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23Jan

Nikesh Shukla: 'If I’m writing for my daughters, I want them to know who I am'

The novelist and editor of The Good Immigrant on telling his children about racism, his relationship with food and coming to terms with his mother’s death in his new memoir

  • Read an extract from Brown Baby below

In July last year, Nikesh Shukla tweeted a photograph of 11 books, captioned: “This is a decade’s worth of work.” At the top was his debut novel Coconut Unlimited, and at the bottom his latest book, Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home. It was supposed to come out in June, but the pandemic pushed it back, by which time – everyone supposed – bookshops would reopen and live events would return. Instead, we are back in lockdown and Shukla and I are peering at one another down the barrels of our laptop cameras to discuss Brown Baby.

The book’s title comes from the beautifully sober 1960s ballad by Oscar Brown Jr, expressing hopes to his son (“When out of men’s hearts all hate is hurled / You’re gonna live in a better world”) and Shukla’s Brown Baby is addressed to his own two daughters, who are now six and three years old. “I love the tradition of writers writing letters to their children,” he says. “James Baldwin writing to his nephew [“My Dungeon Shook” in The Fire Next Time], Ta-Nehisi Coates [in Between the World and Me]. I didn’t want it to be an overly intellectualised book about race and all the other things. I wanted it to be someone not quite having the answers, manoeuvring in that way that when you’re a parent, your opinions on things change all the time.”

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