A journey that will take you from Sheffield’s once-glorious industrial past to the gritty urban high rises of contemporary Amsterdam, from the Afropean music of Brussels to Lisbon’s vibrant black community hidden from tourists, City Central stops at fascinating and surprising calling points.
UPDATE: City Central was supposed to take place in March 2020, but had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will premiere at the Southbank Centre, London, in early 2021. Below is a film giving a flavour of the sights and sounds of the show, which was part a dgitial presentation which also showed a BBC Arena film about the band Zap Mama.
City Central is a collaboration between author/photographer Johny Pitts and poet/musician Joshua Idehen. Using Johny’s 2019 non-fiction book Afropean: Travels in Black Europe, and the work of Josh’s band Benin City, the pair are creating a live performance that fuses poetry and prose, music and photography, film and field recordings.
The result will be a dynamic, exciting multimedia show that focusses on gentrification and the importance of multicultural, working class spaces in cities across the continent
Working and performing alongside the pair are Josh’s Benin City bandmates Tom Leaper and Shanaz Dorsett, and Johny’s long-time multi-media collaborator and artist Chris Morris.
Join the City Central Express for an exhilarating whistle-stop tour of unseen Europe at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on 28 February for the show’s premiere. This multi-sensory journey will start in first class, with an iconic Arena film screening setting the scene for the unique sights and sounds to come in the live show.
Johny Pitts is the author of the non-fiction book Afropean: Journeys in Black Europe, an on-the-ground documentary of areas where Europeans of African descent are juggling their multiple allegiances and forging new identities. ‘A revelation’ – Owen Jones
Benin City are the acclaimed band named after a Nigerian capital, who are known for their genre-bending musicality. They are about to release their third album. ‘One to watch’ – the Guardian
Chris Morris is a multi media artist working in music, sound and film; a specialist in working with neurodiverse musicians and artists in developing innovative practice.
A Speaking Volumes Production in collaboration with the Southbank Centre funded by ACE.
For centuries the cities of London and Berlin have been transformed and re-invented by people from all over the world, who have created vibrant cultures in local areas at the intersection of art and politics. Is this all under threat now, as creative and political spaces are eaten up developers and capital cities are overrun by the power of capital?
Join artists Joshua Idehen and Adelaide Ivánova, Johny Pitts and Joanna Legid as they confront these issues in the London and Berlin neighbourhoods at the forefront of change. Through multilingual poetry and prose, photography and music, Ber/Lon explores what is lost — what we lose — when working-class, multicultural areas become gentrified.
Where and When
Wednesday 19 February 2020 at Candid Arts Basement, 3 Torrens Street, London EC1V 1NQ. Tickets £5 / £3 concessions
Friday 28 February 2020 at Literaturhaus Lettrétage, Mehringdamm 61, 10961 Berlin
Joshua Idehen is a poet, teacher and musician. A British-born Nigerian, his poetry has been published widely and he has performed across Europe. His interest in the impact of gentrification and the closure of music venues led him to create the online fanzine anothergreatnightout.com, to celebrate Passing Clouds, one of the first venues he played in. He has collaborated with Mercury nominated artists The Comet Is Coming and Sons of Kemet. The album Last Night with dance pop band Benin City was released in 2018 (Moshi Moshi Music). He is currently working on his debut poetry collection and a one man show.
Brazilian Adelaide Ivánova is a journalist and political activist working with poetry, photography, performance, translation and publishing. Her poems have been translated into German, Galician, English, Spanish, Greek and Italian. Her photos/texts have appeared in The Huffington Post (USA), Marie Claire (Brazil) and Modern Poetry in Translation (UK) among others. Her photo reportage can be seen in Kunst Museum Dieselkraftwerk (Germany), L’arthotèque Museum of Fine Arts (France) and Galeria Murilo Castro (Brazil). In 2018 her poetry book o martelo won the Rio Literature Award. She edits the anti-capitalist poetry zine MAIS NORDESTE, PVFR! with leftist poets from Brazil’s northeast. She lives in Berlin, earning a living as baby-sitter, life model, waiter and other alienating jobs.
Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer and broadcast journalist. His book Afropean came out in the UK in June 2019 to critical acclaim and is being translated into German and French among others. He has received various awards for his work exploring African-European identity, including a Decibel Penguin Prize and a European Network Against Racism Award. He is the curator of the online journal Afropean.com, part of the Guardian‘s Africa Network and has collaborated with acclaimed author Caryl Philips on a photographic essay about London’s immigrant communities for the BBC and Arts Council England.
Joanna Catherine Schröder aka Joanna Legid is an analogue photographer capturing people, things and places through the lens of her camera. Born in Rwanda to a German father and a Rwandan mother, Joanna has lived in different places until she moved to Berlin ten years ago. With a love for the intimate moment between staged poses and a trained eye for imperfection, her photography focuses on portrait as well as documentary work. She is also the co-founder of heartxwork.com, a creative platform which assembles stories of Germans with a migration background as well as BIPOCs living in Germany.
A Speaking Volumes production with Lettrétage, funded by the Goethe Institute
Devised as a riposte to the present rhetoric of fear of the ‘other’ that spawned the Windrush Scandal, StrongBack Productions’ core programme of activities is contained in Come On In.
Life Journeys is an invitation to each of us to stop for a moment, look at what surrounds us, look the people that we daily pass by and ask ourselves…what is that person’s life like?
Six acclaimed poets and musicians – Francesca Beard, John Hegley, Midori Jaeger, Anthony Joseph, Selina Nwulu and Sarah Sayeed – have interviewed employees and participants from three Lambeth organisations: Herne Hill train station, Loughborough Farm and the Baytree Centre. Their interviews have been transformed into song-poems elevating the everyday to the wondrous through their evocative words and music and quirky sketches.
Come On In: Life Journeys will be touring London fromJune 2020. Stay in touch with how the project is progressing via our social media. If you are interested in hosting a performance, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Come On In is a co-production between Speaking Volumes and StrongBack Productions, and is generously supported by Arts Council England.
Francesca Beard was born in Malaysia and grew up on an island balanced on the equator, surrounded by eagles, lizards, cobras and a fighting cockerel for a guard dog. Her best friend was Fluffy, a smooth-haired mongrel. After a spell in real jobs, she gave it all up and now exists as a London-based poet who has been called ‘the Queen of British performance poetry’ (London Metro) and ‘spine-tingling’ (The Independent). She has performed her poetry in places all over the world, from a shopping mall in the Bangkok Book Fair to a prison in Colombia and New York’s Nuyorican Café. She’s run creative writing workshops with the British Council, The Young Vic, The BBC, The Barbican, Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, The Natural History Museum and many more.
Mr Hegley was born in Newington Green, North London and was educated in Luton, Bristol and Bradford University. His first public performance monies came from busking his songs, initially outside a shoe shop in Hull in the late seventies. He performed on the streets of London in the early eighties, fronting the Popticians, with whom he also recorded two sessions for John Peel, and has since been a frequent performer of his words, sung and spoken, on both local and national radio.
He has produced ten books of verse and prose pieces, two CDs and one mug, but his largest source of income is from stages on his native island. An Edinburgh Festival regular, he is noted for his exploration of such diverse topics as dog hair, potatoes, handkerchiefs and the misery of human existence.
Selina Nwulu is a writer, poet and essayist based in London. She was Young Poet Laureate for London 2015-6, a prestigious award that recognises talent and potential in the capital. Her first chapbook collection, The Secrets I Let Slip was published by Burning Eye Books in September 2015 and was a Poetry Book Society (PBS) recommendation. She also writes for a number of online outlets such as the Guardian, Free Word and Red Pepper.
Selina has toured nationally with Apples and Snakes, representing London as part of the Public Address II tour, as well as more widely at a number of festivals including Glastonbury, Edinburgh Fringe, Cúirt Festival in Galway and Fiery Tongues Festival in Ruigoord, Holland. She has also taken part in a literary tour in India with the British Council. She was Writer and Creator in Residence at the Free Word centre and Wellcome Trust, looking creatively at food and how it connects to our health and matters of social justice.
Midori Jaeger is a cellist, singer and songwriter who performs in the realms of folk, classical, jazz, world music, and free improvisation. Midori graduated with Distinction from the Masters course in Cello at the Royal Academy of Music in 2016 and has performed in Macbeth and King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe, tours as the cellist and backing vocalist for Heather Nova, and gigs regularly in London and abroad with many artists including Ex:Re, Shammi Pithia, Cherise Adams-Burnett and Daisy Chute. Midori is a regular session musician and can be heard playing cello and keyboards on Heather Nova’s upcoming album Pearl, playing cello for Joseph Lawrence & The Garden, and as a cellist for Glass Animals. Midori’s album of experimental ambient cello music, co-written with British record producer ‘Youth’, will be released in September 2019 on Painted Word Records and her debut EP of original songs with her four-piece band is due for release in Summer 2019.
Anthony Josephis a Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician. He is the author of four poetry collections and three novels, The African Origins of UFOs, Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon and The Frequency of Magic (forthcoming in October 2019). Kitch has been shortlisted for The 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize, the OCM Bocas Fiction Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the Royal Society of Literature’s Encore Award. As a musician he has released seven critically acclaimed albums. The most recent, People of the Sun, was recorded in Trinidad and released in 2018. In the same year, he curated ‘Windrush: A Celebration’, a series of five events which reconsidered and celebrated the literary and musical legacies of the Windrush generation, culminating in a gala concert at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival. In 2019 he was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. He lectures in literature, critical theory and creative writing at De Montfort University, Leicester. He lives in London
Sarah Sayeed is a musical artist whose practice focuses around contemporary works that have influence from Western classical choral works, orchestral ideas, Indian and Bengali classical vocals & instrumental works and Western contemporary jazz and urban music. Sarah plays tanpura, shruti and swarmandal, and is the lead vocalist in international duet Myth of Her with violinst and electronic artist Anne Eltard (Copenhagen, Denmark). She is currently training in classical vocals with leading Classical Indian Music maestro Swati Natekar.
Credits include Principle Musician in Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe (2019), Composer & Musical Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company adaption of Moliere’s Tartuffe (2019/2018) and Sound Designer for Contact Theatre’s production on Suffragette Movement, She Bangs The Drums (2018)
Artistic commissions include: Sound and Music‘s Portfolio composers programme and Curating Sound Travels with the British Music collection/ Google Curate.
Sarah has developed key projects such as Sufi in the City with The Whitworth and New Art Exchange where Sarah is Experimentor associate artist. Her performances include Manchester International Festival, Brighton Fringe, Cargo, Queen Elizabeth Hall & Nottingham Mela.
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.
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. http://www.blackcurrent.co
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. http://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org
It started with a web search for Passing Clouds, the iconic East London venue that was shuttered in 2016. If you’ve never been to a Passing Clouds night, well, brother/sister/friend, you missed out. I was trying to find info on the efforts to reopen any nights they were running at satellite venues, but the webpage was not there. The Facebook page was frozen somewhere in June.
For poet and musician Joshua Idehen, the clubs and community spaces of East London are close to his heart: safe spaces where he hung out, met other creatives, made friends, first performed and developed as an artist.
As gentrification started to spread east of central London, these spaces started to disappear, and with them went the collective memory of all the things that took place in them, the art created and friendships forged. When the key venue in Dalston’s community, Passing Clouds, was forcibly closed, Joshua went searching for information about it and found nothing. Another Great Night Out was born out of the desire to archive, document and remember these lost spaces.
As of 2015, 50% of clubs, bars, pubs and social venues in London have been shut down. East London, like the once vibrant walls of Passing Clouds, has seen its colour run out, save grey and brown brick. These places were more than just watering holes for the city’s multicultural working/middle class: they were music hubs, arts spaces, community halls, social meeting points, landmarks and, most importantly, fond, favoured memories. London forgets easily, especially its counter culture, and in an age where everything is recorded, it seems a miscarriage of justice that there was no central place for people to find information and media on these vibrant venues and the important activities that took place in them. Another Great Night Out is a start at preserving, and remembering, and celebrating these places. We start with Passing Clouds.
Joshua on the genesis of the project
Speaking Volumes worked with Joshua to get a Heritage Lottery Grant to create the website which collects together music, photos, posters and artwork, and memories of people who played, performed and attended activities at Passing Clouds. To go along with this material, Joshua commissioned six poets who had connections with the venue to write work about their memories and experiences of it. As well as having the text of these poems available on the site, we filmed each poet reading outside the shut up and as so far unused Passing Clouds building.
Head over to AnotherGreatNightOut.com to check out all of the archive material and commissioned poems, and keep an eye out for the next venue that Joshua looks to arhcive and remeber.
Generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, produced by Speaking Volumes.
Anthony Joseph embarks on series of UK and US events exploring the legacy of The Empire Windrush. Marking the first major wave of migrants from the Caribbean to UK in the 20th century, their arrival changed and enriched our society and culture. Joseph used his new novel, Kitch, as a starting point to interrogate this history and look at where we are now, examining the politics and activism, culture and music of the Caribbean on Britain.
2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of The Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks, Essex on 21 June 1948. The same date marked the publication of Kitch, Anthony Joseph’s fictionalised biography of calypso icon, Lord Kitchener, who was famously captured on film by Pathé reporters at the landing of the ship, singing “London is the place for me”, a song he had composed as the ship neared England.
In his recordings of the 1950s and ’60s, Kitch, as he was affectionately known, sung about the problems migrants faced in Britian, from poor working conditions, the lack of satisfactory housing, to the open racism and hostility they faced in the ‘mother country’.
Kitchener’s arrival onboard The Empire Windrush has become an iconic emblem of post war immigration into Britain, and his fourteen years in London and Manchester form an integral middle section of Kitch, in which his life as recording artist, touring musician, husband and quintessential Caribbean persona are intimately explored. His return to newly independent Trinidad in the early 1960s, is set against the dissolution of his marriage and his rivalries with fellow calypsonians. By focussing equally on Kitchener’s music and his largely undocumented private and political life, Joseph gets to the heart of the man behind the music and the myth, reaching behind the sobriquet, to present a holistic portrait of the calypso legend. You can hear Kitch!, a programme that Joseph made for BBC Radio 4, by clicking here.
Joseph visited key cities in the UK with Caribbean populations – Nottingham, Liverpool, Leeds Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London – to connect with those who were part of the migration from Britain’s colonial islands, and those who have been influenced by them, from community groups and activist collectives, universities and schools, to literary festivals and music performances, this tour had something for everyone.
Saturday 17 November, 7.30pm – Barbican, London: Anthony Joseph & Friends – Windrush: A Celebration. An array of musicians and artists come together to celebrate the Windrush generation and the triumph of the Caribbean spirit through song and spoken word. A newly commissioned Windrush Suite, composed by Jason Yarde and is performed by Joseph alongside a pan-Caribbean ensemble made up of artists drawn from the jazz, roots and spoken word scenes here in the UK. Joining Joseph on the night will be feminist icon Calypso Rose, ‘Calypso King’ Mighty Sparrow and Network Riddim Band singer and poet Brother Resistance with more special guests to be announced. Tickets £30-35 – buy here Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS Produced by Serious, supported by Speaking Volumes
Thursday 11 October, 7pm – Cheltenham Literature Festival: Windrush Journeys: Mixtape Stories. Joseph brings the Kitch tour to Cheltenham, as he presents the story of the Calyso legend in a special event with a performance of Mixtape by Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson.
The Hive, Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham GL50 1UW
Wednesday 10 October, 5pm – Goldsmiths College, London After Windrush – Reading & Discussion.
Anthony Joseph and Fred D’Aguiar discuss their relationship with the
history, music and literature of the Caribbean and read from their new
137, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths, Lewisham Way, London
Sunday 7 October, 7.45pm – Ilkley Literary Festival: Windrush Stories: From Trinidad to the UK. Anthony Joseph will be talking about Kitch and his own experiences alongside fellow poet Roger Robinson, as they are in conversation with Monique Roffey.
Ilkley Playhouse, Weston Road, Ilkley LS29 8DW
Sunday 19 August – Edinburgh BookFestival: as part of the Unbound programme, Joseph celebrates The Calypso King of the Windrush Generation, reading from Kitch alongside talented musicians.The Spiegeltent, Edinburgh
Saturday 7 July –Bradford Literature Festival:
Anthony Joseph and Colin Grant in conversation with Emily Zobel
Marshall, plus music from Anthony, Jason Yarde and Crispin Spry Robinson
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
Thursday 12 July – George Padmore Institute: Anthony Joseph in conversation with Nicole-Rachelle Moore, and reading from Kitch. George Padmore Institute, New Beacon Books, Stroud Green Road, London
Sunday 17 June – Windrush Day at Keats House: Anthony Joseph in conversation with Hannah Lowe.
Keats House, London
Mixtape is your sonic CV. The gumbo of humanity that we
are – shows we like, music we like, conversations with friends. Our
experiences wide and deep.” – Roger Robinson
Rising stars of poetry Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson present a unique new show of poetry
With enduring friendship at its centre, hear poems which leap back and forth in time, giving voice to the universal struggle to carve out personal and political identities. Poems about music, poems about love, poems of protest and of exile, monologues and duet poems … all tied together through an unforgettable soundtrack of songs, from Afrobeats to hip-hop, from reggae to soul. Through a heartfelt, humorous and honest exploration of two individual lives, Mixtape will inspire audiences to compile the definitive track list of their own experiences.
Video: Roger & Nick in conversation
Watch Roger and Nick discussing the concept for the Mixtape Tour with Johny Pitts.
Roger and Nick performed Mixtape at venues and literary festivals around the UK through 2018, finishing with a show at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels. In Spring 2019 they were invited to visit Norway where they spent a week performing to audiences in Oslo and Haugesund.
For more information about Mixtape or to enquire about booking a performance, contact Nick: email@example.com
About Nick Makoha & Roger Robinson
Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson (photos by Benji Reid)
Nick Makoha is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow who
represented Uganda at Poetry Parnassus as part of the Cultural Olympiad
held in London. A former Writer in Residence for Newham Libraries, his
1-man-Show My Father & Other Superheroes debuted to sold-out
performances at 2013 London Literature Festival and is currently on
tour. He has been a panelist at both the inaugural Being a Man Festival
(Fatherhood: Past, Present & Future) and Women of the World
Festival,(Bringing Up Boys). In 2005 award-winning publisher Flippedeye
launched its pamphlet series with his debut The Lost Collection of an
Invisible Man. Part of his soon to be published 1st full collection The
Kingdom Of Gravity is in the anthology Seven New Generation African
Poets (Slapering Hol Press). He is the 2016 winner of the Toi Derricotte
& Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for his manuscript Resurrection
Man, to be published by Jai-Alai Books in spring 2017. He won the 2015
Brunel International African Poetry prize and has poems that appear in
the The Poetry Review, Rialto, The Triquarterly Review, Boston Review,
Callaloo, and Wasafiri. Find him at www.nickmakoha.com | @NickMakoha
Roger Robinson was born in Trinidad and has lived in
the UK for over 20 years. Decibel named him as one of 50 writers
influencing the Black British writing canon. His commissions include The
National Trust, The National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and
Albert Museum. Roger’s books include the fiction Adventures in 3D and poetry collections Suitcase, Suckle – Winner of the Peoples Book Prize – and The Butterfly Hotel,
from which the poem ‘Trinidad Gothic’ was Highly Commended by the
Forward Prize and shortlisted for the OCM Bocas Poetry Prize. He is a
co-founder of Spoke Lab and the writing collective Malika’s Kitchen. He
released a solo album, Illclectica, and is lead vocalist for King Midas Sound, whose debut album, Waiting for You (Hyperdub Records), was critically acclaimed. www.rogerrobinsononline.com | Twitter @rrobinson72
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.
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.
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.
The dates for the second part of the US tour in 2016
Poetry Parnassus was the largest gathering of international poets in world history. 140 poets, spoken word artists, praise singers, rappers and storytellers performed their work in more than 50 languages over a packed week of events from 26th June to 1st July 2012, in celebration of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Poets representing all 204 nations eligible to compete in the games contributed a poem to The World Record anthology published by Bloodaxe Books and the festival was launched by a spectacular Rain of Poems from a helicopter over Jubilee Gardens. Across the week, it was estimated that 20,000 audiences experienced Parnassus at venues in and around the Southbank Centre.
In partnership with Southbank Centre, Speaking Volumes was asked to tour a selection of poets around the UK in the weeks after the festival, offering venues the opportunity to be part of these once-in-a-lifetime celebrations by hosting an event with international poets. Poetry Parnassus on Tour was designed to build on the spirit of inclusivity presented by the Olympics, ensuring that readers and audiences across the UK were offered a unique event with international poets reading and discussing their work at a local venue.
Poetry Parnassus will be a landmark event in the Cultural Olympiad – a gathering of poets in the UK to celebrate language, diversity and a sense of global togetherness. By bringing poets to London and then enabling them to tour throughout England, we bring the subjects of free speech, community and peace through poetry to wider and more diverse audiences. The tour will strengthen a growing network of venues and organisations presenting international literature.
Jude Kelly, Director, Southbank Centre
The tour comprised of 31 events over a three week period, involving 44 international poets, seven translators, three additional Chairs and ten additional UK poets. We visited six libraries with our partner The Reading Agency and organised five workshop/performances in the Colnbrook Immigration Centre with English PEN.
To accompany the tour, we had 10 postcards printed featuring lines from poems by 10 of the touring poets, which you can see below.
25-29 June 2012
Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre with English PEN
Poetry Parnassus in Libraries with The Reading Agency
1 July 2012
Ace Stories, Brighton
3 July 2012
Africa Utopia, London
4 July 2012
Wasafiri & Open University, Cambridge
5 July 2012
Wenlock Poetry Festival, Much Wenlock
5 July 2012
Stratford Poetry Festival, Stratford upon Avon with TJ Dema (Botswana) and Khosal Kiev (Cambodia)
5 & 6 July 2012
Scottish Poetry Library, Glasgow & Edinburgh
5 & 6 July 2012
Verbal Arts Centre, Derry-Londonderry
6 July 2012
Park Street Poetry, Bristol
7 July 2012
Ledbury Poetry Festival, Ledbury with Paul Dekayo (Cameroon), Tishani Doshi (India), Raul Henao (Colombia), Kim Hyesoon (South Korea), Doina Ioanid (Romania), Jang Jin Seong (North Korea), Reza Mohammadi (Afghanistan), Ribka Sibhatu (Eritrea)
8 July 2012
Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, Hebden Bridge
9 July 2012
Arabic Arts Festival, Liverpool with Zahir Al-Ghafri (Oman)
10 July 2012
Contacting the World, Manchester with TJ Dema (Botswana), Khosal Kiev (Cambodia) and Bewketu Seyoum (Ethiopia)
11 July 2012
Way With Words, Dartington
12 July 2012
Assembly Rooms, Ludlow with Agnes Agboton (Benin), Zahir Al-Ghafri (Oman), Jang Jin Seong (North Korea), Reza Mohammadi (Afghanistan), John Hegley (UK)
14 July 2012
Arabic Arts Festival, Liverpool with Khaled Mattawa (Libya)