Malika Booker brings history to life through poetry, personal narrative


Booker reads from “Pepper Seed” to W&L campus. Photo by professor Lesley Wheeler.

Emma Malinak, Arts & Life Editor

Award-winning author Malika Booker immersed Washington and Lee students and   faculty members in a unique chapter of  British history during her poetry reading of “Pepper Seed” on Sept. 27. 

“Pepper Seed” is a poetry collection in which Booker explores how race, immigration and Caribbean culture have  affected her, her family and other British citizens with Caribbean ancestry. Booker explained that these poems are specifically inspired by the strength and perseverance of her mother, aunt and grandmother.

“This is their story,” she said. 

These women, and other members of Booker’s family, are considered members of the Windrush Generation, which refers to people who immigrated to the United  Kingdom from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971 to help fill post-war labor shortages. 

Booker’s perspective has been shaped by the struggles that the Windrush Generation faced and the injustices that people of Caribbean descent still must overcome in England. Booker, who grew up in both England and Guyana, used her unique             experiences to explore the intersectionality of race, gender and cultural identity in “Pepper Seed.”

Lauren Alleyne, executive director of the first academic center for Black poetry in the U.S., said that it is crucial for poets such as Booker to share their stories. 

“When we don’t have access to poetry alongside history, we don’t have a complete picture of what has happened,” Alleyne said.

Alleyne, who is leading The Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, invited Booker to JMU and Washington and Lee to advance the center’s mission of celebrating, preserving and educating others about Black poets. Alleyne said she hopes the center’s programs will increase understanding between people from different backgrounds.

“It leads to connection and empathy,” explained Alleyne. “This world needs more of that right now.”

While Booker’s work is rooted in her lived experiences, it is also shaped by anthropological research and various matriarchal components of Caribbean life. It took  Booker 11 years to craft this complex approach and publish the book. 

“I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it,” said Booker. “Sometimes I write pages and pages to get one line.”

Booker explained her writing strategies, discussed her creative process and answered questions with students in Intro to Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACS-101) and 20th-Century British and Irish Poetry (ENGL-353) during her visit to campus. She said she was excited and thankful to share her work with the next generation of writers, especially because she was first attracted to writing through her love of reading. 

“I was the child who was reading all the time,” said Booker. “I didn’t realize I was training myself to write.”