Surge – Jay Bernard

In 1981, a fire broke out at a house in New Cross. Thirteen young black people died and the political events that followed would have a dramatic effect on our understanding of what it means to be Black and British.

Inspired by that story, Surge is a poetic exploration of what came after – the resistance, activism and changing notions of the state, the body and the city, narrated by the ghosts of the fire. Rooted in the area’s local history, this is a show that imaginatively blends the personal and the political, tracing a line from Thatcherism, the colour bar and the National Front to our current age of Brexit, Grenfell and Theresa May.

For three nights at the Albany Theatre in Deptford, south east London, just down the road from New Cross, Jay Bernard performed this hour-long piece of poetic theatre, exploring the important history using poetry, archive film and audio.

Jay started off this process in 2016 as poet-in-residence at the George Padmore Institute, researching the New Cross Massacre through the archives of writer and activist John La Rose. Out of the residency came a small publication, Beacon of Hope, which represented a new generation’s creative response to the fire, encapsulating the essence and sensitivity of the massacre and its horror.

Jay reads from A Beacon of Hope in 2016

Athe the 2017 Last Word Festival at the Roundhouse, Speaking Volumes worked with Jay to produce an hour-long performance entitled Surge Side A, using the poems written for the GPI residency merged with new video work they made to accompany them as Jay found parallels with today’s society in London and beyond. This performance was awarded 2017 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

At the same time as Jay worked on this most recent iteration of the performance of Surge, Penguin published a full collection of poetry with the same title, which was released on the opening night at the Albany.

Thanks for this show go to:

Blackcurrent Group Ltd – a multidisciplinary creative studio specialising in creative direction, media production, strategy and campaign development.

B.O.S.S. – Blackobsidian Soundsystem, QTIPOC led sound system based in London.

The George Padmore Institute – an archive, educational resource and research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe.

Professor Maggi Morehouse, Coastal Carolina University –Burroughs Distinguished Professor of History and Culture.

Rex Obano – writer for the stage, TV, radio and film, dramaturg and actor based in London.

Mwen Rukandema – Producer, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and DJ.

Jo Tyabji – Performer and director, Associate @milkpresents, drag aka Joé de Vivre. @JoTyabji

Funded by Arts Council England, produced by Speaking Volumes with the Albany

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