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Guest Danell Jones

An African in Imperial London Wins Top Award

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Guest Danell Jones

The 2019 High Plains Book Award for Nonfiction went to An African in Imperial London: The Indomitable Life of A.B.C. Merriman-Labor (Hurst/Oxford University Press).

 

The High Plains Book Awards recognize writing excellence in the Rocky Mountain West including Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

 

Richly researched and vividly told, An African in Imperial London recounts the story of Augustus Boyle Chamberlayne Merriman-Labor (1877-1919), a fascinating Sierra Leone Krio of indomitable optimism, youthful ambition, and seemingly boundless good humor. During his years in London, he showed resilience in the face of poverty, quiet strength during clashes with the legal establishment, and perseverance when his work was censored by the South African government. His faith in British justice was undaunted until a foolish legal mistake stripped him of his profession, his reputation, and ultimately, his name. Even deprived of his most cherished achievements, he refused to give up his dream of making a difference for Africa.

 

At the vanguard of African literature, Merriman-Labor wrote about black history, colonialism, and race. Merriman-Labor’s ease with his identities as a Sierra Leone Krio, a pan-African, a British subject, and a satirical writer gave him the confidence to remark frankly on the largest and most powerful city in the British empire. His most significant surviving book, the satirical gem Britons Through Negro Spectacles, reverses the dominant Eurocentric view of the world and serves up Britain as the exotic land offering its defects for inspection, judgement, and laughter. Entwined into its comedy is a profound moral tale about how one must live in a global world. Its shrewd insights about race, gender, and global citizenship doomed it to failure in the early twentieth century but makes it an essential read for the twenty-first.

 

An African in Imperial London is the first biography of Merriman-Labor. In it, Danell Jones describes the tragic spiral that pulled him down the social ladder from writer to munitions worker, from witty observer of the social order to patient in a state-run hospital for the poor. In restoring this extraordinary man to the pantheon of African observers of colonialism, Jones opens a window onto racial attitudes in Edwardian London.

 

An interview with Danell Jones and Merriman-Labor’s great nephew Melbourne Garber will air on Yellowstone Public Radio’s Resounds: Arts and Culture on the High Plains at 6:30pm, Monday, October 28. It will be available to stream at: https://www.ypradio.org/programs/resounds-arts-and-culture-high-plains#stream/0

 

Danell Jones is award-winning writer, scholar, and teacher who earned her Ph.D. in English literature from Columbia University. She is also the author of The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop and Desert Elegy.

 

Praise for An African in Imperial London: The Indomitable Life of A.B.C. Merriman-Labor

 

Written with great verve, An African in Imperial London is an enlightening account of what it meant to be black in the most powerful country in the world.
 Peter Stansky, Stanford University

 

The moving and surprising story of A.B.C. Merriman-Labor.
Edward Mendelson, Columbia University

 

Elegantly written and meticulously researched for over seven years, this is an important addition to the history of Africans in Britain.
Hakim Adi, University of Chichester

 

A deep sense of humanity pervades this splendid biography.
David Killingray, University of London

 

 

 

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