Novelist best known for her Windrush novel Small Island

Born: March 7, 1956;

Died: February 14, 2019

ANDREA Levy, who has died aged 62 of cancer, was a writer whose novels explored the experiences of the Jamaican British community.

She was most famous for Small Island, the story of Jamaican immigrants who start a new life in post-war Britain after arriving on the Windrush. The novel made Levy a big name, winning the 2004 Orange prize, the Whitbread book of the year and the Commonwealth Writers’ prize. The book was also a bestseller and led to an adaptation by the BBC starring Naomie Harris and Ruth Wilson.

Levy said it took some time for her to come to terms with the success of the book. "I'm still wondering what it was all about," she said in 2010. "It got sanctioned as part of the canon. Once I won the Whitbread I could see that it was going beyond what I ever thought was possible. Older white men interested in RAF gunners were buying it and reading it and enjoying it – the kind of people who'd never bought my books before. I wonder whether it was because we'd just gone through this massive period of immigration from eastern Europe and maybe there was safety in looking back at that part of our immigration history with some nostalgia."

Levy, who was born in London in 1956, did not begin writing until she was in her mid-30s after completing a creative writing course.

Her publisher Headline said she had been ill for some time. Levy's long-time editor and publisher of Small Island Jane Morpeth, said: "Her legacy is unique, and her voice will be heard for generations to come. I miss her."

Headline said Levy's novels have perhaps never been more relevant or important in their questioning of identity and belonging. Morpeth said Levy was "widely regarded as the first black British author to achieve both critical and mainstream commercial success".

Levy's father had sailed from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush and her mother joined him soon after.

The much-loved work is also being adapted for the stage by the National Theatre.

The author was said to be very involved in the production, to debut this spring.

Levy was also known for The Long Song, which is set in early 19th century-Jamaica during the last years of slavery and the period immediately after emancipation.

The award-winning 2010 novel recently aired as a three-part BBC drama.

The Long Song was her last novel and was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Levy's other works include Fruit Of The Lemon, Never Far From Nowhere and Every Light In The House Burnin'.

She is survived by her husband Bill Mayblin and two stepdaughters.