Dohra Ahmad is professor of English at St. John’s University. She is the author of Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America and editor of Rotten English: A Literary Anthology and The Penguin Book of Migration Literature. She has contributed an introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Housing Lark by Sam Selvon. (January 2020)

Follow Dohra Ahmad on Twitter: @DohraAhmad.


A Lark in West Indian London

Caribbean migrants arriving at Waterloo Station, London, 1962

That plot, roughly, involves the “lark” or quixotic idea of buying a home together. Each of the novel’s main characters has encountered variations of racist and predatory rental markets, and together they scheme to find a literal and figurative place of their own. From its opening scene, The Housing Lark poses the question of whether the lark can become a reality: Will these motley folks, male and female, black and Indian, from Trinidad and Jamaica, prostitutes, housecleaners, factory workers, and hustlers, be able to achieve this milestone of upward mobility? More than any other of Selvon’s novels, The Housing Lark explores the possibility of unity in difference.