What do we say when a year knocks the air out of us? When we started to put this issue together, the world was a different place. (I’m sorry to everybody I told, grandly, at the NewYear’s Eve party that it would be the best year of their life.) I was asked to guest- edit the summer edition of Five Dials and I decided to put together an issue on journeys: about where a road can take you and how it can change you. I had just finished writing a road-trip novel myself and had been spending a lot of time thinking about the seedy, celluloid glamour of roadside motels, how a physical journey can reflect an emotional one, the rich folklore of the quest and the lure of the unfamiliar, and how sometimes you just aren’t able to outrun yourself. Ironically, I hadn’t thought much about the perilous and transformational journeys that 2020 might hold.
But then: a halt, a pause, a shock to the system. A major diversion on the route. The magazine issue that was conceived pre-pandemic turned out to be more fitting than I could have imagined. Suddenly we could not travel at all, and I found myself hungrier than ever for elsewhere, and for writing that could get me there, could throw me into the stratosphere if it wanted to. From classics (Jean Rhys, James Baldwin) to amazing contemporary fiction (Mieko Kawakami, Brit Bennett, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld) to well-loved favourites (Fleur Jaeggy, Renata Adler), the writing that kept me focused all had imagination, beauty and a strong sense of place. It grounded me and reminded me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
If Covid-19 was a roadblock, what does that make the death of George Floyd? Another step along a road we have been walking for centuries? There is nothing unexpected, nothing new about the deadliness and the pervasiveness of racism. Ours is a society and a culture built on the wealth of colonialism and slavery, and it shows. Here in the UK, Black people are twice as likely to die in police custody as non-Black detainees. BAME patients are 50 per cent more likely to die from Covid-19 than white ones. Three summers ago, seventy-two Londoners died in the Grenfell Tower fire, the majority of them people of colour, and three years on, still no justice has been done. And this spring, Belly Mujinga was fatally assaulted at Victoria Station just doing her job.
So we find ourselves in the summer of 2020. Across the US and across the world, protests have erupted in response to the killing of George Floyd and the killings of BreonnaTaylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Dominique Fells, Riah Milton and so many others: protests for justice and accountability, for the freedom to live, for an end to white supremacy. My words can never be sufficient to express the scale and the gravity of the loss that inspired this movement. But I can say thank you to everyone who has shared their journey, thank you to everyone paving the way. We stand with you and walk with you. Five Dials is always free, but if you enjoy reading this issue, please consider donating the price of a magazine to the Black Lives Matter fund.
Despite everything, I am reassured and dazzled by the writing gathered here, which takes us forward and backward and anchors us in the present, which reminds us of things lost and things that will return and things yet to come. Thank you, fiction. Thank you, poetry. Thank you, everything in between. And thanks to you especially, the writers of this issue, for your energy, beauty and vision. I’m so glad that you’ve brought us along for the ride.