Alex Wheatle

‘Born on the 3 January 1963 (same birthday as JRR Tolkein, they tell me), it was my father who looked after me for the first few years of my life, raising me in Brixton (my mother, who was not married to my father, returned to her husband and other children – she emigrated to the States in the early 1970s).

‘By the time I was five years of age, my father could not cope with me and secured a full time job at the same time, so I was sent into care with Lambeth social services. While I was in care I still had contact with my father’s family but when he returned to Jamaica in the mid 1970s, I did lose touch with aunts, uncles, etc for a while.

‘I returned to Brixton in 1978, living in a hostel near Brixton Hill that was provided by Lambeth social services. Expelled three times from schools, I had no certificates or examinations behind me. However, my social worker at the time found me a job with Lambeth construction services as a trainee carpenter. With this interest, my friends and I built our first sound system by the time I was sixteen. We played gigs at parties, youth clubs, etc. Just before I was eighteen I had a serious bout of pneumonia and I subsequently left the construction trade. It was 1981, Brixton was about to blow up and after I recovered from illness I found employment very hard to find.

‘Shortly after the riots I found myself in Wormwood Scrubs for two months because of a driving, drug offence. It was when I came out of prison that I was determined to do something with my life. I began to read greedily and during this time I retrained as an engineer. I was keeping a diary, writing song lyrics and poetry. My subject matter was my life and the streets of Brixton. Two of these lyrics even made it nearly twenty years later into the pages of East Of Acre Lane. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s I was performing poetry in ‘poetry jams’ in Brixton. People named me the Brixton Bard.’

Books by Alex Wheatle

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