Book: Colour Me English by Caryl Phillips - Race, identity and Englishness

What do we mean by ‘English’? How does that image square with reality? How does our island look from abroad, and what aspects of our experience do we share with, for example, America – a nation built by outsiders and the huddled masses?  In his book Colour Me English British playwright and author Caryl Phillips reflects on these issues. 

Taking as its starting point a moving recollection of growing up in Leeds during the 1970s, Colour Me English broadens into a reflective, entertaining and challenging collection of essays and other non-fiction writing which ranges from the literary to the cultural and autobiographical.

Elsewhere, Caryl Phillips goes on to describe the experience of living and working in America, and travels in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Belgium and France and beyond. He considers the lives and work of figures, amongst many others, including Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Billie Holiday and Luther Vandross, and how their experiences are refracted through the prisms of writing, music and cinema.

But Colour Me English always circles back to questions of identity and belonging, and of its reverse, exclusion.

Interview Color Me English on the Diame Rehm show in September 2011 (transcript and audio): "Caryl Phillips moved to the U.S. two decades ago, living in the shadows of the twin towers, was drawn by what he saw as America's more inclusive identity, then the towers came down. In his new book "Color Me English," he reflects on the fragility of identity and the nature of modern immigration."

Caryl Phillips was born in St.Kitts and came to Britain at the age of four months. He grew up in Leeds, and studied English Literature at Oxford University.

Video: Caryl Phillips on racism & writers


  1. Thanks for the post! Totally gonna read it! I've been wanting to apply for an internship at one of my favorite companies which is stationed in London, & for the past year, I've been wondering what White British people think of the Black community. It's always seemed like a grey area, especially for me and being American. Seeing what White British people think of the Black community is usually blocked by our own prejudices and comical stereotypes of "British" people.
    Love this website so far!
    Thanks so much for your posts!

    1. Hi Maya, you're welcome. Let us know when you're in London.

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