“On my passport I came here with it said ‘retarded’. It makes me have to joke about it… my new passport says ‘disabled.’ Saying ‘disabled’ don’t bother me because there are many, many people who are disabled. That don’t make me a fool. I wish people would see that.” (Wiltshire, 1985:69)
Pauline Wiltshire is a woman who is determined to beat the odds, courageously tackling many obstacles throughout her life. Pauline reflects back in her autobiography Living and Winning (1985) were she talks about her life growing up Jamaica. She was born on the 16th January 1950 in Coleyville, Manchester, Jamaica. Pauline has both positive and negative experiences living in Jamaica; not having a stable place to call home can be hard as a young girl. She was born out of wedlock, so did not live with her biological mother and father due to the religious connotations about illegitimacy. Instead, she lived with numerous different family members, experiencing a turbulent and challenging childhood. She was lived with her Aunt Ina in Jamaica, temporarily stayed with an aunt-in-law Mina, and also spent numerous years in hospital due to ongoing health problems. In a series of ‘family’ blog post you fill find out the many twists and turns Pauline faces, both family life in Jamaica and in England, where she is re-united with her birth mother. But will in be smooth sailing for her?
She makes brave decisions throughout her life, one of which is permanently migrating alone to London in 1976, at the age of just 24. This was due to issues back home that got so out of hand she had no choice but to re-start her life, which I will talk about in blog posts to come. She talks about her struggles in both Jamaica and London: her experience with both physical and mental abuse, religion, education, occupation, her family situations and how she has tackled all of this whilst having both mental and physical disabilities. I think its important to note that contextually :
“in the two decades between 1962 and 1981, successive British governments passed legislation that effectively attempted to define the rights of British citizenship in racial terms. They did so first through a series of immigration acts restricting the rights of non-white commonwealth citizens to enter Britain freely, and later, with the 1981 Nationality Act, in a redefinition of British citizenship itself… the second half of the 1960s to the early 1980s marked a new turn in the history of decolonization and black liberation” (Waters, 2018:np) Pauline’s memoirs come during the 1980s, proving she is a significant player in liberation through her writing.
Her story caught my eye as she exuberates a positive and matter-of-fact attitude; she always tries to see the good in every situation she’s in, despite facing troubles along the way. Pauline first came to Maggie Hewitt, a publisher at Centerprise Publishers in 1981, with her manuscript “Now I Live in England”, in a desperate plea to publish her autobiography. Centerprise was a community publisher located hackney, helping disadvantaged and working class members of society gain the opportunity to have their voices heard. Places like these were so important for marginalised members of society, as Andrew Flinn discovers. Collections of archives that included women’s, black, queer and cultural histories (Flinn, 2012: 25) relied on independent or community archives in order to enabled community histories (ibid, 26) , which is exactly what Centerprise were doing for people just like Pauline. The Publishing Project that Centerprise offered gave Pauline the chance to tell her story exactly how she wanted to.
Hewitt writes in the introduction of Living and Winning, “She had been feeling depressed at the time, and thinking that she couldn’t cope. She had started to drink and was thinking of taking her own life… she said that she wanted to prove to people that she was not a fool, and that she could lead a normal life.” (Wiltshire, 1985:5). Despite anxieties Pauline had about facing her traumas, she “realised that her experience matters and has felt more and more able to talk about the painful experiences in her life” (ibid) . Pauline’s story was very important to her, and the publishers wanted to print her story. However, they didn’t have enough money at the time to publish it as a book and instead published it as a small booklet. Nonetheless, interest was sparked within the community. So much so, Pauline was approached by a young girl for whom Pauline’s story resonated, encouraging her to write more. Hence, Living and Winning was written. Pauline recorded her story and Hewitt transcribed it for her, and over the course of two years the book was published. The idea of self ownership is a common theme amongst black female memoir-writers, as Suzanne Scafe suggests. She explains that the “reclamation of the black female subject demands… the right to the authority and control of the narrative” (Scafe, 2009:np).
This indicates how important it is for her, making it as authentic and as raw as possible. Taking this into consideration, Hewitt made a point of explaining that she made few changes to what Pauline had initially stated in her transcription.
Pauline’s story is inspiring, her smile is utterly contagious, and I can’t wait to share with you Pauline’s story.
Flinn, A. (2012). Archives and their communities: Collecting histories, challenging heritage. Brighton: University of Brighton. Date accessed: 10/4/2020.
Scafe, S. (2009). ‘The Embracing “I”: Mothers and Daughters in Contemporary Black Women’s Auto/biography.” Women: A Cultural Review 20.3 287-98. Date accessed: 10/4/2020.
‘Publishing Project’. https://centerprise.org.uk/ N.D. Web. Accessed: 17/02/2020
Wiltshire, P. (1985). Living and Winning. Hackney: Centerprise publishers.