Indigo Donut review: a stunning tale of love and loss from Patrice Lawrence ★★★★

By Heather Marks

No second book pitfalls here – Indigo Donut is a stunning tale of love overcoming loss, as Patrice Lawrence weaves the aftermath of childhood trauma with the giddy butterflies of teen romance. ★★★★

Indigo witnesses her father kill her mother when she is just a toddler. Other family members are nowhere to be seen, which means she is left to bounce around the care system. This is the novel’s opening scene, and the trauma of it still plagues Indigo as she starts her first day of sixth form at her ‘last chance’ school. Everything seems set to go bust, as others are keen to use her past against her. However, an encounter with the tall, tender hearted, ginger afro’d Bailey is the beginning of a heart-warming romance. But when an overly curious homeless man follows Bailey home to ask questions about Indigo, it’s only a matter of time before the past wreaks havoc on the present.

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence

Indigo Donut, Patrice Lawrence

Lawrence has a fine ear for dialogue – she captures the sharp, energetic language of London teens and makes them come to life on the page. Her characters feel real, and we empathise with them through hostile family life, painful memories, and the awkwardness of a new crush, the narrative moving around London effortlessly as we are carried along by its young protagonists. For those who’ve read the book and will know what I’m referring to, Covent Garden had me whooping with joy.

Cultural inclusivity in literature is a topical issue, with the lack of people of colour in children’s books still a problem in the UK. However, Lawrence’s novel is un-selfconsciously diverse. Her characters range from different cultural backgrounds; black and mixed-race families are not singular occurrences but the norm, and her main protagonists are mixed-race. In Indigo Donut people of colour do not exist on the fringe or as plot devices, where their ethnicity is the defining feature about them, or a quest for racial identity is what drives the novel. Rather they are fully realised, vivid characters whose ethnicity is beside the point; they are primarily dealing with love and loss, mean girls and first dates, abandonment and belonging.

The diverse representation of people of colour in young adult fiction has rewarding effects on its readers; children with diverse heritage can feel they are represented in the stories they read, to feel that they too can exist in a literary landscape. Equally, readers who encounter characters different from themselves can realise that they actually share similarities, and be encouraged to imagine diverse characters beyond stereotype.

Patrice Lawrence strikes a fine balance between mystery and teenage mischief. There’s never a dull moment in Indigo Donut, as the plot thickens concerning the dubious stranger lurking around Bailey’s home. With the Waterstones Prize for Young Adult Fiction already under her belt for Orangeboy, who’s to say Indigo Donut won’t win it again next year?

Black British Literature at A Level available to students for first time in the UK

By Heather Marks

 

Reflecting on the content of the new A Level teaching resource she has facilitated, Dr. Deirdre Osborne explores the importance of representing Black British literature in schools and colleges.

Literature provides a powerful touchstone and entry point for understanding the multi-ethnic and racial realities in Britain today. It is a conduit to cultural citizenship. When The Royal Society of Literature asked 2000 people in March 2017 to name ‘writers of literature’, just 7% of the 400 writers named were from black, or Asian backgrounds.

While this survey represents a snapshot, it supports recurrent findings by government bodies, cultural watchdogs and policy think-tank organisations (such as the Arts Council, the Runnymede Trust, Spread the Word, Free Verse, London Schools and the Black Child). The question, ‘why is my curriculum white?’ still remains crucial in relation to secondary school education provision. A key point made by Debbie Weekes-Bernard in a 2015 Race Matters blog ‘Whose History’ is that ‘Issues of equality and diversity need to be placed at the core of school curricula, and our national debate about British identity must critically reflect on the extent to which it either includes or excludes groups by virtue of diversity deemed “acceptable” or not.’

These issues remain pressing. Exposure to a wide and diverse range of literary voices dissolves the notion that there is a unique, singular experience of literary Britishness. Contemporary Black British Literature , the new EdExcel/Pearson A-level materials showcasing writers of diverse ethnic backgrounds, are directly aimed towards recalibrating British secondary education. Contemporary Black British Literature provides a starting point in supporting teachers and students in exploring literature that exists beyond the traditional mainstays of the white canon.  This marks the first time that the secondary school literature curriculum in the UK has offered such a range of texts from this field for students to select from in taking an A-level qualification. It contributes to decolonising the accepted mainstream in British literature and is relevant for everyone committed to engaging with the true richness of post-war British literature.

As outlined in the guide featured in Contemporary Black British Literature: ‘”Black British literature” indicates a range of late-twentieth-century and contemporary work in a context of literary history, rather than as projecting racial restrictions upon the many possible identities that can comprise any individual, and to which they might subscribe personally and collectively. As a literary term, Black British can be asserted, disputed and problematised in turn. Nonetheless, it is an important strand within British literature that needs to be woven into educational curricula and its value recognised by current and future generations.’

Contemporary Black British Literature celebrates perspectives habitually marginalised or omitted from British education. It catalyses the cultural valuing of literature that centralises black people’s perspectives and is written by black authors. While the A-level will set the expectations of students wanting to continue this interest at university, it infers the earlier step of challenging the norms that society and educators unconsciously propagate even at primary school stage.

The Contemporary Black British Literature materials also provide contexts and support for teachers, and those training to be teachers, who might not feel familiar or confident in exploring issues around ‘race’ (and who might have been educated themselves in a British schooling system that has been primarily Euro-centric and offered limited recognition of the actual rich seam of diverse cultural heritages). This EdExcel initiative recognises too, ‘from our conversations with teachers that it can be difficult to know where to begin’. (Introduction to Students, The Contemporary Black British Literature, 2017)

Education is the largest sphere for public engagement across all social categories and identities shaped by gender, class, race and religion. Contemporary Black British Literature aims to appeal to those with a commitment to decolonising secondary school curricula; it will broaden exposure to literary legacies within and outside personal experiences, as a first stage in filling longstanding gaps in heritage acquisition. Young people’s futures can only benefit from educational opportunities in the variety of backgrounds and experiences that are portrayed in this regrettably small selection from the magnificent literary works available.

The portfolio of resources for Contemporary Black British Literature offers a fifty-seven page guide, a twenty-two page Introduction for Students and a twenty-seven page booklet of Teaching Activities. The authors and their texts are:

Prose

Incomparable World, S.I. Martin (Quartet Books, 1997)

NW, Zadie Smith (Penguin, 2012)

Strange Music, Laura Fish (Vintage, 2009)

Trumpet, Jackie Kay (Picador, 2016)

Drama

Fallout, Roy Williams (Bloomsbury 3PL, 2003)

nut, debbie tucker green (Nick Hern Books, 2013)

Something Dark, Lemn Sissay in Hidden Gems ed. Deirdre Osborne
(Oberon Books, 2008)

The Story of M, SuAndi (Oberon Books, 2017)

Poetry

Ship Shape, Dorothea Smartt (Peepal Tree Press, 2011)

Telling Tales, Patience Agbabi (Canongate Books, 2015)

The Rose of Toulouse, Fred D’Aguiar (Carcanet Press, 2013) and ‘At the Grave of the Unknown African, Henbury Parish Church’ Callaloo, 15:4 (1992): 894-8.

Too Black, Too Strong, Benjamin Zephaniah (Bloodaxe Books, 2001) and ‘Introductory Chat’ and ‘Lesson Number Wan’ (pp.1-2 & 3-4) in School’s Out: Poems Not For School (Edinburgh; San Francisco: AK Press, 1997).

 

This blog post was originally featured on the Runnymede Trust (http://www.runnymedetrust.org/blog/black-british-literature-at-a-level-a-first-step-to-many) , published 21st July 2017 by Dr Deirdre Osborne.

The Contemporary Black British Literature resource is available to download here: http://bit.ly/18n1Hjf

***CALL FOR PAPERS*** WE WANT YOU!!

By Heather Marks

This is our CALL FOR PAPERS for our return conference, On Whose Terms?: 10 Years On in Critical Negotiations in Black British Literature and the Arts. 

The conference will be taking place on the 22nd-23rd March 2018, at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK.

The 2008 landmark conference ‘On Whose Terms?: Critical Negotiations in Black British Literature and the Arts focused upon local, international and transnational engagements with Black British literature and the Arts, to trace the multiple – real and imaginary – routes through its production, reception and cultural politics. It created a meeting point for prominent and emerging scholars, writers and practitioners, young people and the general public for exploring the impact of this field, both at home and abroad.

We are calling for papers for our 2018 return conference, On Whose Terms?: Ten Years On in Critical Negotiations in Black British Literature and the Arts. This conference aims to chart what has happened throughout the past decade – reclamations of cultural histories have expanded and revised our horizons, while recent cultural/technological changes have also propelled new mechanisms of success, as well as marginalization, invisibility and exclusion. This return conference offers a vibrant arena for critically engaging with Black British politics and the aesthetic practices that respond to today’s local and global challenges.

We are encouraging fresh discourses in this field, and welcome proposals from a broad spectrum of areas – drama, poetry, prose, performance, film, visual arts, music, curating, publishing, arts management and history. Areas of discussion might connect with the following ideas:

(i) Sites and Sights – The Digital Medium

In the past decade, digital media has given rise to new creative strategies and produced an array of sites and sights that enable interactive aesthetic practices. As digitization made possible various forms of participatory intervention, it has also reinforced socio-political barriers and cultural boundaries in the public sphere. Which role does the digital medium play in the production, circulation and consumption of Black British literature and the arts, and which new sites and sights of creative interaction does it open up?

(ii) Decolonising the Curricula

As the consequences of Britain’s colonial legacy continues to contour and influence contemporary British culture, challenges to the traditional verities of educational and public institutions have gathered apace. Campaigns such as ‘Why isn’t my professor black?’ and ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ have foregrounded the momentum for change. Neo-millennial generations demand a wider and more inclusive curriculum, and diversification of the teaching demographic. How is the tradition of the white interpreter problematised in, and by, Black British writing? What pedagogies and curricula exert a decolonising dynamic?

(iii) Historicising the Field

Imtiaz Habib (2008) has reflected, ‘to collect scattered, fragmented, and historically disregarded records of black people from four centuries back, and to talk about them with authority and coherence consistently, is a daunting task.’ The genre of historical fiction has taken a new turn in Black British writing and film-making over the past decade, alongside the visibilities created in the historical retrievals in Britain’s national archives and broadcasting. How does the model of ‘re-memory’ and the ‘imaginary’ of literary genres engage with history and heritage in a British context?

(iv) Economies of Cultural Visibility: the ‘Value’ of Black British Literature

Cultural visibility and authority in the public sphere fundamentally rely on the attribution of value. Value, however, is a fraught term that involves creative quality as much as it does economic interests. While Black British literature and the arts are certainly not independent from the logic of the market, they also find ways to assert their difference from it. Wherein lies the value of Black British literature and the arts and on whose terms is value attributed in the ‘global alterity industries’ (Huggan 2001)?

(v) New Subjectivities: Mixedness, Post-humanism and Afro-futures

At a time when the western humanist project has come under considerable pressure, Black British literature and the arts offer a vibrant arena for critically engaging with concepts of the human, life and subjectivity. How do creative and critical writers present new, possible post-human conceptions of black subjectivity? How do the arts and its possibilities for imaginative self-fashioning, radically reconfigure understandings of mixed and multi-ethnic experiences? Which creative strategies redraw the boundaries between human and the non-human agents, and how does this post-human project affect the modelling of Afro-futures and new, non-Eurocentric temporalities?

(vi) Sexual Textual Practices

The meta-context of hetero-normativity and hegemonic whiteness has been challenged both creatively and critically through the increasing body of work representing black LGBTQI+ experiences in British culture. What continuities can be mapped when we consider work produced ‘within a history of exclusion and non-white racialization…both within and outside canonical genealogies.’(Ferguson, 2004)? How do we evaluate an aesthetic legacy of Black British LGBTQI+ perspectives – whether or not these are centralised in individual texts, or are by people who might not personally identify as such? To what degree is textual experimentation a means of reclaiming perspectives previously submerged in culture (and historically persecuted)?

(vii) Holding Environments: Publishing, Archiving, Revivals

Bearing in mind Hall’s factors of ‘innovation and constraint’ (1996) that surround cultural genesis and production, across the interactive British arts sector (in literature, film, television, theatre, museums, and publishing), black writers and performers in Britain can still find their lives and experiences— if represented at all— primarily filtered through the dominance of white editors, publishers, directors, screenwriters, programmers, commissioning agents, reviewers and pundits. Has Black British heritage now become a permanent feature of public spaces and cultural records? Are there revivals of work? What are the classics? How can the legacies of activist artists, black presses and cultural networks be maintained?

We want your voices, so please send your abstract (250 words) and a bio (50 words) by 31st May 2017 to: OnWhoseTerms10YearsOn@gold.ac.uk 

Here’s a sneak peak of our lineup – speakers, panels, contributors, convenors and events – to get you hyped for what’s going to be an exciting and inspiring event!

Confirmed Keynotes:

Carole Boyce Davies (giving the Professor Stuart Hall Memorial Address)

Fred D’Aguiar

John McLeod

Jackie Kay in conversation with Blake Morrison

Specialist Panellists:

Pedagogy and Decolonising the Curricula: Joan Anim-Addo (Goldsmiths, University of London), Nathaniel Tobias-Coleman (Birmingham City University), Malachi McIntosh (Goldsmiths, University of London), and Maria Lima (Geneseo, New York).

Archiving and Longevity: Sandra Shakespeare (National Archives), S.I Martin (National Archives), Munira Mohamed (Black Cultural Archives), and Sarah White (George Padmore Institute).

Publishing and Prizes: Susheila Nasta (Wasafiri), Kadija Sesay (SABLE), Bernadine Evaristo (Brunel African Poetry Prize), Margaret Busby (S.I. Leeds Prize), and Pauline Walker (Alfred Fagon Award).

Poetics and Performance: Winsome Pinnock (The Principles of Cartography, 2017), Dorothea Smartt (Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings On, 2014), Sacha Wares, and Roy Williams (Days of Significance, 2007).

Events and Exhibitions: 

We will have performances and readings by Patience Agbabi (Telling Tales, 2014), SuAndi (The Story of M, 2017), Jay Bernard (The Red and Yellow Nothing, 2016), Kei Miller (Augustown, 2016), and Courttia Newland ( The Gospel According to Cane, 2013).

The National Museum of Caribbean Heritage will be exhibiting their community project, and there will also be exhibitions by Eye 2 Eye Productions, Ronnie McGrath, and CEN8.

PARTICIPATING ORGANISATIONS:

National Black Arts Alliance    Oberon Books                        Norwich Writers’ Centre

New Beacon Books                     Pearson Publishing              Peepal Tree Press

Words of Colour                          Arvon                                      Runnymede Trust

Convenors:

Deirdre Osborne, (Goldsmiths University of London)

Birgit Neumann, (University of Dusseldorf, Germany)

In partnership with:

Kei Miller, (University of Exeter)

Catherine Robson, (New York University, London)

SEND YOUR ABSTRACTS (250 words) AND A BIO (50 words) BY 31ST MAY 2017 TO: OnWhoseTerms10YearsOn@gold.ac.uk 

Gallery

Welcome to our gallery! Here we have images of our past events and celebrations – if you attended one, you might find yourself below! Enjoy browsing and please accredit the image if you wish to use it.

 

 Meet the world-first graduates of the Masters in Black British Writing; Thursday 15th December 2016

(photography credit: Heather Marks)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Aspirations and Representations: Looking Back to Travel Forward; Thursday 19th January 2017

(photography credit: Heather Marks)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Keith Church exhibition, ‘Urge to Paint’: Wednesday 18th January 2017

(photography credit: Rebecca Ward)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Renegade Raconteurs: An Evening with Darcus Howe; Friday 11th October 2013

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Review: debbie tucker green’s latest play is a fresh look at the intricacies of love.

a profoundly affectionate, passionate, devotion to someone (- noun) – debbie tucker green’s latest play is a fresh look at the intricacies of love.

By Heather Marks

debbie tucker green’s latest play fulfils the promise of its title. Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows the familiar arguments – the ones with the good-hearted ribbing, the ones which re-tread the same ground (like clothes left on the floor), and the ones which cause a deeper digging down, to reveal knots of pain irredeemably entangled with love. While the shared recognition of couples arguing connects an audience to tucker green’s characters, her poetic stylisation of this familiar territory makes a profoundly affectionate, passionate, devotion to someone (- noun) truly captivating.

A triptych of couples are nondescriptly named A and B, Man and Woman, Man and Young Woman in distinct tucker green fashion. In this Royal Court production, directed by tucker green herself in the Theatre Upstairs, the audience are seated on low, swivelling stools, with the action pacing around them in an elevated U-shaped walkway designed by Merle Hensel. Before any dialogue is uttered, the actors hold chalk in their hands, etching lines and circles in the pastel green wall, a collage of geometric shapes.

ROYAL COURT / JERWOOD UPSTAIRS: a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone.

Shvorne Marks. Photography credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

Part One opens with A and B, played by Lashana Lynch and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, and theirs is the standout performance – not because they play their roles any better than the other actors, but because tucker green gives significantly more room in the play for A and B’s relationship to flare and decline. The audience are immersed into A and B’s relationship and witness significant milestones – firstborn child, second-born child, the decision about whether to have another child, and the death of a partner. Each event produces pain as well as an affirmation of love, and it is this complex co-habitation, of two paradoxical states of being in relation to another person, which tucker green captures so deftly.

Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Lashana Lynch. Photography credit: Marilyn Kingwill.

Lynch and Eustache Jnr never drop the beat with tucker green’s dialogue. The audience whip their necks back and forth to catch Lynch and Eustache Jnr’s rapport, as they bound along with tucker green’s cut and mix style. In one scene, B (Eustache Jnr) waxes lyrical to A (Lynch) on how he feels about her, recalling a Def Poetry Jam.

‘I wanted you beyond sentence in between

syllables above vowels under consonants and

after punctuation.’ [1]

Sections stand alone as discreet love poems, showing tucker green doing what she does best, remixing phrases until they become like a new language. It is this sparring of words, their friction against each other, that produce the verbal volleys between actors to give the play a crackling energy  – electric even in the silences. Part One ends with a climactic, heartbreaking scene, as B confronts the death of A, and it is difficult to tear one’s eyes away from Lynch and Eustache Jnr’s grief-stricken embrace, as Meera Syal and Gary Beard take the baton into Part Two. I found myself swivelling back to watch Lynch and Eustache Jnr in their dimly lit section of the stage, planting soft, slow kisses, and tender strokes on each other, a captivating ebbing away of the pain laid bare, and the love rushing in to heal.

ROYAL COURT / JERWOOD UPSTAIRS: a profoundly affectionate, passi

Lashana Lynch, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr. Photography credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

It is difficult to disentangle oneself from the drama of Part One, but Meera Syal and Gary Beadle deliver excellent performances as Man and Woman in Part Two. Although their relationship does not flare as brightly as A and B, tucker green offers a different insight into the intricacies of love – this time in a union levelled by illness.

From left: Meera Syal, Gary Beadle. Photography credit: Alastair Muir.

Gary Beadle returns as the Man in the final pairing in Part Three, with Shvorne Marks playing the Young Woman, the grown-up daughter of A and B. Marks and Beadle have great chemistry in the last act of this play – Beadle’s cheeky posturing elicits wry chuckles from the audience –  and when the light-hearted teasing turns into biting accusation, the terrain becomes all too familiar once again. tucker green’s play is a poignant reflection on relationships and how we mature with people – what we are willing to learn, accept, confess and concede. The play also offers reflection on the ways in which we do love, without shying away from the lacerations we can inflict when we choose to love and be loved. The play makes good on its name as a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone; a masterstroke in capturing the highs and lows of love without the distaste of clichés. Another hit for the increasingly incomparable debbie tucker green.

ROYAL COURT / JERWOOD UPSTAIRS: a profoundly affectionate, passi

From left: Shvorne Marks, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr. Photography credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

Showing until 1st April, at The Royal Court: https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/aprofoundly/

[1] debbie tucker green, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), (London: Nick Hern Books, 2017), I:II, p.10.

 

“British Black and Asian Literature will define the future”: Deirdre Osborne on the importance of the new Cambridge Companion

 Dr. Deirdre Osborne, co-founder of the MA in Black British Writing, and editor of the new Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945-2010), talks in this video interview with Cambridge University Press about the importance of the new Companion, its relevance for decolonizing the curriculum, and how the inheritances of Black British writing have changed the English language forever. 

Dr. Osborne says that the decision to write the companion came from the tenuous footing held by the field of Black British literature in institutions in Britain, be those schools or universities. “I thought it was very important to have some formal marking of the whole field, and as one of the important responses to decolonizing the curriculum, which is absolutely necessary – to respond to generations who are asking for a diverse range of voices in literature and in the cultural exposure that they have at school and university. This book will respond to that.”

 

Speaking on the impact African, Caribbean and South Asian writers have had on British literature and culture, Dr. Osborne says:

“Writers whose provenance is from Africa and South Asia have had an immeasurable effect on Anglophone literature. It’s absolutely refashioned the way in which we even conceive of the English language and its uses – the imaginary landscape that can be drawn upon, what we hear. The sound of various poetics, whether its formally in the theatre onstage, whether its spoken word, whether its on the airwaves, whether its in readings of prose – these have taken away this expectation that was very much post-war, if we’re thinking of the period of the book, that there would be a certain kind of English spoken publicly.

These liberationist poets, as they are referred to in the book, started to challenge what might be the expectations of what can heard publicly, and that inheritance has of course carried on right up till now. It’s an absolutely extraordinary heritage for British writing and for British literature. This is something the MA in Black British Writing works on, because we need to embrace that in terms of education and what people are exposed to in literary culture.” 

The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945-2010) is out now and available to purchase from Cambridge University Press for £17.99.

In conversation with SuAndi: The Story of M

By Heather Marks

suandi2

SuAndi began her professional writing life in 1985 as a staff member at Culturewood, working alongside Lemn Sissay. At the same time SuAndi joined Manchester’s first Black women’s poetry collective, Blackscribe. Since then, SuAndi has made invaluable contributions to the artistic presence of Black Britain. Her written work ranges from plays to poetry to librettos, and she is a staunch advocate of Black artists, currently sitting as the Freelance Cultural Director of the Black Arts Alliance. In 1999, SuAndi was awarded an OBE for her contributions to the Black Arts sector,and an Honorary Doctorate from Lancaster University in 2015. Her play, The Story of M, has been performed around the world, and was recently reprised on the 27th January 2017 at Goldsmiths, University of London, as part of Aspirations and Representations: Looking Back to Travel Forward, to celebrate The Story of M‘s single edition publication by Oberon Books.

the-story-of-m The Story of M was commissioned in 1994 by the Live Arts programmers Lois Kedan and Catherine Ugwu, for the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The play grew out of a section in a prior production, and following encouragement from Lois Kedan, SuAndi developed it into the play it is today. I don’t want to reveal too many details about the narrative in The Story of M, because to do so would take away from the extraordinary story SuAndi tells. The Story of M is an engrossing play which traverses the borders of race and nation, celebrating the tenacity of one woman to raise her children in the virulently racist society of mid-late 20th century Britain. The poems which follow after the play are a testament to the women in our lives – mothers, sisters, aunts, friends – whose strength and endurance is beautifully memorialised in poems like Lady Making, The Wig, and Aroma of Memory.

In the introduction to the single edition of The Story of M, Deirdre Osborne describes SuAndi’s play and poetry collection as a ‘Mothertext’:

‘Their inclusion extends the matrilineal sweep of The Story of M, of its sole speaker M (and all she symbolises) to collect heartrending, timeless, moments in womanhood where the mother is the poetic compass by which all bearings are set within each poem, bar one.’ (1)

The Story of M is a powerful piece of Black feminist theatre. SuAndi carves out a space to interrogate the assumptions of race, family aesthetics, cultural identity and inheritance. In The Story of M, characters refuse to be minimized. The Margaret we come to know is fierce, protective, and loyal to her children in the face of blood-boiling racism, and in the closing moment SuAndi changes from mother to daughter effortlessly. It is a performance of motherhood, of the ordinary-extraordinary women in our lives, and it is also a celebration about crossing those seemingly impassable lines of conflict, between skin colour and cultural identity, to draw on a diverse inheritance and stand firm in one’s sense of self.

SuAndi is no stranger to standing firm, especially when it comes to racism on all fronts. “I was at a friend’s dinner party, and there was a big lecture from a Jamaican woman about Africans liking fat women. About how they feed women, and I said, well if I lived in Nigeria I’d have ten husbands! And I think in those situations, where is this going?  I ended up with this woman screaming at me, that I had to learn. To which I shouted back, “Well, I am first generation African, and I am taking my Nigerian arse home.”

“It is the ordinary stories that make the world go round.”

SuAndi is quick to interrogate racial discrimination, from both a white and Black stance. It is something which permeates The Story of M,  and SuAndi does so by telling the story of an ordinary, extraordinary woman – Margaret, SuAndi’s mother. Discussing the importance of telling ‘ordinary’ stories, SuAndi says “Ordinary stories are the best stories. We’re not very good in England about communicating with strangers, but it is that conversation on the train – that you hear the most amazing life stories, from the people who lived those stories, the stories that don’t go into history books because history is his-story. Not her-story. Not our-story. So it is the ordinary stories that make the world go round.”

Reflecting on the ordinary-extraordinary story of Margaret, SuAndi presses deeper into the intersectional axes that cause some stories to be left by the wayside in the narration of history. “I think we write history books based on those that stand out. Nelson Mandela wasn’t the only one imprisoned for a long period in South Africa. But his name became the forum – we hook onto that. We talk about wars and generals, about great men, but not the ordinary plodding soldier. They are the stories that get left out. Years ago I wrote a poem called I Am An Ordinary Woman, Nothing Special. The end line says ‘I am just simply an ordinary, ordinary, extraordinary woman.’ I remember during the time of feminism – and I wasn’t an active feminist then – they were saying ‘if you’re on a university course, join our feminist society’, and I thought, ‘well what about the cleaners?’ That’s what I meant by ordinary and extraordinary.”

“It is the phoenix of the female spirit that will always rise and, like Sankofa, I will always remember to speak the names of other women gone to empower women of the future.”(2)

The poems at the end of The Story of M are a testament to these ordinary-extraordinary women, to the love, strength and inheritance they pass on. The poems shift between the perspective of mother and daughter, reflecting on the small things – whether it be a shared belly bulge or the familiar smell of coconut lotion – which invoke the ‘bloodstream of our inheritance’.(3) I ask SuAndi if she has a favourite poem. After a pause, SuAndi replies “Lady Making. Followed very closely by The Twin.”

My mother bleached

kitchen tops

toilet bowls

curtain nets,

sheets that dazzled white

against the redness of her hands

Now I handle life in different shades –

the polished hue of manicured nails –

and thank my mother for all she did

to make a lady of her daughter. (4)

So, where to next for The Story of M? “I would love to do the show in Africa. That would be amazing. I think there is a negative attitude towards children of mixed heritage, especially towards their mother’s.” Distressing assumptions based on race, cultural identity, and family aesthetic is something which SuAndi achieves in The Story of M.  

“I know exactly who I am –

I am a Black woman.

I am a mixed race woman.”(5)

The pride in her inheritance is something SuAndi carries with her constantly, even when accepting her Honorary Degree from Lancaster University in 2015: “As a child, I used to think my father was illiterate, when in truth he was bilingual. As indeed was my mum, as she spoke Liverpool Scouse and Standard English. But they only received basic schooling. By their collective effort they raised me to understand that wherever I went, I reflected and represented all Black people, in my character and my behaviour.”

Before SuAndi goes, I ask her a question I press to all writers I encounter – what are you reading? “Actually, I am trying to read – and not getting very far, I confess – Dinesh Allirajah’s book Scent. Din was the late chair of NBBA and my friend, and I miss him.”

The Story of M is part of a new EdExcel list of texts to be studied by A-Level English students, which draws solely from Black British literature. The new EdExcel list was devised by Dr. Deirdre Osborne, of Goldsmiths, University of London – the home of the Masters in Black British Writing – and will be introduced later this year in July 2017. The inclusion of Black British texts into the curricula is a welcome change, and one hopes that The Story of M will be picked up by student and teacher alike, for it has an emotional honesty and extraordinary history which holds great importance for our generation, especially if we are to progress into a more hopeful future.

The Story of M, by SuAndi, is available to purchase from Oberon Books at £9.99. https://www.oberonbooks.com/the-story-of-m.html

Catch SuAndi next in Birmingham on 16th February 2017, for ‘Race & Representation: Beyond Box Ticking’: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/race-representation-beyond-the-box-ticking-tickets-31635639048

  1. Deirdre Osborne, ‘Mothertext: Restoring the Mixed Matrilineal Routes to Heritage’,  The Story of M (London: Oberon Books, 2017), p.10.
  2. SuAndi, The Story of M (London: Oberon Books, 2017), p.60.
  3. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (London: Virago, 1977), p.246.
  4. SuAndi, ‘Lady Making’, The Story of M (London: Oberon Books, 2017), p.64.
  5. SuAndi, The Story of M (London: Oberon Books, 2017), p.55.

Aspiration and Representation: Looking Back to Travel Forwards

By Heather Marks

 

Aspiration and Representation: Looking Back to Travel Forward was organized by Dr. Deirdre Osborne, of Goldsmiths, University of London, with Professor Kurt Barling, of Middlesex University, and took place at Goldsmiths on Thursday 19th January 2017.

The day’s events kicked off with the third installment of the Renegade Raconteurs series, starting with Professor Kurt Barling’s lecture, ‘The Rhetoric of Race’, which offered many insights into the way the concept of race has obscured important debates on equality, justice and freedom. Prof. Kurt Barling shared anecdotes which highlighted the necessity of moving beyond skin colour, as he spoke about the death of his cousin, Keith Church, whose paintings comprised the accompanying exhibit ‘Urge to Paint’.

Next was the respondent panel, chaired by Dr. Osborne, with speakers Afua Hirsch, (Sky Arts) Dr. Clea Bourne, (Goldsmiths) and Professor Claudia Bernard (Goldsmiths). Each speaker offered a brilliant anatomisation on the varying degrees in which the rhetoric of race permeates our everyday experiences. Dr. Clea Bourne drew attention to the rising number of jobs given to Artifical Intelligence, and the accompanying discussions of AI rights, asking ‘where does this leave people of colour who still have not achieved equality?’

Prof. Claudia Bernard highlighted the difficulty parents have in providing children with the tools to deal with racism, particularly the passing on of ‘unwritten rules’ when it comes to succeeding in the workplace. This point in particular was felt strongly by the audience, with one member pointing out the sense of competition she felt was encouraged by the politics of gatekeeping, and whether, as people of colour, ‘are we prepared to share the unwritten rules between us?’

 

Afua Hirsch offered critique on how politicians and gatekeepers can speak the language of BAME, while at the same time take away the rights of people of colour. Hirsch also contributed her own experiences of working in media as a black female presenter, citing an event held by the Daily Mail – ‘congratulating themselves on diversity at the event, attendees were baffled when questioned about a racist headline on that day’s newspaper.’

Next in the Aspiration and Representation schedule  was the Performing Mothers panel, chaired by Dr. Osborne, with speakers Professor Elaine Aston (Lancaster University), playwright Winsome Pinnock, and Dr. Fiona Peters (Goldsmiths). This panel threw up lots of interesting topics, as the audience and panel speakers shared their own personal experiences of growing up in, or having, multi-ethnic families. Dr. Fiona Peters raised points on the dissonance felt by mixed-heritage children with absent black fathers about their cultural identity. Winsome Pinnock discussed how writing about black families in her work was a way of bringing to the stage her own experience. Prof. Elaine Aston discussed the importance of SuAndi’s play The Story of M, and how it radically changed her idea of feminist performance. This was followed by a Q&A with the audience; the discussion brought the points raised in the panel about representations of motherhood and mixedness into a lived clarity, as audience members poignantly shared their experiences, of being mothers raising mixed heritage children in Britain, and of being mixed heritage children who had been raised in care.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Following the Performing Mothers panel was the much anticipated book launch of the single edition of SuAndi’s play, The Story of M. The Story of M is one of a number of texts selected to be on the new Edexcel Black British Literature list for A-Level, and was devised by Dr. Deirdre Osborne. The Story of M was an emotionally overwhelming performance, delivered in spellbinding style, by the incomparable SuAndi, who then took questions from rapt audience members – many of whom had never seen the staging of a multi-ethnic British family before.

For many, Aspiration and Representations provided the chance to reflect on the ways in which the ‘R’ word still obscures our lives, as young people and adults. Furthermore, the Performing Mothers panel, and SuAndi’s The Story of M, shared many insights into the challenges faced by both parent and child in multi-ethnic families.

The MA in Black British Writing: One Year On

By Heather Marks

On Thursday 15th December 2016, four women made history  – Heather Goodman, Heather Marks, Katherine O’Garro and Andrea Thomas. Remember this date, because these women made *correction* HERSTORY by being the first to graduate from a programme which only came into being in 2015: the Masters in Black British Writing.

The MA in Black British Writing is a new and unique programme which importantly addresses black writing as a continuum, connecting British culture to the migratory, indigenous and global perspectives of those writing it. The MA in Black British Writing enables serious study of the creative and artistic history, and achievement, of black British novelists, poets, short story writers, essayists, and playwrights. The degree programme was founded by Dr. Deirdre Osborne and Professor Joan Anim-Addo. Dr. Deirdre Osborne has dedicated her research to black British writing, and is committed to advocating this work in all areas of her teaching as a matter of social justice. Professor Joan Anim-Addo has long specialised in literatures of the Caribbean, and was recently awarded the Callaloo Lifetime Achievement Award for her invaluable contributions to the field. They have fought long and hard to get the Masters in Black British Writing to take place, and it stands as a rare example in Higher Education as an educative programme committed to decolonizing culture, and the curriculum. Speaking to Dr. Osborne and Professor Anim-Addo at the graduation ceremony, it was clear how immensely proud they were of their graduate class, and of ‘[our] tenacity in engaging with the challenges of the curricula, to produce insightful and original work that gives Black British literature the critical attention it needs in British humanities education.’

Its been a year of incredible insights and life-changing experiences, from Tuesday 22nd September 2015, when these bright students first met each other, to Thursday 15th December 2016, when they crossed the stage in Goldsmiths’ Great Hall to become the world-first graduates of the Masters in Black British Writing. I caught up with a few of my fellow graduates to reflect on that special day, and their time on the Masters programme in Black British Writing.

Heather Marks: What do you remember about starting class that first day, and meeting everyone for the first time by Professor Joan Anim-Addo’s office?

Heather Goodman: I don’t really remember much about the first day except feeling a little overwhelmed by it all, and at a loss.  It all felt a little chaotic and I thought, not for the first time in the course, why am I doing this? I noticed that the class was made up entirely of women, and wondered why there were no men interested in the subject?  A judgmental thought perhaps, but there it is.

Andrea Thomas: On the first day, I remember how happy everybody was to be starting the MA! As I wasn’t at the meeting at Joan’s office before the term started, I was so eager to meet everybody and I remember everyone being so welcoming and friendly.

img-20151003-wa0000

Some of the Black British Writing MA students on their first day. From left: Gloria Ojosipe, Heather Goodman, Kiera Adegbite, Janet Sebastian, Sula Douglas Folkes, Kareena Chin, Vanessa Igho.

HM: And how did you feel by the end of the first term?

HG: By the end of the first term I was feeling overwhelmed, and was questioning myself even more, but I was also invigorated by what I was learning, and the challenge of putting into essays that knowledge.

AT: I was feeling mentally liberated and mentally drained all at the same time! I remember during my undergraduate degree I was grossly under-reading, whereas for my MA I was definitely over-reading. I just wanted to read absolutely everything! Everything we read and discussed was so interesting I just could not get enough, I was reading all the time and loved the fact I was being exposed to new writers and theories.

HM: It was the same for me, I was devouring everything! I think that desire came from finally coming into contact with literature that I related to, and digesting critical thought that provided an alternative historical account than the one fed to us in mainstream education – like The Black Jacobins by C.L.R James. Learning about the Haitian Revolution – Toussaint, Dessalines, and the political intrigue in the different factions – and then comparing that to my previous, pitiful excuse for an education on the slave trade, which solely consisted of the horrors of the transatlantic crossing, I began to realise that this degree programme was even more special than I previously thought. The Masters in Black British Writing consisted of an entirely decolonized curriculum, which in literature – let alone higher education as a whole – is incredibly rare to encounter! So tell me, what were your highlights of the year?

AT: The highlights of my year are reading Incomparable World by S I Martin, Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo, meeting Bernadine Evaristo and attending the “Caribbean and Diasporic Dialogues in the University” conference. Incomparable World really opened my eyes to the history of the black British experience before the more popularised Windrush-era. I loved the fact Martin included Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano in the novel, which, for me, really brought the story to life and encouraged me to think deeply about these more notorious black British figures.

I absolutely loved Mr Loverman for its brilliant humour and less generic protagonist (and character list in general).  The fact that the protagonist was Antiguan – a shout out to my Antiguan heritage! Having the opportunity to then meet Evaristo was absolutely amazing, and hearing her read parts of her new novel was equally exciting. The “Caribbean and Diasporic Dialogues in the University” conference was an exceptionally special conference for me, as it is exposed me to the multitude of black academics that are doing wonderful research on such interesting and intriguing topics. Each and every day leaving the conference I had learnt something new and made some great connections, which was very uplifting for a young black academic like myself.

HG: Highlights of the year have to be the books that I read, and the realisation that I knew more about the works/history of African American and African writing than that of my own Caribbean heritage.  It was funny that in the module ‘Literature of the Caribbean and its Diasporas’, I said to Joan that I didn’t like the focus on poetry, and then found myself in my essays writing about Aime Cesaire and Kamau Brathwaite, because the depth and quality of their work is breathtaking.  Though not the easiest writers to come to grips with (and I still haven’t entirely), engaging with the theoretical underpinnings of their works, and the imagery employed by them in works like Arrivants and Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, is very fulfilling.

Then there are the women: Jackie Kay, Bernadine Evaristo, Helen Oyeyemi and debbie tucker green. The satisfaction garnered through reading their work is emotional, rather than theoretical and intellectual.  Which is not to say that there isn’t technical virtuosity on display as with Cesaire and Brathwaite, but somehow what, and how they write engages viscerally first, and intellectually second – the reverse effect of Cesaire and Brathwaite, at least for me.  Then there are the honourable mentions: Fred D’Aguiar, Cush Jumbo, Sam Selvon, Derek Walcott, Patience Agbabi … the list goes on and on!  And finally, the discovery of S.I. Martin’s Incomparable World – the historical relevance of that story to the presence in Britain of people of African descent, to me, makes it imperative it is more widely known.

HM: Incomparable World is probably my highlight text of the course as well. An eighteenth century romp through the streets of London, with black ex-servicemen who fought for the British in the War of Independence – never would I have expected to come across that, and it was an absolute joy to read!  Incomparable World has had such a lasting effect on me; it gave me a foundation as a black woman specializing in literature, and expanded my horizons in imagining an historical literary landscape in Britain, with black characters, that exceeds beyond slavery and Windrush. Anyone who says black people can’t be in period dramas/novels needs to sit down and read that book! Apart from your book recommendations, is there anything you would like to tell the next cohort of students?

HG: What would I tell the next cohort? Buckle in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride! But at the end of it, you will feel nourished and expanded in ways you probably didn’t know you were missing.

AT: Never doubt yourself! This will most probably be one of the most challenging years in education (especially if you are doing it full time), and sometimes you may feel grossly out of your depth, but you are surrounded by professors and peers that want you to do well and succeed. Do not ever be afraid to ask questions in and out of class until you are satisfied with the answer. Most importantly – you WILL get through it and when you have handed in your dissertation, knowing you did your absolute best, it is the best feeling in the world and you will sleep like a baby!

HM: Wise words! And its true, we made it. Crossing the stage on graduation filled me with so much pride and joy, not just for myself, but for seeing all of us walk the stage, and have our place – our work – recognised in that hall.It was a great moment to see four black women recognized as academics, in black British writing, an art form which is so underrated in this country. How did you feel during the ceremony? What were your highlights?

HG: For those of us whose hearing is waning, I’d say fix the sound system in the great hall, or give the presenters mike technique lessons!  Can’t say I felt anything other than pleased to see and spend time with my fellow class graduates (missed you girls).

HM & AT: We missed you too Heather!

AT: I felt on a high from the very moment I woke up on the day of my graduation. I felt this was a special moment, not only for me graduating, but for my family and friends who had supported and prayed for me whilst I was studying. It was wonderful to have the support of the part-time students on the day also, as we all started the course together and for me it was an achievement for ALL the first cohorts. It had been such a challenge to actually get the course established, so when I walked across the stage getting my Masters Degree in Black British Writing, I was just overwhelmed with joy. Then hearing my mum shout from the balcony, “THAT’S MY GIRL”, I could not help but have the biggest smile on my face for the rest of the day.

HM: That was an amazing moment! There was such a cheer squad rooting for us during the graduation ceremony, in our families, friends and tutors. It was really great to see Prof. Joan Anim-Addo and Dr. Deirdre Osborne’s joy in our success – they mentored and supported us on a course which was so important to them. For you personally, why has this course been important?

HG: The course has been important because I realised that I had ignored a large part of my cultural heritage, and that there is a lot that it has to give to me and the wider cultural arena.  To say I enjoyed the MA process is probably inaccurate, as I spent a lot of time doubting myself and my ability to write with intellectual rigour, but that’s my fault not the course’s.  However, I can thank the course for opening my eyes and putting a fire in my belly to advance my study in this area and add, hopefully, to the literature about, and knowledge of writing, from the wider diaspora.

AT: The course has been so important to me not just because of the qualification, but the wealth of knowledge that I have acquired throughout. I have said from the beginning that it is not just me learning, but my family and friends also, as I always strive to share the knowledge I acquire to educate and uplift those around me. I wish everybody could do this degree, but unfortunately the reality is that not everyone will be able to, so I feel it is my, and the other students, responsibility to share what we have learnt and spread the knowledge acquired through this brilliant degree. Being able to learn so much about the black British experience, surrounded by predominantly black British peers, has been such a refreshing academic experience and one which I will always cherish.

HM: Hear, hear. It was the rarest of times to go to a class, surrounded by black peers, discuss black British literature, history, and culture, and to be supported every step of the way by Dr. Deirdre Osborne, who has been such a staunch advocate for black British writing. When do you ever experience that in education? Never! I was not expecting that, and it was so special. What were you not expecting from this course?

HG: I wasn’t expecting to want to continue my studies to PhD level!

AT: I can honestly say I do not know what I was expecting! I just know I was so excited to be studying a course which was a better reflection of myself and my experiences.

HM: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the MA, and your experience of it?

AT: My hope is that eventually the black British experience will not be condensed to a single MA course, but will be disseminated from primary education all the way up, so that each and every child will interact and be aware of the wealth of contributions from the black British population. This MA is a fantastic start into bringing black Britishness to the forefront of education, and I am so glad that I was privileged enough to be a part of it.

HM: Thank you so much for sharing Heather and Andrea.

For more information on the Masters in Black British Writing, visit http://www.gold.ac.uk/pg/ma-black-british-writing/. Alternatively, contact:

Heather Marks, Administrative Assistant: hmark002@gold.ac.uk

Dr. Deirdre Osborne, Convener: D.Osborne@gold.ac.uk

Upcoming Events: January 2017

Wednesday 18th January – JAWDANCE

Apples and Snakes present London’s biggest open mic night, Jawdance, bringing you some of the most acclaimed feature acts and up-and-coming artists in poetry and music whose words will waltz around your head for days.

Sign up on the night from 7pm – 7.30pm to enter your name into the open mic lucky dip draw – 10 slots up for grabs, maximum 3 minutes each, selected at random – what have you got to lose?

This month’s Jawdance is hosted by Yomi Sode, featuring performances from Kat Francois, Simon Mole, and Jolade.

http://www.applesandsnakes.org/page/108/JAWDANCE/1834

Thursday 19th January – Aspirations and Representations: Looking Back to Travel Forwards

aspirations-image

A day of talks, art and performance exploring the power of identity, inspiration and legacy at Goldsmiths, University of London. Free advanced booking is required.

There will be an exhibition of paintings by former Goldsmiths student, Keith Church. This will be followed by the lecture and panel series, Renegade Raconteurs, the theme of which will be ‘The R Words’ – Race and Representation. Afterwards, there will be a panel, Performing Mothers – ‘The Story of M’, which will engage in feminist and critical race perspectives on mothers, mixedness and staging multi-ethnic families. Following this, there will be a drinks reception where Oberon Books will launch the single edition of SuAndi’s The Story of M. The day concludes with a rare performance by SuAndi of The Story of M.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/aspiration-and-representation-looking-back-to-travel-forwards-tickets-29644975921

Thursday 19th January – Save the Male

img_20170111_134629

The Save The Male showcase aims to raise awareness of male suicide, and encourage and inspire people of all ages to engage in creative expression. On “the most depressing week of the year”, comedian Jack and poet Cecilia will gather an exceptionally talented crew to show that creativity can be the best medicine. Featuring Jordan Stephens (Rizzle Kicks), Caleb Femi (Young Poet Laureate), and London four piece band, HUGH.

https://www.thecalmzone.net/2017/01/save-the-male-with-jordan-stephens-caleb-fami-and-hugh/

Open till Saturday 21st January – People Power: Black British arts and activism in Hackney 1960s-2000s

people-power

An exhibition exploring aspects of Black British arts and activism which have developed in Hackney since the 1960s.

http://www.hackney.gov.uk/museum-exhibitions

Sunday 22nd January – Word4Word Spoken Word with Kat Francois

kat-francois

Get some poetic relief with a FREE evening of spoken word, hosted by former BBC3 and World Slam Champion, Kat Francois. Francois will be joined with music from DJ Sloetry and exciting writer Arielle John, who twists home-grown narratives from the Caribbean diaspora into intricate memoirs and intriguing Instagram photo captions.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/word4word-spoken-word-with-kat-francois-free-with-open-mic-too-tickets-31008387923?aff=es2

Friday 27th January – Thoughts on British Black and Asian Literature (1945-2010) 

wasafiri

You are invited to an afternoon’s discussion with leading scholars in the field of post-war British Black and Asian Literature with readings by leading writers, Moniza Alvi and Courttia Newland. The event, sponsored by Wasafiri, will launch the landmark publication of the first Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945 – 2010), edited by Dr Deirdre Osborne. This event is FREE.camb-comp

At 6pm the event will launch the first Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature (1945-2010) with a drinks reception that marks the arrival of Wasafiri to its new home at Goldsmiths.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/thoughts-on-british-black-and-asian-literature-1945-2010-tickets-30490193991

Friday 27th January – Jazz Verse Jukebox with Jumoké Fashola

img_20170111_140804

The eclectic JAZZ VERSE JUKEBOX returns to Hoxton Hall for its first show of 2017. Described as “the perfect jazz poetry party” (Michael Horovitz), the JAZZ VERSE JUKEBOX continues the age-old tradition of intertwining jazz improvisation and spoken word. Come on down for what promises to be a thrilling night of diverse spoken word & jazz from some of the freshest exponents on the scene.

https://www.hoxtonhall.co.uk/jazz-verse-jukebox-with-jumoke-fashola/

Open till Saturday 28th January – The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles

black-chronicles

A selection of rare portraits portraying people of African, Caribbean and South Asian descent in Britain during the Victorian era. In partnership with Autograph ABP and part of The Missing Chapter project.

http://www.hackney.gov.uk/museum-exhibitions

If you have any events you would like to see added to this list, please contact Heather Marks at hmark002@gold.ac.uk.