courtesy The British Blacklist.

James Berry, OBE (born 1924), is a Jamaican-born English poet who settled in England in the 1940s. His poetry is notable for using a mixture of standard English and Jamaican Patois.[1] As the editor of 2 seminal anthologies, Bluefoot Traveller (1976) and News for Babylon (1984), he has been in the forefront of championing West Indian/British writing.[2]


Berry was born in Fair Prospect, in rural Jamaica.[3]

He began writing stories and poems while he was still at school.[1]

During the Second World War, when a teenager, he went to work for 4 years (1942-1946) in the United States, before returning to Jamaica. As he has written:

"America had run into a shortage of farm labourers and was recruiting workers from Jamaica. I was 18 at the time. My friends and I, all anxious for improvement and change, were snapped up for this war work and we felt this to be a tremendous prospect for us. But we soon realised, as we had been warned, that there was a colour problem in the United States that we were not familiar with in the Caribbean. America was not a free place for black people. When I came back from America, pretty soon the same old desperation of being stuck began to affect me. When the Windrush came along, it was godsend, but I wasn’t able to get on the boat.... I had to wait for the second ship to make the journey that year, the SS Orbita."[4]

Settling in 1948 in Great Britain, he attended night school, and trained and worked as a telegrapher in London, while also writing.[5] He has been reported as saying: "I knew I was right for London and London was right for me. London had books and accessible libraries."[6]

In 1976 he compiled the anthology Bluefoot Traveller and in 1979 his first poetry collection, Fractured Circles, was published. He edited the landmark anthology News for Babylon (1984), considered "a ground-breaking publication because its publishing house Chatto & Windus was 'mainstream' and distinguished for its international poetry list".[7]

Berry has written many books for young readers, including A Thief in the Village and Other Stories (1987), The Girls and Yanga Marshall (1987), The Future-Telling Lady and Other Stories (1991), Anancy-Spiderman (1988), Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird (1996) and First Palm Trees (1997).

His most recent book of poetry, A Story I Am In: Selected Poems (2011), draws on five earlier collections: Fractured Circles (1979), Lucy’s Letters and Loving (1982, Chain of Days (1985), Hot Earth Cold Earth (1995) and Windrush Songs (2007).[8]

In 1995, his "Song of a Blue Foot Man" was adapted and staged at the Watford Palace Theatre Theatre.[2]


Berry's writing often "explores the relationship between black and white communities and in particular, the excitement and tensions in the evolving relationship of the Caribbean immigrants with Britain and British society from the 1940s onwards".[9]


In 1981 he won the Poetry Society's National Poetry Competition, the first poet of West Indian origin to do so.[7]

In 1990, Berry was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to poetry.[10][1]

In September 2004 he was one of 50 Black and Asian writers who have made major contributions to contemporary British literature to feature in the historic "A Great Day in London" photograph at the British Library.[11][12]

His archives were acquired by the British Library in October 2012.[13][9] Amongst other items, the archive contains drafts of an unpublished novel, The Domain of Sollo and Sport.[14]



  • Fractured Circles. London: New Beacon Books, 1979.
  • Lucy's Letters and Loving. London: New Beacon Books, 1982.
  • Chain of Days. Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • Hot Earth Cold Earth. Newcastle, UK: Bloodaxe Books, 1995.
  • Windrush Songs. Newcastle, UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2007.
  • A Story I Am In: Selected poems. Newcastle, UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2011.


  • A Thief in the Village, and other stories. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987.
  • The Girls and Yanga Marshall: Four stories. London: Longman, 1987.
  • Anancy-Spiderman: 20 Caribbean folk tales (illustrated by Joseph Olubo). London: Walker, 1988.
  • When I Dance. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988.
  • Isn't My Name Magical? Longman/BBC, 1990.
  • The Future-Telling Lady, and other stories. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1991.
  • Ajeemah and his Son. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
  • Celebration Song. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1994.
  • Playing a Dazzler. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1996.
  • Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
  • Everywhere Faces Everywhere. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
  • First Palm Trees (illustrated by Greg Couch). New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
  • A Nest full of Stars. London: Macmillan, 2002.
  • Only One of Me (selected poems for children). London: Macmillan, 2004.


  • Bluefoot Traveller: An anthology of West Indian poets in Britain. London: Limestone Publications, 1976;
    • revised as Bluefoot Traveller: Poetry by West Indians in Britain. London: Harrap, 1981.
  • News for Babylon: The Chatto Book of Westindian-British Poetry. London: Chatto & Windus, 1984.
  • Classic Poems to Read Aloud. London: Kingfisher, 1995.
  • Around the World in 80 Poems. London: Macmillan, 2001.
James Berry - Windrush Empire Day (2 of 6)

James Berry - Windrush Empire Day (2 of 6)

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[15]

See alsoEdit



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Channel 4 Learning.
  2. 2.0 2.1 National Theatre Black Plays Archive.
  3. James Berry, Gale Contemporary Black biography, Answers,com. Internet Archive, Web, Feb. 26, 2020.
  4. "Coming To England", BLACK HISTORY 365, Vol. Two, Issue One, Summer 2008 |
  5. Elizabeth Shostak, "James Berry", Gale Contemporary Black Biography.
  6. Interview quoted in Onyekachi Wambu, Black British Literature since Windrush, BBC History.
  7. 7.0 7.1 David Dabydeen, John Gilmore, Cecily Jones (eds), The Oxford Companion to Black British History, Oxford University Press, 2007, "News for Babylon", p. 343.
  8. James Berry page at Bloodaxe Books
  9. 9.0 9.1 Zoe Wilcox, "British Library acquires the archive of poet James Berry", Group for Literary Archives & Manuscripts, 18 October 2012.
  10. "James Berry (b. 1924)". The Poetry Archive. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  11. Andrea Levy, "Made in Britain. To celebrate the impact of their different perspectives, 50 writers of Caribbean, Asian and African descent gathered to be photographed. Andrea Levy reports on a great day for literature", The Guardian, 18 September 2004.
  12. Kevin Le Gendre, "Books: A great day for a family get together; Who are the movers and shakers in black British writing? And can they all fit on one staircase?", The Independent on Sunday, 17 October 2004.
  13. "British Library acquires the archive of Caribbean British poet and writer, James Berry", British Library, 16 October 1912.
  14. "British Library acquires the archive of Caribbean British poet and writer, James Berry", British Library press release, 16 October 2012.
  15. Search results = au:James Berry, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 26, 2012.

External linksEdit

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