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The Good Immigrant

By Nikesh Shukla

21 writers reflect on race in contemporary Britain

Non fiction | Campaigns

Publication date: 22 September 2016

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Keep out, Britain is full up.

Or so goes the narrative of immigration in this country all too often. We are a country in flux – our media condemns refugees one day, sheds tears over them the next. Our narrative around immigration is built on falsehoods, stereotypes and anxieties about the diminishing sense of what Britishness means.

Meanwhile, we’re told that we live in a multicultural melting pot, that we’re post-racial. Yet, studies show that throughout the UK, people from BAME groups are much more likely to be in poverty (with an income of less than 60 per cent of the median household income) than white British people (Institute Of Race Relations). It’s a hard time to be an immigrant, or the child of one, or even the grandchild of one.

Unless you have managed to transcend into popular culture, like Mo Farah, Nadiya Hussain or the other ‘good immigrants’ out there. It’s a bad time to be a bad immigrant. My conversation with Musa Okwonga about this led to the very generation of this collection. I said I wished there was a book of essays by good immigrants. He reminded of the Chinua Achebe quote, if you don’t like the story, write your own.

The Good Immigrant brings together fifteen emerging British black, Asian and minority ethnic writers, poets, journalists and artists. In these fifteen essays about race and immigration, they paint a picture of what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that wants you, doesn’t want you, doesn’t accept you, needs you for its equality monitoring forms and would prefer you if you won a major reality show competition.

The book will explore why we come here, why we stay, what it means for our identity if we’re mixed race, where our place is in the world if we’re unwelcome in the UK, and what effects this has on the education system. By examining popular culture, family, profession and the arts, we will be looking at diversity and questioning what this concept even means anymore. The essays are poignant, challenging, funny, sad, heartbreaking, polemic, angry, weary, and, most importantly, from an emerging generation of BAME writers.

Contributors to this extraordinary state of the nation collection will include: Musa Okwonga (poet/broadcaster), Chimene Suleyman (poet/columnist), Vinay Patel (playwright), Bim Adewumni (Buzzfeed), Salena Godden (poet/writer), Sabrina Mahfouz (playwright), Kieran Yates (journalist), Coco Khan (journalist), Sarah Sahim (journalist), Reni Eddo Lodge (journalist), Varaidzo (student), Darren Chetty (teacher), Himesh Patel (Tamwar from Eastenders), Nish Kumar (comedian), Miss L from Casting Call Woe (actor), Daniel York Loh (playwright and actor), Vera Chok (actor/writer), Riz Ahmed (actor/rapper), Inua Ellams (poet/playwright) and Wei Ming Kam (writer).

I’m been shouting about the need for more BAME voices for so long on Twitter. I’m glad I can finally do something about it.


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  • Nikesh Shukla avatar

    Nikesh Shukla

    Nikesh Shukla is a writer.

    His debut novel, Coconut Unlimited, was published by Quartet Books and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011. Metro described it as 'a riot of cringeworthy moments made real by Shukla's beautifully observed characters and talent for teen banter'. In 2011 he co-wrote an essay about the London riots for Random House with Kieran Yates, Generation Vexed: What the Riots Don't Tell Us About Our Nation's Youth. In 2013 he released a novella about food with Galley Beggars Press, The Time Machine, donating his royalties to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. The book won Best Novella at the Sabotage Awards.

    His second novel, Meatspace, was published by The Friday Project. 'Like Douglas Coupland's Generation X,' according to the Guardian, 'this novel captures a cultural moment.' It's been lauded by the New Statesman, BBC Radio 4, the Independent on Sunday, and the Daily Mail.

    His short stories have featured in Best British Short Stories 2013, Five Dials, The Moth Magazine, Pen Pusher, The Sunday Times, Book Slam, BBC Radio 4, First City Magazine and Teller Magazine. He has written for the Guardian, Esquire, Buzzfeed, Vice and BBC 2. He has, in the past, been writer in residence for BBC Asian Network and Royal Festival Hall.

    In 2014 he co-wrote Two Dosas, an award-winning short film starring Himesh Patel. His Channel 4 Comedy Lab Kabadasses aired on E4 and Channel 4 in 2011 and starred Shazad Latif, Jack Doolan and Josie Long.

    He currently hosts The Subaltern podcast, an anti-panel discussion featuring conversations with writers about writing. Guests have included Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Teju Cole, James Salter, George Saunders, Jennifer Egan, Evie Wyld, Sam Bain, Alex Preston, Colson Whitehead and more. He also co-hosts a podcast with sci-fi writer James Smythe, Meat Up, Hulk Out

    Nikesh is represented by Julia Kingsford (books) at Kingsford Campbell and Georgina Ruffhead (film/TV) at David Higham Associates. If you want to get in touch with him directly, best bet is on Twitter

  • Nikesh Shukla has written 1 private update. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    4th March 2019 The Good Immigrant USA: a new book of essays

    Hello all

    You were there at the beginning. You made the The Good Immigrant movement happen by supporting the original crowdfunder. And we've been hard at work since, using the book to make positive change in the publishng industry and in the world. This week sees the release of a BRAND NEW collection of essays: The Good Immigrant USA. It's had early buzz from NY Times, Buzzfeed, Time Magazine and…

    19th October 2017 The sequel to The Good Immigrant is 65% funded! We need you!

    We are 65% funded on The Good Journal, a quarterly journal written by British writers of colour. It's the sequel to The Good Immigrant and we are crowdfunding for it here with 12 days to go! We need your support -- either spreading the word or a pledge, if you can. We've had lots of subscriptions and we're really excited to bring you four more books that look and feel like The Good Immigrant, and…

    22nd September 2017 The Good Immigrant Turns One. What Next?


    Today, we launch 'The Good Journal', a year to the day after 'The Good Immigrant' came out.

    A year ago, 'The Good Immigrant' came out in shops. Because of you.

    It became a bestseller. Because of you.

    It was all over social media. Because of you.

    It won an award voted for by readers. Because of you.

    People wanted more. Because of you. Because of the contributors. Because they…

    17th May 2017 Free Hardbacks For School!

    Hey all

    Thank you for all your support with 'The Good Immigrant'. This will be one of my last updates about the project (there's one more big one still to come later on in the year). But this one is a good one and I need your help:

    Unbound and Penguin Random House are kindly donating all the leftover hardbacks of ‘The Good Immigrant’ to school libraries. Which is ace and generous and brilliant…

    7th February 2017 A New Essay Collection!

    Hey all

    [I've bolded the important bits for the tl;dr crew]

    Apologies for the mass email but I wanted to let you know about a new project I'm working on. Today we launch the crowdfunder for a brand new essay book. Following the success of The Good Immigrant, and my dayjob running a youth magazine called Rife, and hey, throwing into the mix the fact that young people feel pretty pissed off that…

    19th December 2016 A List Of Thank Yous, And Some Brief Thoughts About 2016

    Hello friend.

    Thank you for purchasing The Good Immigrant, for promoting it, for reviewing it, for word-of-mouthing it, for supporting it, for wishing it well, for making noise about it. Thank you if you supported the crowdfunding campaign, saw it in a shop, saw us at a literary festival, went on a friend's recommendation, off a review, from seeing my stupid face in a purposefully silly advert…

    27th October 2016 Vote For 'The Good Immigrant' In The Books Are My Bag Reader's Awards!

    Hey all

    Hope you're well.

    Thank you for supporting the book, for talking about it on social media, with friends, at bookshops. The response has been great. I won't keep you long but I wonder if you'd do us a favour (a favour that puts you in the running for £100 of book tokens). The Books Are My Bag Reader Awards are open. And hey, seeing as you're such supportive readers, we'd all love it if…

    29th September 2016 Further Reading From All Our Contributors

    Hello there

    So, you've probably either read The Good Immigrant or are midway through and loving it (I hope). You're thinking to yourself, this is great but where do I get more from the contributors? 

    Well, I'm going to list for you below books and records our faithful contributors have worked on. Feel free to get them from bookshops or, if you have to, somewhere electronic that I won't publicly…

    22nd September 2016 Happy Publication Day

    Happy publication day to Bim Riz Reni Musa Chimene Varaidzo Sarah Ming Daniel Salena Vera Himesh Sabrina Coco Darren Inua Kieran Vinay L and Nish.

    'The Good Immigrant' is available everywhere now, on general release. 

    I emailed Rachael from Unbound about this project on 14th October 2015. Less than a year later and it's out, in the shops, available, being read, debated, loved, cried over --…

    16th September 2016 A Thank You Present, From All The Contributors

    Hey there

    Thanks for supporting our book through Unbound. You made it happen. Boy, did you make it happen. Thank you. So much. From me, from Bim, Riz, Musa, Chimene, Ming, Vera, Varaidzo, Sarah, Himesh, Vinay, Darren, Coco, Reni, Inua, Daniel, Salena, Sabrina, Kieran, Nish and Miss L.

    You'll have the book in your hands now, hopefully. You're enjoying it, hopefully. You're telling everyone hopefully…

    4th July 2016 The Good Immigrant LIVE at the Roundhouse and Latitude Festival

    Hey all

    Two pre-release gigs coming up that might be of interest.

    1) On 1st August 2016, we're doing an exclusive night of readings and chat about immigrant at the Roundhouse. We're giving away our proceeds from the gig to HOPE not hate, an anti-racism charity. 

    In the wake of the referendum and the immigration debate, this event, featuring writers Inua Ellams, Varaidzo, Miss L (Casting Call…

    21st June 2016 'When I Saw That UKIP Poster, It Was Like A Racist Attack...'

    I always knew this book was important.

    But given how immigration has been a bargaining chip in this rotten, violent, offensive referendum campaign, given how the word has been stripped of any relation to actual people and their lived experience, and now all it represents is an 'erosion of Britishness', given how much immigration has done for this country, I realise it's more important than I initially…

    8th June 2016 Namaste

    My friend Sammy saw this in Urban Outfitters this weekend. It's just so very tiring, Urban Outfitters. Just so utterly tiring. Anyway, the tenuous link to our book is that my essay is called 'Namaste', and it's about language, its importance, cultural appropriation and how yoga stole the namaste. Below is a short extract from my essay:

    Namaste means hello.

    Namaste means I’m bowing to you…

    1st June 2016 200% Dosa Party


    Hello friend,

    I hope you're well. I know you know we were fully funded after 3 days and everything since has been a bonus. The 100% funding is great because it means we can pay all the contributors, get the book made, pay for time and printing and typesetting and cover design and all that sorta good stuff that goes into the making a book.

    24th May 2016 Transcript of My 'New Writing South' Lecture At Brighton Festival

    I thought this would be worth sharing with you. It's a transcript of my lecture for Brighton Festival/New Writing South on Sunday 22nd May. I was putting out the call for more inclusive/normalisation/diversity (bleugh, I hate that word) in books. While this book is about the UK and race/immigration, themes in some of the essays cross over with the lecture. Plus, I quote contributors Varaidzo, Reni…

    16th May 2016 First Sentences

    Here are the first sentences of all our essays:

    From 'Namaste' by Nikesh Shukla:

    Namaste means hello.

    From 'A Guide To Being Black' by Varaidzo:

    With most people, their race is perhaps the only aspect of their identity guaranteed from the moment of conception.

    From 'Window Of Opportunity' by Himesh Patel:

    When I was four years old, I tried to jump out of my bedroom window…

    28th April 2016 Extract from the introduction to the book...

    Hey. We filed the book yesterday. 21 writers, amazingly, pulled together an entire book in just over three months. It was hard fucking work, my friends, I'm not going to lie. Here is another not-lie. It's the best bloody book I have ever worked on. Really. It is unbelievably good. I'm going to do you a blogpost next week, telling you more about what's in the book, who's written what and what you can…

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  • Justin Zaman
    Justin Zaman asked:

    Not a question, but a comment. I am the eldest of three brothers, all now successful consultant doctors, with a barrister father forced to move to the UK following the 1971 civil war that formed Bangladesh, in which he and his new wife (mum) got trapped for a while in a city whilst the West Pakistani Army went on a killing spree of intelllectuals, who then didnt get much work in the London Law Chambers in the 1970s despite his Inner Temple training due to probably the skin colour he wore, who had to run a curry house (in which we lived above in two rooms during my run up to GCSEs as mum cooked in the kitchen next to the chefs) to get us three boys educated via a state grammar. Now my dad's grandchildren are shining and far away from the events of 1971 that led to this trajectory. My dad was too proud to claim for free school lunches even though we could have been entitled to it, and his determined attitude has been instilled in all his three boys. 'Work twice as hard to get the same outcome as someone with white skin' is what my dad told me in primary school. So we all did. All us 'Good Immigrants' have stories. Look forward to my copy.

    Nikesh Shukla
    Nikesh Shukla replied:

    Oh man, I love these 'twice as good' stories. I'd like to collect them on a Tumblr one day. All children of immigrants have one.