Breaking Ground: Celebrating Writers of Colour

The next chapter of Speaking Volumes’ Breaking Ground project began in 2017 with the launch of a new booklet celebrating writers of colour. We hope that the booklet is a valuable resource both at home and overseas, demonstrating the wide and varied literature of the UK whilst raising the profile and giving a platform to 200 contemporary British BAME authors. It was launched at London Book Fair.

The booklet accompanied major Breaking Ground showcases of British writers of colour in five European cities over 12 months, plus a series of events in the UK. Speaking Volumes took poets and prose authors to Tampere in Finland, Lisbon in Portugal, Madrid and Seville in Spain, Berlin in Germany and Brussels in Belgium. For each showcase we arranged for the translation of the visiting writers work into the language of the host country, printed individual brochures and distributed them to audiences and literature professionals in each country. These brochures can be read with the overview of each country visited along with videos and photos of each showcase.

Read the brochure in full here:

Breaking Ground Finland

Poets Zena Edwards, Vanessa Kisuule, Solomon OB, Roger Robinson and Yomi Sode performed at FestAfrika and the AfroEuropes Conference in Finalnd’s second city Tampere. Johny Pitts also gave a keynote address at the conference.

Breaking Ground Portugal

Peter Kalu and Jacob Ross gave a readings and a discussion on black British thrillers and crime writing at the Jose Saramago Foundation in Lisbon.

Breaking Ground Spain

Authors Yvvette Edwards, Colin Grant, Peter Kalu, Irenosen Okoje, Jacob Ross and Leone Ross gave talks and performed at the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference being held in Seville, Spain. Prior to the conference, the women of the group took part in events at the University of Alcala in Madrid.

Breaking Ground Berlin

Francesca Beard, Rishi Dastidar, Caleb Femi and Xialou Gao presented multi-media adaptations of their work at Berlin organisation Lettrétage, which included film and audio accompaniments, a pecha kucha slideshow and a dual language theatre piece. In between each live performance was a filmed one, with Karen McCarthy Woolf’s Dancing Words piece, the premiere of Bidisha’s first poetry film, and a show of Johny Pitts’ Afropean travel photos.

Breaking Ground Brussels

As part of the Afropean conference at BOZAR Brussels, Speaking Volumes were invited to bring a Breaking Ground showcase for the headline event. Inua Ellams, Bernardine Evairsto, Amina Jama, Catherine Johnson read a mixture of prose and poetry on a bill opened by legendary dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, and followed by a 40 minute version of Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson’s Mixtape show.

Find out about the Breaking Ground US tours in 2015 and 2016 here.

Breaking Ground USA

Following years of failed diversity initiatives in literature and publishing sectors, and after the publication of Spread the Word’s 2015 Writing the Future report, we decided that it was time to act, and at least make our own small contribution to raising awareness and visibility of the immense, hidden, diverse talent in the UK, and the Breaking Ground project was born.

Conceived, curated and organised by Speaking Volumes, Breaking Ground was a double tour to the East and West Coast’s of the USA, one in November 2015, the second in May 2016. It came from discussions with colleagues at the AfroEuropes conference, following a cultural evening programmed by Speaking Volumes, a number of visitors from the US expressed shock and surprise that Black British writers existed. We felt that raising awareness of this would privde a boost for our writers, providing opportunities in the US that UK publishers were not.

Left-right: Karen McCarthy Wolf; Nick Makoha; Jay Bernard; Gabriel Gbadamosi; Johny Pitts; Bernardine Evaristo; Diran Adebayo; Roger Robinson; Colin Grant

The Breaking Ground tour list consisted of five prose writers, five poets. All of the artists present a vast range of themes in their work and many are multi-genre writers, combining poetry and playwriting, for example. We paid particular attention to balancing gender and age and to present both new and established names to audiences.

The ten tour writers were Diran Adebayo, Jay Bernard, Bernardine Evaristo, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Colin Grant, Nick Makoha, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Johny Pitts, Roger Robinson and Warsan Shire.

Breaking Ground had a very successful start in 2015, with three events around England followed by the first part of the US programme. Ten of the best Black British writers gave lectures at Rutgers University, NY; conducted workshops with young poets in Chicago, IL; presented solo shows in Pittsburgh, PA; and visited classes at Emory,  the first black college in the US, in Atlanta, GA. This series ended with a full showcase of of all ten authors at the 2015 Association for the Study of Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference in Charleston, SC.

As a result of ongoing demand from North American contacts, we planned a second ambitious tour of the USA, this time heading for the West Coast and Califonia. The writers read at San Francisco book shops, visited classes at the University of California at Davis, had a sold-out theatre showcase, and ran workshops at Sacramento Maximum Security Prison. At this moment in the twenty-first century, Breaking Ground represents a thoughtful and imaginative way of presenting a positive Black British experience based on a spirit of collaboration and exchange.

Roger Robinson reflects on visiting Sacramento Maximum Security Prison
Johny Pitts reflects on the Breaking Gorund US experience

The dates for the second part of the US tour in 2016

Thursday 28 April

Breaking Ground at Seton Hall, New Jersey with Bernardine Evaristo and Colin Grant

Free and open to the public | 6-8pm | Arts & Sciences Hall, room 107, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ

Friday 29 April

Breaking Ground at New York University with Bernardine Evaristo and Colin Grant

Monday 2 May

Creative writing workshops at California State Prison-Sacramento (formerly Folsom Prison)

Workshops for inmates will be conducted by Diran Adebayo, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Colin Grant, Nick Makoha, Johny Pitts and Roger Robinson | Closed event

Monday 2 May

Jay Bernard and Bernardine Evaristo – brown bag event at University of California at Davis

Tuesday 3 May

Breaking Ground Black British Writers Showcase featuring all ten tour writers – Mondavi Center 

Tickets $30 / $10 concessions | 8-10pm | Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center, University of California, Davis, CA

Wednesday 4 May

Breaking Ground Showcase at Green Apple Books, San Francisco

Featuring nine tour writers |  7.30-9.30pm | Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Avenue, SF CA

Thursday 4 May

Breaking Ground Writers visiting classes at University of California, Davis

Closed event | various times | UC Davis

Thursday 4 May

Breaking Ground Readings at UC Davis