Manchester really is the place to be as it nears October every year. Authors, poets and artists from all over the globe start making their way to our city. This year we were spoilt for choice with Greater Manchester’s Black History Month, Cultureword’s 9th Black National Writers Conference featuring the Over Here Zine Fest and Manchester Literature Festival all happening at once. And it’s also our first year as a UNESCO City Of Literature!
I managed to get to a few events and know for sure that I now have much lighter pockets but can console myself that I may have an enriched mind.
At the Black Writers Conference, I discovered new ways of bringing poetry into code generation at the Digital Literature presentation. Digital artist and film maker Mahboobeh Rajabi created QR codes to access the writing of the late poet and activist Deyika and placed them across locations in Manchester that he frequented. A beautiful tribute for an amazing man. And what a great idea!
We gained an insight as to what happens when writers and gamers come together. For more on these Commonword commissions, make sure you visit their website. Its fascinating and you’ll be pleased to know you can sign up for sessions exploring this.
My favourite part of this particular session was no doubt the augmented realities created by artists Kooj Chohan and Maya Chawdhry for her ‘Heritage Carrot’ poem touching on themes of migration and growth. Together they took us on a train journey through a suitcase set in Hulme gardens – a mesmerising audience experience.
At the Literature & Mental Health session with writers Desree Reynolds, Muli Amaye and Kei Miller, the concept of shame and self-censorship within writing was raised. Discussions followed about the responsibility of accurate representation and the process of self care when writing our trauma and the steps we must take while doing so.
Entering the hall of Sacha’s hotel, I met incredible artists displaying their work at the Zine Fest. The atmosphere was electric and the sheer quality of the work on display was unbelievable. I cannot emphasise enough, the comfort you feel picking up an accessible pocket size treasure of a zine that is made by someone who gets your struggle, looks like you and can validate the everyday lived experience you go through. Or maybe not. But you will definitely gain new perspectives. Making, reading, sharing and promoting these accesible zines created by diverse people is a means to learning and listening. In solidarity. With an open heart. Check them out!
A discussion about the new film ‘The Hate You Give’ written by Angie Thomas also took place during the Zine Fest- I’ll be catching this movie next week and have heard its raw reality makes it a must see. It follows events in the life of a 16 year old black girl who is drawn to activism after witnessing the police shooting of a childhood friend. Less of an eye opener but more a reminder that we must keep pushing for change.
That evening, I was blown away by poetry and music in celebration of THE James Baldwin at the Manchester Literature Festival’s Cabaret For Freedom event held within St John’s church.
With one of my favourite poets Jackie Kay reading ‘April Sunshine’ to SuAndi sharing stories, to Young Identity performing poetry with the formidable Shirley May hosting, Isaiah Hull reading from his poetry collection ‘Nosebleeds’ to Kei Miller’s heart warming sharing of his letters to James Baldwin, I was soaring high by the end of it all.
Other highlights included Slay In Your Lane : The Black Girl Bible by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene with Gemma Cairney. Such frank and honest talking – Black Girl Magic at its best!
I also caught some of my favourite brown girl poets, The Yoniverse who are made up of Afshan D’souza-Lodhi, Shagufta K Iqbal and Amani Saeed. Bold and unapologetically South Asian, I am definitely a fan girl.
This Friday, I was able to hear amazing poetry from Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Rachel Long and Momtaza Mehri speaking about the ‘unspoken essential’ and the ‘intangible tangible’ from the new Filigree anthology. Hosted by Dorothea Smartt of Inscribe/People Press, each and every poet moved me as she introduced the ‘new emerging voices of Black Britain’.
To end the night, Terrence Hayes read from his new collection American Sonnets For My Past And Future Assassin and he was superb. Hosted by winner of the 2018 Dylan Thomas prize Kayo Chingonyi, the conversation was engaging and fresh. He spoke of the decipline it took to write over 200 sonnets, a new one each day. When asked how much the act of playing informs his work, he said of his childhood, ‘getting out of trouble required play. It’s connected to risk, to urgency. The poems are trying to tap into something that’s necessary for survival.’ Terrance spoke about how his imagination was better than his memory and how through this gift of optimism he is able to create something much more positive than the reality he faced in the past.
He spoke highly of Wanda Coleman, the poet, friend and activist this collection is inspired by despite the world’s attempts to erase black female creativity. She inspired him to embrace a poems unevenness, lifting the burden and pressure that the inevitable pursuit of perfection brings. I thoroughly recommend his collection and will say, catch him while you can.
It was great to see so many poets gathered in the audience to listen. We all managed to have a picture taken thanks to the formidable Sarah-Jane of Manchester Literature Festival.
I managed to catch ‘The Adventure’ by Vinay Patel too at the Bush Theatre – it was EPIC and very beautifully done. A love story spanning 7 decades from the partition of India in 1947 to present day. One of the best pieces of theatre I have seen.
Next week I’ll be catching poet and performer Elmi Ali in his play ‘Water Seeds Not Stones’ at HOME and also Salina Thompson’s Salt!
Will tell you all about it later! X