Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

Catalog » Browse by Title: S » Sufferah: The Memoir of a Brixton Reggae-Head

Sufferah: The Memoir of a Brixton Reggae-Head


In this breathtaking memoir, acclaimed author Alex Wheatle details how reggae music became his salvation through a childhood marred by abuse, imprisonment, and police brutality

Order on Amazon
Order on Bookshop
Order on Barnes & Noble

$28.95 $21.71

What people are saying…

—Selected for the In the Margins Book Awards 2024 Top Ten Title List and 2024 Nonfiction Recommendation List

“In this inspiring, often harrowing narrative, the author chronicles how, shortly after he turned 3, he was abandoned by his parents and placed in the care of the government. That led to a childhood of physical and sexual abuse on top of the racism and police brutality he experienced growing up in Brixton, England, in the 1970s and ’80s . . . As dark as his early memories are, Wheatle describes his reggae memories with glimmers of hope and appreciation . . . A striking tribute to reggae’s ability to protect a fragile soul when seemingly everything else had failed him.”
Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review

“With more than 40 short chapters, the book brings readers along as artists such as Bob Marley, Sister Nancy, Dennis Brown, and others educate a young Black man about racial injustice and provide a lifeline when he felt at his lowest. Wheatle also finds family in his prison cellmate, who guides him toward a greater purpose, and he turns his life around using the music he loves and by tapping into his writing skills. The inspiration for Wheatle’s fiction is apparent throughout his memoir, where he vividly and gracefully connects his own experiences to those of his characters. VERDICT: Readers will be drawn to Wheatle’s exquisite prose, and lovers of music will appreciate how reggae brings light during difficult times.”
Library Journal

“Novelist Wheatle (Brixton Rock) considers in this inspiring autobiography how reggae music helped him endure childhood abuse and connect with his heritage . . . His journey from orphan to self-possessed storyteller is by turns gripping and heartbreaking.”
Publishers Weekly

“Alex Wheatle’s Sufferah is a moving account of one writer’s indomitable will to overcome the odds stacked against him. Tender, hilarious, and deeply felt, this memoir 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. 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

“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

“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 writes from a place of honesty and passion, with the full knowledge and understanding that change can only happen through words and actions.”
—Steve McQueen, Academy Award–winning film director

“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, author of I Heard What You Said

chronicles the extraordinary life of one of the most renowned black British writers. Wheatle’s account of his traumatic childhood, tumultuous upbringing, and salvation through reggae music is candid and unsparing. Sufferah does not shy away from the entrenched racism and xenophobia embedded in British culture and politics: in writing of his personal experience of the April 1981 Brixton uprising, Wheatle employs a music-diary style to describe his participation and subsequent imprisonment.” —Trinidad Express


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

Although riven by loneliness and depression, Alex found 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. From the abuse he suffered in foster care, to the challenges he faced on the streets of South London as a young man and his eventual imprisonment for participating in the legendary 1981 Brixton uprising against racial injustice, reggae music always provided a lifeline to Alex.

Alex’s life story was portrayed in Oscar Award–winning director Steve McQueen’s 2020 Small Axe. In Sufferah, he vividly tells his own story, putting the reader in his shoes through the many challenges of his younger years, answering the question: how on earth did he make it? By his example we are reminded that words can be our sustenance, and music can be our heartbeat.

Book Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Published: 7/4/23
  • IBSN: 9781636140933
  • e-IBSN: 9781636140940


ALEX WHEATLE is the author of several best-selling books including the young adult novels Kemosha of the Caribbean, Cane Warriors, and Home Girl, the modern classic Brixton Rock, and the award-winning Crongton series. He is the subject of the historical drama film Alex Wheatle, which is part of filmmaker Steve McQueen’s lauded Small Axe anthology series. His body of work was a finalist for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature and has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. His latest work is Sufferah: The Memoir of a Brixton Reggae-Head.

More info »