The editors of Welsh Plural have gathered some of the most interesting and relevant writers from Wales to consider what Welsh identity means today. This is anything but niche: for anyone thinking about what identity, belonging and borders mean or could come to mean, this is helpful. It is no surprise that this anthology has won praise from Nikesh Shukla and Gary Younge.
The book’s cover illustrates a willingness to engage in critical thinking that characterises this collection. It shows a beautiful section of the Wrexham Quilt, made by a military tailor in the mid-nineteenth century. “Like this book, it conveys a patchwork of experiences, from religious scenes to tributes to the industrial heritage of Wales. Other motifs show giraffes, elephants and palm trees – souvenirs of Wales’ part in the conquests of the British Empire, made possible by armies clothed by tailors such as James Williams”.
The range of topics covered and approaches make this a compelling read. There is a Choose Your Own Adventure style guide to being a Welsh novelist by Gary Raymond. Charlotte Williams, who is examining outcomes for children of colour in Welsh education for the Welsh Government, discusses this alongside her own experience of being the only child of colour in her Welsh classroom in the 1960s. Darren Chetty explores Welsh pubs called The Black Boy, both their history and how they handle their name now. And there is much more.
I felt I had been given a gift of original and challenging thoughts. Some themes came out strongly for me, particularly the intersection of racialised people and Welshness. Several writers give valuable and vital accounts related this. There are also conflicts and disagreements between the pieces, which suggests that the editors intended to allow space for complexity, nuance and difference. I found this approach invigorating, and helpful. I was grateful that the book was in English, allowing me as a non-Welsh speaker access. Diolch yn fawr iawn, pawb.
Reading this on holiday in Wales at the time of the local elections felt important. I am most envious of anyone who got to attend the related event in Machynlleth (which I heard about from colleagues at the smashing Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop – it sounded like an excellent evening). Reading Welsh Plural also brought the small publisher Repeater Books to my attention, whose range looks well worth digging into.
By coincidence, I followed this up by reading Nick Hayes’ The Book of Trespass (paperback, Bloomsbury, £9.99). Hayes’ investigation into what the idea and law of trespass means in the UK now also engages with the issues of land, walls and identities. As in Welsh Plural, there are moments of joy and celebration among the sometimes difficult content. Hayes and his dog see a row of deer appear by magic as they walk through a wood: “This kind of moment is only available off the path. It is prosaic, but it feels like a miracle, it feels meaningful, and it leaves me with my heart thumping in my throat… I would swap a hundred nice walks along a pretty Right of Way for this one moment of magic”.