William Collins has signed a two- deal with filmmaker and performance poet Malik Al Nasir.
Arabella Pike, William Collins publishing director, bought UK and Commonwealth rights, including Canada, from Charles Walker at United Agents, for the memoir Letters to Gil and a second book entitled Searching for my Slave Roots, a new take on slavery, told through Malik’s roots quest back through his family tree.
Letters to Gil, described as a "frank and moving" coming of age memoir, is the story of Nasir's "empowerment and awakening" while mentored by the artist, poet and civil rights activist Gil Scott-Heron who he first met by chance.
"Born in Liverpool, Malik was taken into care at the age of nine, after his seafaring father became paralysed and spent his adolescence in a system that would prove violent, neglectful, exploitative, traumatising and mired in abuse and racism," reads the book's synopsis." Aged 18, he emerged semi-literate, penniless with no connections or sense of where he was going – until a chance meeting with the great artist, poet and civil rights activist Gil Scott-Heron ... This is the story of a young man whose life was turned around under the guidance of a great master."
According to the publisher, the book highlights how institutional racism can debilitate and disadvantage a child and how mentoring and nurturing, through creativity and self-expression, can help undo the damage and turn the detriment into a driving force.
A second book, with a foreword by historian David Olusoga, is "an exploration of an untold chapter in both black and British history", undertaken through the author's own investigation into his mixed Guyanese heritage.
"With ancestors that had been both enslaved people and prominent slaveholders, Malik will uncover a completely new narrative on historical trans-Atlantic slavery and the role of Scottish, Dutch and English Merchants, whose holdings were financed through the proceeds of the Demerara sugar and slave trade," reads the book's synopsis. "Travelling around the Atlantic world, he will unravel the legacies of slavery, plantation economics and the wealth of a slaveholding dynasty that he himself descended from, and the nuanced ways that historic trauma plays down through generations of the enslaved, and how wealth and privilege plays out across generations of slaveholders and their descendants."
Pike said: "Malik’s story captivated millions when first broadcast on the BBC. Drawing on the events of his life and the work he is doing for his PhD at Cambridge, both these books — in very different ways — will shed new light on black lives and on the barbaric history of slavery. We are so proud to be publishing them."
Nasir said: "When your history has been manufactured by your oppressor to denigrate you while ingratiating themselves, it’s incumbent upon us to right that wrong. These two titles are my way of giving voice to the voiceless, while unpicking some historical injustices that persist today, as a legacy of slavery and colonialism, rooted in racist ideologies. I’m delighted that William Collins has embraced my vision and partnered with me so I can share my story with the world."