the Caribbean friends of my Jamaican parents to be remarkable story-tellers. They were frank, funny and often mischievous. But they also recalled, phlegmatically, how they took set backs and prejudicial knocks on the chin and passed on.

“Diverse Histories has been a chance for people who came to the UK from the 1940s onwards to reveal the back stories to their courageous adventures  – from the daring merchant seamen, front room preachers, the unofficial “pardner” bankers, and the all-weekend poker players, through to the Carnival Queens, seamstresses and midwives – all who brought a little bit of Caribbean spice to British life.

“Working with Sue Brown and Writing West Midlands, we found that the participants were generous and humorous in recounting their tales. They were informed, engaged and often, through artifacts such as old photos, letters and memorabilia, were able to access memories and stories that deserve a much wider audience.

“Sue and I also learned a lot and our own writing was renewed. Together with these new writers – many now in their 70s and 80s – we reaffirmed the truth once expressed by Chinua Achebe about the urgency of sharing our recollections: Until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”


Colin Grant is an author, historian, and Associate Fellow in the Centre for Caribbean Studies. His books include: Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey; and a group biography of the Wailers, I&I, The Natural Mystics. His memoir of growing up in a Caribbean family in 1970s Luton, Bageye at the Wheel, was shortlisted for the Pen/Ackerly Prize, 2013. Grant’s history of epilepsy, A Smell of Burning, was a Sunday Times Book of the Year 2016

As a producer for the BBC, Grant wrote and directed a number of radio drama documentaries including African Man of Letters: The Life of Ignatius Sancho; A Fountain of Tears: The Murder of Federico Garcia Lorca; and Wheel and Come Again: a History of Jamaica’s Reggae.

He is a regular tutor of creative writing for Arvon, Sierra Nevada College and City University, London.

Grant also writes for a number of newspapers and journals including the Guardian, GQ, Telegraph, TLS, Prospect, New York Review of Books and Granta.  Grant’s next book, Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation will be published by Jonathan Cape in 2019.

Sue Brown is a creative writer, workshop facilitator and performance poet.

Sue has been involved with various creative projects and cross art forms, which has included collaboration with musicians, theatre and radio as well as educational work, mainly within primary schools.

For more than fifteen years, Sue has freelanced with Writing West Midlands as a workshop facilitator and performance poet. Since 2001, Sue has been a member of one of Birmingham’s largest writers’ groups Writers Without Borders.