‘Slack’ by Alexia Arthurs

Whether you relate to the teenage Pepper, so ashamed of her older lover and his three teeth-self, hanging outside her school gate, or to the many other kinds of Jamaican women so carefully showcased in this, Arthurs’s first collection, what we have here is an encyclopaedia of authenticity. Whether it’s language, sensibility, culture, or shades of light and dark, Arthurs knows Jamaicans to our bones and makes no apologies for us, calling us out and loving us to death by seeing exactly who are. I have quite a few favourites in this book, but I have to big-up ‘Slack’. This tragic tale of the death of two little girls and their mother, “slack woman” Pepper – so named because her mother sucked scotch bonnet peppers when she was pregnant – has a terrible tenderness. It is a quietly outraged, completely necessary elegy for all that black women could be and can’t be, because money and because judgement and because gossip and because, as they say in Jamaica, all that ‘slave mind’ still stinking up our shared air. 

First published in How to Love a Jamaican, Penguin Random House, August, 2018

‘Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands’ by Alexia Arthurs

I discovered Alexia Arthurs totally by accident. We share the Influx Press office with Kobo (the alternative to Kindle) and the Guardian Bookshop. This means there is a shit tonne of proofs and advance copies sent to the office every week. Sometimes you feel like you’re swimming through heat bound paperbacks just to get to your desk. One day last summer Alexia Arthurs’ collection How to Love a Jamaican appeared on the shared shelves. I picked it up out of curiosity and have cherished it ever since. The opening story, ‘Light Skinned Girls and Kelly Rowlands’ is a fantastic piece of short fiction focusing on a friendship between two black girls in New York. Arthurs writes from the heart and eloquently paints the friends’ gradually disintegrating bond with real grace. The story is about the impact of race and class, white supremacy and immigration on what could have been a lifelong friendship. Great stories have the power to make you see the world from another person’s perspective, and this is certainly of contemporary vintage.

From How to Love a Jamaican, Picador 2018

‘Shirley from a Small Place’ by Alexia Arthurs

Arthurs writes in a beautifully unpretentious manner that weaves in shrewd social observations with great emotional acuity. The Shirley in this story is obviously based on Rihanna, and I love the chutzpah and sheer sense of fun in that! From the obvious Rihanna references (who doesn’t love Rihanna?) to its incredibly “literary” title, this story is both a hoot and technically impressive. With such a premise it might easily have veered toward yet another commentary about celebrity culture that perpetuates the vapidity, excess and so-whatness it critiques – but what you get instead is a moving study of the complex, tensile currents of feeling between mothers and daughters.

First published in Granta 143, July 2019 and available online here. Collected in How to Love a Jamaican, Picador, 2018