Thursday 18 March 2021

Excerpt from The Guardian interview by Katy Guest


Salena Godden, pictured at home in London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The taboo-busting poet has written her first novel, Mrs Death Misses Death. She talks about missing performing and why Brits struggle to speak about her novel’s all too timely subject


he day after our interview, Salena Godden emails me first thing. She’s dreamily watching the snow, she says, and eating a huge Jamaican banana cake with rum in it, but she’s also kicking herself for forgetting to say something important. “I woke up thinking I’d hate the idea that I was in the Guardian and didn’t namecheck these good people,” she writes, above a list of books she’s excited about, by authors including Courttia Newland, Nikita Gill, Kathryn Williams and Irenosen Okojie. It’s typical that, just as she’s publishing her first novel, she wants to share the love with fellow authors. Godden has mentored writers for many years (including Nikesh Shukla, whose book Brown Baby was published a week after hers) and, having worked so hard for her share of the limelight, she really cares about paying it forward.

The first novel in question is Mrs Death Misses Death – a witty, angry, warm and elemental combination of poetry and prose in which Death is portrayed as an old black woman who shares her stories through a young poet called Wolf. It was published just as the UK’s Covid death toll reached 100,000 and, with apparently perfect timing, the book bears witness to avoidable deaths, unnoticed deaths and lives thoughtlessly stolen. But it was written long before lockdown, with its genesis as early as 2011. “I started this book because I was in a place of anxiety and grieving and mourning and there was a run of funerals,” says Godden, noting that a lot of people are in that place, now. The first time she “met” Mrs Death was in 2015: walking in east London she suddenly heard a voice announce, “I know a lot of dead people, now.” She walked miles, through Whitechapel and Bow, feeling the rhythm of Mrs Death’s words and typing them frantically into her phone. 

The novel that emerged is an exhilarating combination of allegory, poetry and very real fury. A recurring motif is a tower block fire that killed Wolf’s mother. There’s a poem titled Mrs Death in Holloway Prison, with a dedication that reads: “Say Her Name: For Sarah Reed, Black Lives Matter.” Even Mrs Death is tired of all the senseless dying. This, though, is essentially an uplifting read. “It’s very much a book about life,” Godden says, “and about love and about time, and the way we spend our time, and telling people you love them before it’s too late.” It could hardly be more timely.

Mrs Death Misses Death has been optioned by Idris Elba’s production company and she’s excited about it having another life on screen with a powerful, black, female lead. She dreams of Viola Davis or Sophie Okonedo as Mrs Death, maybe with a breakthrough role for some new, young actor as Wolf.... 

  • Mrs Death Misses Death is published by Canongate (RRP £14.99) 

  • To order a 

    copy go to

Read the full piece: The Guardian -

here's a lovely list of
Mrs Death Misses Death
lockdown gigs & reviews & 
interviews & radio & 
podcasts & more 

Arena, RTE Radio interview

BBC London Inspirit with Jumoke Fashola

BBC 6 Music with Lauren Laverne

BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking

BBC Radio 4 Loose Ends with Arthur Smith

Rough Trade Books, Soho Radio, Max Porter & Will Burns

Backlisted Podcast - Episode 132 


Mrs Death Misses Death 
April 2021

Hosted by legendary singer songwriter Tom Brosseau 
Streamed live on Prairie Public, Fargo, Dakota, USA

Shakespeare and Co. Paris 
With Jenni Fagan, author of Luckenbooth
 - become a friend of Shakespeare and Co. here

April 22nd - 2.30pm - Afternoon Tea
RSL and Society of Authors all details to be announced soon...

April 24th - 12.30pm - Cambridge Lit Fest 
With Monique Roffey, author of The Mermaid of Black Conch

Rough Trade Q & A 
A brand new podcast series from Rough Trade
Gemma Cairney X Salena Godden
Coming soon ... Tune in here

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