British author Andrea Levy, who drew on her Jamaican heritage for novels such as "Small Island", has died at the age of 62, her publishers said Friday.

Levy had been suffering from cancer, Headline Publishing Group added.

Her novels "have perhaps never been more relevant or important in their questioning of identity and belonging", Headline said.

She was "widely regarded as the first black British author to achieve both critical and mainstream commercial success", it added.

The daughter of Jamaican immigrants to Britain, she started writing in her mid-30s after completing a creative writing course.

Her fourth novel "Small Island", the story of Jamaican immigrants who start a new life in post-war Britain, won a series of awards.

They included the 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year for English-language books by writers based in Britain and Ireland.

The book also won the 2004 Women's Prize for Fiction, for English-language novels published in Britain, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

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

The 2010 novel was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

"Small Island" has been adapted into a play which is to open at the National Theatre in London in April.

"I loved hanging out with this pugnacious woman. She was funny, had attitude and was immensely smart," said Lenny Henry, a board member at the theatre and himself the son of Jamaican immigrants.

"She cuts to the bone of story and is incredibly strict when it comes to structure, truth and characterisation.

"Andrea's writing is on point, she finds the nub of a character and explores it fully, mapping out emotions, motivation and passion.

"Long may her legacy reign," he said.