‘Let Them Call It Jazz’ by Jean Rhys

Selina, the Caribbean narrator, is part of the Windrush Generation, and trying to survive in London. The story opens with her being evicted from her flat and offered a new home in a richer neighbourhood where she is unable to find a job and spends her days drinking, singing and sleeping. Out of frustration with her white neighbours’ outright hostility, she throws a rock through their window and is sent for ten days to Holloway Prison, where she stops drinking and learns a tune sung by the other prisoners. Some time later, having found a job, she whistles that tune at a party at a colleague’s house, where a man “plays the tune, jazzing it up”. She thinks nothing of it until she gets a letter from him informing her has sold the song and containing £5 to thank her for her help. This short summary cannot do justice to the craft and rhythm of this tale of exploitation, this portrait of 1960s London, and the protagonist’s powerful presence.

First published in The London Magazine, 1962, and in Tigers Are Better-Looking, Andre Deutsch Ltd, 1968. Collected in The Collected Short Stories, W.W. Norton & Co, 1992, now Penguin Modern Classics. Also published as one of the Penguin 60s in 1995

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