A writer who traces his interest in books back to a spell in jail after the 1981 Brixton riots has won the Guardian children’s fiction prize with a hard-hitting novel set on a fictitious inner-city estate plagued by knife crime and overrun by phone-jacking “hood rats”.
Alex Wheatle is the 50th writer to have won the award, joining a roster that includes Ted Hughes, Philip Pullman, Mark Haddon and Jacqueline Wilson.
His winning novel, Crongton Knights, is the second in a planned trilogy set on the South Crongton estate, where schoolboy McKay’s rash attempt to help out a girl in danger of exposure for sexting after her phone is stolen takes him on a mission even more dangerous than his more usual challenge of dodging early-morning visits by the bailiffs to his tower block home.
Wheatle's frustrations over his publishing history for adults is evident in a second interview that also ran in November.
Here's a bit from that:
“I felt like I was this token black writer who writes about ghetto stuff,” Wheatle says. He believes working-class characters are increasingly thin on the ground, while the handful of black writers who are feted often explore sweeping tales of immigrant experience, rather than domestic tales rooted firmly in one place and time. “My books are seen as only for a black demographic, whereas Zadie Smith or Andrea Levy’s were propelled higher than that, so I felt cheated, in a way.”
Fortunately, he has found acclaim writing for teens, and is producing some powerful - and award winning - stuff. While his books are not available in the US yet, but you can buy them online - the first in the trilogy is Liccle Bit, then Crongton Knights and, due in April, Straight Outta Crongton.
Wheatle sounds like an amazing writer - be sure to check him out.