Highbury author Andrea Levy ‘talked about this place so much’
Plaque tribute to Small Island novelist is unveiled on the estate that inspired much of her work
20 March, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
The ceremony to unveil a plaque dedicated to Andrea Levy at Twyford House, Highbury, where the author grew up
ANDREA Levy, known for writing novels which chronicled the experience of the Windrush generation, has been celebrated with a plaque unveiled at the Islington estate she grew up on.
Ms Levy’s husband, Bill Mayblin, unveiled the green Islington Heritage plaque to her on Saturday at Twyford House, Highbury.
A ceremony commemorated her life and work, which includes the best-selling novels Small Island and The Long Song.
Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, and Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, one of Ms Levy’s closest friends, gave emotional tributes to the author at the event, saying she was an “inspiration” to thousands of young people wanting to “change the world”.
Mr Mayblin, who was married to Ms Levy for 37 years, told the Tribune: “It is obviously fantastic. She talked about this place so much, it meant so much to her.
Andrea Levy’s best-selling novels included Small Island and The Long Song
“So to have her name up there permanently as someone who has achieved something from these flats is enormously significant. I am bursting with pride over it.”
Ms Levy was born in the Whittington Hospital in 1956 and attended Highbury Hill Grammar school, now Highbury Fields School.
Her father emigrated to the UK from Jamaica on the HMS Windrush ship in 1948. Her mother later joined him.
Ms Levy drew on her life growing up in Islington and her parents’ experience of racial discrimination and hardship in many of her novels.
Mr Mayblin added: “The experiences of her childhood made her determined not to just accept second best and to fight.
Bill Mayblin with the plaque tribute
“In my situation, there are two Andreas. There is the Andrea Levy who is the public figure, and then there is Andrea, my Andrea. I’m bursting with pride for the public Andrea. On the other side, there is a loss and it is much more difficult to handle.”
Baroness Young said: “The London borough of Islington was my corporate parent up until my 18th birthday. I too roamed the mean streets of Blackstock Road and Chapel Market.
“It was after Andrea and I had been meeting regularly for brunch for about five years that we realised that I’d lived opposite her, over there at number 1 Elwood Street.
Baroness Lola Young speaking at the unveiling
“We attended the same church – both very reluctantly – and enjoyed the singing, and the annual appearance of the Arsenal football team mouthing their way through the hymns.”
She added: “I receive a lot of enquiries from aspiring interns who say they want to contribute to changing the world for the better by becoming an MP.
“Laudable, but consider all the options. You could write, like Andrea, create novels that in turn create television dramas and plays that become the subject of doctoral theses and are translated into numerous languages, creative works that help people to understand, analyse and gain insights into the world around them from different perspectives.
“What a huge achievement by this north London girl, made good. And to think that this is where it all started.”
Mr Corbyn said: “Her writing is about what it was like to arrive in England and see what it was like, to realise that what you had been told back home in colonial Jamaica was not true.
“The racism they encountered, the appalling housing conditions they encountered, the unbelievable hard work they were expected to do and get little reward for it.
“Yet that community stayed and that community has made such a massive contribution to all our lives.”
He added: “I hope our local schools will bring their children here to look at this plaque and use that as a starting point for a study and be inspired by the contributions she made to our community.”
Ms Levy died last year of cancer, aged 62.