Books

I’m reading loads of books. I have just finished Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. It’s brilliant.

I’ve also read The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and The Windrush Betrayal, which is a hugely stunning indictment of the Theresa May hostile environment campaign. I’ve read it twice.

I’ve read Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, too.

I’ve reread Debbie Tucker Green’s Random. It’s a play, but it’s still very pertinent to what’s going on now. It’s about knife crime, and it’s really important.

There’s a brilliant August Wilson book called The Ground on Which I Stand. It’s a pamphlet more than a book really. But it’s basically an argument for African-American theatre getting a bigger piece of the pie in terms of Broadway and touring and commissioning. August Watson basically wanted – and I’m not sure I agree with him – an end to colour-blind casting. He thought that Shakespeare didn’t really help.

He wanted more black authored plays on Broadway and elsewhere. Bearing in mind this guy was a radical and was in the Panthers at one point, he had pioneering ideas about how the theatre and entertainment industry should serve its black practitioners and creatives. It’s a stunning book. Interestingly, I think a letter went out to the Broadway producers recently, and a lot of the tenets from August Wilson’s The Ground on Which I Stand are relevant to that.

I’ve just read Lily Allen’s excoriating, lacerating, rude, visceral, almost stomach-churning descriptions of her life and times in her book, My Thoughts Exactly. I salute her for being so honest. But I was literally sideswiped at times by just how honest she was prepared to be. It’s a book to read with great empathy.

Also, I am, of course, still reading Marvel and DC Comics. I’m almost 61, and the obsession that I’ve had since I was nine years old is still in play.

I went through a kind of “comics no more” phase. Marvel Comics are famous for having superheroes give up the uniform. At that moment, there will invariably be a picture of Peter Parker walking away from a garbage bin with a Spiderman costume peeking out. And the title is always “Spiderman no more.”

I had a “comics no more.” moment when I started my studying, particularly during the PhD, because for about seven years the only thing I could really hold in my head was PhD stuff. So I had to sideline the comic reading.

Then, when the PhD was over, the first thing I did was go to Forbidden Planet and buy everything that I’d missed, and oh my God, there was so much. There’s a comic called Saga, which is an intergalactic space romance, a kind of Romeo and Juliet in space, which is by Brian K. Vaughan. It’s beautiful.

Also, there’s a series called Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, which asks, “In a world of superheroes, who would police those guys?” It’s about disempowered policemen (we think?)

Bendis is one of my favourite comics writers actually. He’s gone to work full time for DC now. He was at Marvel for a bit and he did a ground-breaking run on something called Daredevil. Those stories were like Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Batman, and they are up there with my favourite gangster movies.

Now that Brian Michael Bendis has moved to DC, he’s writing for a broader audience, and for a younger audience, but his writing is still potent.

I still love Neil Gaiman and Alan Freeman and Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis, and people like that. But there are new people now and they’re worth checking out.

What’s great is that post-Reginald Hudlin’s run on Black Panther, there now seem to be more black writers writing for comics, and I really like that.

There is somebody called N. K. Jemisin. She wrote the Broken Earth series, a novel called The City We Became, and also a novel called The Fifth Season. She’s a sci-fi writer, and a bit like Ta-Nehisi Coates working on Black Panther, she’s just started to write on The Green Lantern. She’s a very powerful writer.

So I think comics are becoming more diverse. There have always been black comics writers and illustrators, but we’re seeing that come to fruition more these days. It’ll get better, but at least they’ve recognised it.

Marvel did a thing where they had a comic called Other Voices. It showcased all their black and Latino and feminist writers, and I think that’s a really good change for comics because little kids read comics and big kids like me, too.

So now when you read Ms Marvel and Sam Wilson as Captain America and Riri the new Iron Woman, you can see somebody who looks like you and go, “That’s great. You know, I could be a superhero dude.” So that connects with something.

I’m still loving comics, then. I don’t read them as much as I used to, but I’ve got a pretty big collection now. You should come and see it sometime.

(Just joking. Don’t come to my house and hide in a hedge because I will call the police).