I was born in Germany, the son of a Nigerian mother and English father, and I grew up in the UK. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, 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 seventy 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 (see here for selected short fiction) 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 non-fiction book – Language to Go – with my friend and colleague Antonia Clare. Since then I have written over twenty, mainly about language learning and teaching. 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, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.
I am currently the Writer-in-residence at Western New Mexico University, and I also teach on Stonecoast’s MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine. I am the Chair and a founding member of the Southwest Festival of the Written Word and I co-host, along with Elise Stuart, the radio program Use Your Words: Writers Speak. I also review fiction for The New York Journal of Books. I live in Silver City, New Mexico, USA, with my wife and son.
Receiving an award for Speakout in Buckingham Palace, 2011. My co-authors were Antonia Clare, Frances Eales, and Steve Oakes.
RECENT AWARDS, HONORS, RECOGNITION
2019 Les Dévastés, the French edition of Damnificados, translated by Camille Nivelle, won the Prix Révélation de Traduction from Société des Gens de Lettres.
2017 Damnificados won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award.
2017 Damnificados won the Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction.
2017 Damnificados was named a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Literary Fiction and nominated for an American Book Award.
2016 Damnificados won the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Fiction; was named on a Top Ten Picks list in ‘O’, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine; and was named no. 1 on Bookriot’s ‘Books to Read in January’ list.
2016 I was named an honorary member of Delta Mu Delta.
2014 I was named a member of the Academy of American Poets.
2013 I was named a New Mexico Humanities Council Scholar.
2012 Speakout was shortlisted for the British Council Innovation in ELT Award.
2011 Speakout won the Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union Award for Best Book.
2010 I was appointed writer-in-residence at Western New Mexico University, USA.
2008 How to Teach Listening won the Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union Award Best Book for Teachers.
2008 How to Teach Listening was shortlisted for the Ben Warren Prize.
Society of Authors
Academy of American Poets
Delta Mu Delta
Southwest Festival of the Written Word (Chair)
Liepman Literary Agency