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Leading black writers celebrate iconic novel

ACCLAIMED: Courttia Newland

LEADING BLACK writers will celebrate the 21st anniversary of award-winning novelist Courttia Newland's acclaimed debut novel The Scholar: A West Side Story at Libreria, London, on Thursday 25 January 2018.

Organised by creative communications agency Words of Colour Productions with award-winning YA fiction writer Alex Wheatle MBE, the co-curated event will also feature poet and performer Zena Edwards (The Fury Project, Security), author Stephen Thompson (Toy Soldiers, No More Heroes) and Betty Trask Award winner Irenosen Okojie (Butterfly Fish, Speak Gigantular).

Described by The Times as “being able to reflect Britain from a distinctive and unsentimental perspective” with The Guardian comparing Newland to Irvine Welsh for “creating a new literary language”, The Scholar has been quoted as an important influence by a range of artists, including Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum), Ashley Walters (Top Boy), Noel Clarke (Adulthood), Inua Ellams (Barbershop Chronicles), Teresa Ikoko (Girls) and grime pioneer Wiley.

Courttia Newland, who has written seven works of fiction, said of The Scholar: "I attempted to tell a tale of two essentially good youths with the potential to become great contributors to society, thrown off course by the influences of their peers, their poverty stricken environment, and most importantly, by their own actions. I also wanted kids to see how street life can seem glamorous from afar but is dirty and painful when seen close up."

Alex Wheatle MBE said: "The Scholar is the first novel I had read where I recognised the characters instantly; where I felt the author was writing about people who I knew, who lived around the corner from me. It inspired me to complete my own work-in-progress. Courttia made me know it could be done."

Irenosen Okojie

Irenosen Okojie commented: "The Scholar is a classic slice of Black British fiction, which invigorated the literary landscape and remains a landmark novel. Courttia has been one of the key figures and literary activists consistently producing work and shining a light on our stories. It's great to be able to honour his contributions and celebrate his achievements."

Stephen Thompson added: "My first novel Toy Soldiers came out in early-2000, and there's no doubt in my mind that its path to publication had been made easier by the publication of The Scholar. It was, and remains, a landmark work. I'm honoured to be invited to celebrate its publication."

Stephen Thompson

Zena Edwards, said: “I first heard Courttia doing a reading and interview for The Scholar at a poetry event at the Yaa Asantewaa Centre in 1998. I was so happy to hear a UK-based writer speaking through the black London lens.

"The story, written through the voices of the descendants of migrant settlers from the British colonies, and representing the young vibrant black presence of London, hadn't been done in this way before. The Scholar is an important piece for the legacy of black literature."

At the event, Newland will be interviewed by Words of Colour Productions’ executive director Joy Francis and he will sign reprinted copies of The Scholar.

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