photo credit: Jay Hemphill
I was born in Germany, the son of a Nigerian mother and English father, but grew up in the UK. After graduating from Edinburgh University, I roamed the world, stopping to live in Egypt, Lesotho, Colombia, England, Italy, and the United States. I made a living mainly by teaching English as a Foreign Language. In Lesotho I ran a school theater and did some work for the anti-apartheid movement in neighboring South Africa, which marked something of an awakening for me.
I didn't own stuff like cars and houses until I was well into my thirties because I spent all my money on travel and books. To date, I've been to about sixty countries, and have about ten zillion books, half of which I still haven't read.
I've always been a writer. I wrote plays for schoolchildren in the UK and Lesotho. In my twenties I began publishing stories about social justice issues in black communities in various journals and anthologies and poetry about all manner of subjects. The Times, London, described my work thus: "hard-hitting … in the kind of language that packs a serious punch" and "display[s] the precise observational skills, the facility with language, and the ability to make a small tale speak fresh volumes."
My novel, Damnificados, was published by PM Press in January 2016. It has since won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction, the Independent Publishers Book Award, and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award; been a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Book Award and the Eric Hoffer Book Award; been nominated for an American Book Award; and been on Oprah's Top 10 Books to Read Now List.
In the late nineties, under the name JJ Wilson, I co-authored my first textbook for adult students of English. I wrote it with my friend and colleague Antonia Clare. Several similar books followed, as well as more academic works for teachers. These were published by Longman (later Pearson). For two of my educational books I was honored at Buckingham Palace in 2008 and 2011.
I have given presentations, plenaries, and workshops in Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Lesotho, Malta, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.
I live in Silver City, New Mexico, USA, with my wife, son, and stepdaughter.