Race, Diaspora and Identity: The Meeting Point, Brown Girl, Brownstones and The Lonely Londoners: Hyacinth M. Simpson
Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956), Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) and Austin Clarke’s The Meeting Point (1967) are three seminal novels that provide the first extended narrative accounts of West Indian diasporic communities in northern metropolises. Thus their publication, within the short space of a decade, constituted a major development in the West Indian novel and initiated, within this literary tradition, the category of writing known as the literature of migration. Individually, too, their publication was significant. The Lonely Londoners is prominent among a group of texts published out of the UK in the 1950s and 1960s that are generally regarded as bringing about the ‘rise’ of the West Indian novel. As well, the novel was very consonant with its time and attuned to political issues of the day in its treatment of a motley crew of Windrush-generation islanders whose real life counterparts have been credited with transforming post-Second World War Britain into a multicultural nation. Brown Girl, Brownstones pre-empted and has complemented historical and sociological studies by providing a detailed and nuanced portrait of the first wave of West Indian migration into the US through its focus on a community of Barbadians who settled in New York City in the 1920s. Prior to its release, the West Indian community in the US had languished in literary invisibility with only a few glimpses of their lives provided in the stories of writers like Claude McKay. The novel was instrumental in defining West Indian diasporic writing as a distinct category of black American writing. It is a distinction from which well known contemporary West Indian American authors, such as Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid, have benefited. In a similar fashion, Clarke’s The Meeting Point, the first instalment in his ‘Toronto Trilogy’, broke new literary ground in presenting a black Canada to the reading public. His three-part portrait of West Indian domestics and their company of friends is generally regarded as providing the first and most comprehensive account
of the black immigrant experience in Canada and stimulating what is now a vibrant critical interest in black writing in Canada.