City Central

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.

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

Johny Pitts
Benin City
left-right: Tom Leaper, Shanaz Dorsett, Joshua Idehen

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

A Speaking Volumes Production in collaboration with the Southbank Centre funded by ACE.

Breaking New Ground

Breaking New Ground is a project celebrating British writers and illustrators of colour who are creating stories for children and young people, launching at London Book Fair 2019 with a new booklet featuring over 100 contemporary creators.

30,000 copies of the booklet will be distributed to every school in the country, as well as to librarians, festivals, venues, publishers, agents and all key people working in this sector of literature.

Celebrating British writers & illustrators of colour

This latest iteration of Speaking Volumes’ Breaking Ground series is created in partnership with specialist children’s literature organisations BookTrust and Pop Up Projects. Both organisations will be coordinating activites taking place throughout 2019-20 to make positive changes for contemporary writers and illustrators, to support their careers, offer them opportunities and generally help

You can read the new booklet on Issuu by clicking the image below.

Check back to find out the progress of the project.

A Windrush Legacy – Anthony Joseph

The Kitch Tour

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.

Kitch book cover

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’.

Anthony Joseph tells the story from Kitch of Lord Kitchener sending the song ‘Trouble in arima’ to Trinidad the night before carnival, as Crispin ‘Spry’ Robinson and Jason Yarde jam on the legendary tune at Bradford Literature Festival in July 2018.

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.


Tour Events

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


Saturday 3 November, 3pm – YAA Centre, London:
Jump In The Line: Calypso in Britain. An afternoon of listening and discussion with Anthony Joseph, Dmitri Subotsky, John Cowley and Tina K Ramnarine.
Tickets: Free
YAA Centre, 1 Chippenham Mews, London W9 2AN
Produced by Serious, supported by Speaking Volumes


Friday 19 October, 7pm – Tate South Lameth Library, London:
Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon. Anthony Joseph reads from his fictionalised biography of Lord Kitchener followed by a Q&A.
Tickets: Free
Tate South Lambeth Library, 180 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1QP
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 books.
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 Book Festival: 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

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