Poet and writer Yrsa Daley-Ward will narrate Descendants, a Radio 4 series that will explore the links we all have to Britain’s slave-trading past.

Descendants will reveal the sometimes unpalatable truth about how connections to slavery can be found somewhere in the personal histories of so many of us, whether we are connected to the oppressed, the oppressors – or to both.

Starting on 28 May, each episode introduces listeners to people who are connected – often in very surprising ways – both to one another, and to slavery. Moving backwards and forwards through time, the series explores the stories of public and private figures from around the world from Detroit to Bristol, Barbados to London. Starting with the personal history of Jen Reid, the Bristol woman whose statue replaced the toppled Edward Colston’s last summer the programme covers the personal histories of fourteen other people. These include Gayle Heron, the sister of poet and musician Gil Scott Heron, Conservative MP James Cleverley and Mark Cropper, a descendant of the prominent abolitionist James Cropper.

Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa Daley-Ward
Image credit: BBC

Poet, actress and author of Bone and The Terrible, Yrsa Daley-Ward is a of mixed West Indian and West African heritage. Born to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, Yrsa was one of the writers on Beyoncé’s film and visual album Black Is King.

Speaking about her involvement in the series, she said: “As someone whose parents hail from Jamaica and Nigeria, the deep horror of enslavement was likely part of my family history. So much of the history of a people was lost and subsequently, so much of the truth doctored. I was drawn to this project because as an author and performer I have come to understand the great resonance and deep importance of our stories, of finding future in history, of tracing bloodlines, ancestry and the paths of those who came before us.

“Although I recognise how connected we are, the very extent to which these stories interlink and touch each other still caught me by surprise. The series is informative and hopeful, and I’m so happy to be a part of that, bringing these stories of everyday people together and to life.”


Listen to Descendants on BBC Radio 4, Fridays from 28 May – 9 July, 11-11.30am.

Yrsa Daley-Ward’s new book, The How, will be released on 2 November 2021.

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