Alex Wheatle

In this breathtaking memoir, Alex Wheatle details how reggae music became his salvation through a childhood marred by abuse and his imprisonment as a young man protesting against systemic racism and police brutality.

Abandoned as a baby to the British foster care system, Alex grows up without any knowledge of his Jamaican parentage or family history. As he becomes preoccupied with his own roots, Alex is inexorably drawn to reggae music, which becomes his primary solace through years of physical and mental abuse in the children’s home.

Although riven by loneliness and depression, Alex finds joy and empathy among his reggae heroes: Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, Marcia Griffiths, the Mighty Diamonds, Sister Nancy, Gregory Isaacs, Barrington Levy, King Yellowman and so many others. These were friends and mentors who understood the enormous challenges facing a young Black man, gave purpose to despair, provided a sense of belonging when Alex had no one, and who educated him in ways no school ever could. Reggae provides a lifeline to Alex through the care system; the challenges presented in the streets of South London as a young man; and during his imprisonment for participating in the 1981 Brixton Uprising against racial injustice.

Alex Wheatle’s award-winning fiction—and this memoir—are a call to never give up hope, and a reminder that words can be our sustenance, and music can be our heartbeat.

‘First of all, just to say, wow what a privilege to be invited into Alex’s life in this way. This book is an intimate glimpse into a life full of struggle, pain, discovery and joy. Often heartbreaking but frequently life-affirming too, a lens into some of the most pressing social justice issues of a generation. Alex is a truly gifted storyteller, and the way he details his own story here is no exception.’ Jeffrey Boakye

‘A moving account of one writer’s indomitable will to overcome the odds stacked against him. A tender, hilarious, and deeply felt memoir, the book places Wheatle’s experiences in foster care and incarceration within a larger context of racism in the UK and dovetails with his coming of age as a lover of reggae music and Jamaican culture. What a gift to witness Wheatle’s journey to find and forgive his birth family and to make a life and family of his own.’
Naomi Jackson, author of THE STAR SIDE OF BIRD HILL

‘This searing record of a writer’s journey is that and more: A history of the reggae revolution in bass riddim. A raw account of racism in Britain. A prose that is Wheatle at his best gritty, fast-paced, fierce, funny, restrained, a tightrope walker’s balance. A crucial chapter in the story of Black lives. It’s hard to put this book down.”
Curdella Forbes, author of A TALL HISTORY OF SUGAR

Alex Wheatle’s bracingly honest, at times excruciatingly evocative memoir is shaped by the poetics of reggae music but more than that, it is reggae music: brimming with all the pain and injustice that is baked into Babylon system, yet at the same time, by virtue of its artistic majesty, a beautiful transcendence of these things.’
Baz Dreisinger, author of INCARCERATION NATIONS

Alex Wheatle’s great mission is to make ‘sufferahs’ visible and represent them in his art. With this insightful memoir, which mixes music with memory, he has done exactly that.’
C.J. Farley, author of ZERO O’CLOCK

‘Inspiring, often harrowing… A striking tribute to reggae’s ability to protect a fragile soul when seemingly everything else had failed him.’ Kirkus Reviews


  • Akashic Books USA
  • Arcadia/Quercus UK

Material: pdf (252pp), including author’s own photographs