In his latest book, Akala has taken inspiration from William Shakespeare to write his first young adult fiction debut called The Dark Lady.
It was inevitable that poet, activist and author Akala would eventually turn his sights to writing for young adults, given his passion for education and turning young people away from a life of crime. This is the guy who once said, “It is so bloody expensive to put kids in prison, it is cheaper to send them to Eton!” It would appear he is doing what he can toward this premise by writing his young adults’ novel, which is entitled after Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets.
Akala makes no bones about his passion to make Shakespeare accessible to young people and he followed through on this with his book. During a recent appearance on BBC One’s The One Show Akala described how he wanted to write a period book that was relatable and not focused on elites and royals, as is so often the case.
He told the presenters of the show: “I wanted to write something from the perspective of someone from a poor background, someone working class who really showed the grit and the difficulty of London at that time… [Dark Lady] is the story of a young man from the street, during what was a very difficult time in British history, in London’s history.”
The title of his book refers to the women behind Shakespeare sonnets (127-154), where he refers to a dark lady who has black, wiry hair and dark skin. Akala is clear that she is indeed Black. “So many people are surprised that Shakespeare has these sonnets to this woman that is called the ‘Dark Lady’, but he describes her over and over again as Black.
He goes on, “There’s quite a good scholarship around African presence, including from London during that time, like Miranda Kaufmann’s great book called Black Tudors.”
Akala’s book centres around a 15-year-old orphan boy named Henry who is haunted by the dreams of a mysterious dark lady. It is a young man’s coming of age journey and gives us a character who is a very smart and complicated character.
As you would expect from a book from Akala, a big theme of the book is the power of reading and the power of language. Akala agrees, he said on The One Show: “Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was so lucky in my family and among the people around me in my community, in my pan African Saturday school, I had so many people putting pressure on me to do well in school to read more. [Books] have brought me not only riches and amazing stuff, but they kept me out of getting into trouble and so on and so forth. And so, with this book, Henry even though he is from the street and he’s a tough kid, reading is his superpower.”
“He can translate any language in the world, he’s almost like a savant, ‘Rain man’ type character, and so yes, it’s quite consciously propaganda for young people about the importance and amazingness of reading.”
You can buy Akala’s The Dark Lady here.