On Wednesday 6 December the award winning Children’s and Young Adult novelist Alex Wheatle (MBE) visited Dulwich College. Alex is best known for his debut novel Brixton Rock (1999) and for his Crongton series- a fictional estate in which a cast of memorable as they negotiate tricky emotional and social situations. Although Brixton Rock is the most obviously autobiographical of his fiction, his stories all draw on the author’s experience – including his early years in Brixton, his time in care, and his period in prison following his participation in the Brixton Riots in 1981.
Pupils from three classes from Year 7 and 8 and the whole of Year 9 were treated to some readings from his Crongton series, interspersed with accounts of his life that had inspired some of the characters and events in his novels and - in one session- to a remarkably well- improvised rendition of one of Alex’s early Reggae compositions—Uprising! Alex is a remarkably good story teller and had his audience were as much invested in the story of his life as they were in the extracts from his fiction that he shared with them.
Alex also spent time with 12 members of the Joint Creative Writing Workshop in the Upper School who learnt about crafting characters and engaging their readers by appealing to their sense of empathy. Later in the day, Josiah Roberts (Year 12) did a first rate job of interviewing Alex in front of a small panel audience and on behalf of the Afro-Caribbean Society. The discussion focused on the state of BAME fiction in the context of market forces, the competitive state of the publishing industry, and the roles and responsibilities of authors to their readership. Josiah and Alex also explored the changing cultural and political fortunes of Brixton in the context of the ongoing process of gentrification and what this might mean for local artists and residents and for the long-established Afro-Caribbean community.
The staff and some of the pupils who attended any of these sessions were all struck by how down to earth Alex is, by how warmly and generously he answers questions, and by how committed he is to making a difference to his young readers through his fiction. We were fortunate to have him in for the day and look forward to maintaining our links with such a prominent local author. Grateful thanks to Miss Stein and the Library and to Miss Coppin and the English Department for organising and facilitating this visit.