Locating Samuel Selvon in Senate House Library
Academic Librarian Leila Kassir offers some top tips on how to find works by and about Samuel Selvon in Senate House Library's collections
One grim winter evening, when it had a kind of unrealness about London, with a fog sleeping restlessly over the city and the lights showing in the blur as if is not London at all but some strange place on another planet, Moses Aloetta hop on a number 46 bus at the corner of Chepstow Road and Westbourne Grove to go to Waterloo to meet a fellar who was coming from Trinidad on the boat-train
(opening lines of The Lonely Londoners)
One hundred years ago today, writer Samuel Dickson Selvon was born in San Fernando in Trinidad. In his obituary of Selvon, academic and writer Kenneth Ramchand described him as “a revolutionary in form and style, as well as in a social sense”. In 1950, Selvon arrived in London, travelling on the same boat as Barbadian author George Lamming: the two men shared Selvon’s Imperial typewriter on the journey. It was in London, that Selvon’s most famous and influential novel, The Lonely Londoners, was published by Allan Wingate in 1956. This novel, which was written in a form of Creole dialect, introduced readers to the character Moses Aloetta, who featured in further Selvon writings, and gave voice to a generation of newly arrived migrants from the Caribbean. While Selvon was renowned as a novelist, he was also a playwright, poet, radio broadcaster, and journalist. A respected writer in his lifetime, Selvon’s critical reputation has continued to grow since his death in Canada in 1994.
Senate House Library contains a wide range of resources, in print and online, by and about Samuel Selvon and his works. The remainder of this blog provides some suggestions of where to locate relevant material and explore Selvon’s life and writings.
Firstly, a search of Selvon’s name on the library’s catalogue - either as an author or as a subject - is a good place to begin.
Books written by Selvon
If you prefer to browse the bookshelves, print copies of Selvon’s novels and short stories are held in the Latin American Studies collection, on the 6th floor of the library, under the shelf mark PR9272.9. Some are also held on the 4th floor in the new acquisitions collection.
Books about Selvon and his writing
Print copies of secondary works about Selvon can also be found on the 6th floor of the library in the Latin American Studies collection. Some will be located with Selvon’s novels at PR9272.9 but books where his works are considered in a broader context will be elsewhere on these shelves. For example, the book From nation to diaspora: Samuel Selvon, George Lamming and the cultural performance of gender by Curdella Forbes is under shelf mark PR9214.F6 2005.
E-books about Selvon will also show on the library catalogue - for best results, have a look at the ‘Electronic Resources’ tab. Often, Selvon features in chapters and is scattered throughout e-books on wider topics, rather than in e-books solely about his works. Just two examples include: Migrant modernism: postwar London and the West Indian Novel by J. Dillon Brown and Publishing the postcolonial: Anglophone West African and Caribbean Writing in the UK 1948-1968 by Gail Low, both of which include multiple references to Selvon.
Selvon features in numerous articles across a broad range of journals, both in print and online.
The journal Wasafiri, published since 1984, contains a mixture of criticism and creative writing with a strong representation of Anglophone Caribbean works. Selvon features across several issues, including a 1985 interview with Susheila Nasta in which he discusses his Moses Aloetta novels (see volume 1, issue 2, 1985 pages 5-9). The library holds this journal in print and online. The Journal of West Indian Literature is also another key resource which is held in the library in print and online - it features several articles about Selvon.
It is also a good idea to search Selvon’s name across the library’s wide range of e-journal holdings, via the ‘Electronic Resources’ tab of the catalogue, and then refine the results to ‘Academic Journals’. This search will provide a wide coverage of journals, including titles such as The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies and Ars Aeterna: Literary Studies and Humanity to name just three.
Samuel Selvon also appears on several online resources, or electronic databases. These can be located via the library’s A-Z Databases list. Examples include:
ProQuest One Literature – this resource contains good coverage of Anglophone Caribbean literature include an author page on Selvon containing articles, book chapters, and PhD theses written about Selvon.
Gale Literature Contemporary Authors – this resource provides bibliographies of texts by authors, including Selvon.
Selvon also features in works related to other aspects of his life and writing. It is always worth searching for his name in contents pages and indexes. The Latin American Studies collection in the library on the 6th floor and online via e-books holds comprehensive texts on Anglophone Caribbean writing such as The Routledge companion to Anglophone Caribbean literature. Selvon is also often included in works about London writing such as Dwelling places: postwar Black British writing by James Procter. Selvon has also been anthologised, including recently in the collection Into the London fog: eerie tales from the weird city edited by Elizabeth Dearnley, which includes the story ‘My Girl and the City’. In Wasafiri (volume 14, 1999, issue 29 pages 34-36), writer Caryl Phillips referred to this short piece as an example of writing which he believed “captures the rhythm, texture, and tone of London as the austere fifties were about to give way to the swinging sixties”. Phillips’s words in this feature are a fitting end to this short overview of Selvon’s works in Senate House Library, as he continued by stating: “For acuity of vision, intellectual rigour, and sheer beauty of language, they [students] would have to be supplicants at the pages of Selvon and Lamming”.