Here are a selection of women we are/have worked with recently who are starting to tell their stories in various genres and forms: Nandi Jola, Philomena Mullen, Helen Thomas and Sylvia Wohlfarth
(click each name to jump to that section or scroll down to see them all)
Living in Belfast, Nandi is a South African-born poet, storyteller and playwright, and a recipient of the Smock Alley Theatre Rachel Baptiste 2022 Programme. She is a creative writing facilitator for Museums Northern Ireland, Ulster University Books, Poetry Ireland and Quotidian. Her one-woman play The Journey opened the International Literature Festival Dublin in October 2020.
Nandi represented Northern Ireland at the Transpoesie Poetry Festival in 2021 and is a commissioned poet for Poetry Jukebox, Ambiguities, a James Joyce programme of the Centre Culturel Irlandais and Impermanence Way Archive Project 2022.
She gained MA in Poetry from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University Belfast and is a Visiting Fellow of the University of Ulster.
Nandi was included in Breaking Ground Ireland, a Cúirt International Festival of Literature/ Ollscoil na Gaillimhe – University of Galway/ Speaking Volumes collaboration. It was the first publication of its kind highlighting 90+ writers and illustrators from ethnic minority backgrounds in Ireland, including those from Irish Traveller backgrounds. Based on Breaking Ground, Speaking Volumes’ original concept and project to highlight British writers of colour, Breaking Ground Ireland was also supported by the Irish Writers Centre, with funding from the Irish Research Council.
Nandi participated in a Breaking Ground Ireland panel at the AfroEuropeans 2022 conference in Brussels. You can watch her contributing film, which includes her talking about and reading her work, here.
A Black Studies lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, Philomena Mullen was born to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father, and spent her first sixteen years in an Irish industrial school. Her writing tries to make sense of her jumbled life, as well as her odd family trio – parents and confused and often picaresque child – who never understood each other. She has been supported and encouraged by Skein Press to develop her stories further. Philomena has read at: the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival (Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council); Silence+Voice – A Festival of Feminisms; the Irish Writers Centre (with EPIC Writers Group); the Royal Irish Academy; the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s Summer School; Breaking the Silence – Creative Responses to the Legacy of Ireland’s Mother and Baby Home Institutions (National Concert Hall and International Literature Festival Dublin project, 2021); and Echoes: Maeve Binchy and Irish Writers Festival.
Philomena’s recent publications are:
– ‘Black baby box[ed]’ in Irish University Review 50 (2020);
– ‘Discrimination: Race’ (section 5.1) in the Rights and the Mother and Baby Homes Report: Reaching Different Findings (Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation Report Draft Alternative Executive Summary, 2021), see https://www.tudublin.ie/media/website/news/2021/main-news/Draft-September-24.pdf
– ‘Defying the exclusionary homogeneity of Irish whiteness: mixed-race children in Irish industrial schools in the twentieth century’ in Ethnic and Racial Studies 2022, see https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2022.2139626
She is currently writing her life story. You can read snippets from it, What song the siren sang, here: https://speaking-volumes.org.uk/what-song-the-siren-sang/
Helen is a poet, author and academic. She was born in London to a Sierra Leonean father and an Irish mother and now lives in Cornwall. In 2020, she self-published a free, 500-page e-book entitled Black Agents Provocateurs: 250 Years of Black British Writing, History and the Law, 1770-2020, a text which examines the ways in which black writers have challenged racial discrimination and legal inequalities in Britain since the 1700s and have contributed to legal changes such as the Abolition of Slavery Act (1833), the Criminal Appeal Act (1907) and the Race Relations Act (1965). Her other works include Romanticism and Slave Narratives: Transatlantic Testimonies (Cambridge University Press), a critical study of Caryl Phillips and a synopsis of 1950s-1980s Black British Theatre.
Following a diagnosis of breast cancer, she turned her attention to the medical humanities and published Malady and Mortality: Illness, Disease and Death in Literary Culture. She has also worked as a lecturer in many universities, mostly teaching Black British Writing and Migrant, Postcolonial and World Literatures in English. Helen is currently working on a poetic play, having showcased some of her work at IdeasLab, Theatre Royal Plymouth earlier this year.
Helen has also published a poetry collection entitled 1562. In this collection, six black female voices from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries speak from six significant ports of entry into the UK. As Helen explains, ‘I’ve tried to imagine six female lives – young, old, mothers, lovers – and endeavoured to creatively fill some of the gaps in our official, archival records by voicing these women’s sense of their own past and new present on the British Isles, their despair, their laughter, their anxieties, their sense of sexuality, and their sense of agency and legacy.’ You can listen to a reading from her work here.
‘The Book of Omi – Cardiff’
‘The Book of Doll – London, 1663’
Find out more about Helen at https://blackbritishwriting.com/books
Helen was our nominated participant in Word Space, which is the new Literature Works online talent development programme for emerging voices in the South West. Find out more about Word Space at: https://literatureworks.org.uk/features/connection-exchange-and-talent-development
A grandmother and retired English teacher, Sylvia Wohlfarth began writing regularly on returning to Ireland five years ago after having lived over forty years in Germany. She does voluntary work with migrants and refugees at the Cork Migrant Centre. Her creative non-fiction writing and poetry focus on the paradoxes of life, raising awareness of social injustice, racism and initiating change. She is currently writing her parents’ (Nigerian father and Irish mother) biography which also encompasses the entwined histories of Ireland and Nigeria dating back to the early Irish missionaries.
Sylvia has published essays and poems in, among others:
The online publication, Our Human Family: https://medium.com/our-human-family/how-does-it-feel-when-the-perpetrators-of-racial-segregation-become-the-victims-7ca0d397c974
OFH Weekly about her roots: https://www.ohfweekly.org/vol-3-no-42/
The American online publishing platform, Medium: https://medium.com/@sylviawohlfarth
Sylvia was included in Breaking Ground Ireland, a Cúirt International Festival of Literature/ Ollscoil na Gaillimhe – University of Galway/ Speaking Volumes collaboration. It was the first publication of its kind highlighting 90+ writers and illustrators from ethnic minority backgrounds in Ireland, including those from Irish Traveller backgrounds. Based on Breaking Ground, Speaking Volumes’ original concept and project to highlight British writers of colour, Breaking Ground Ireland was also supported by the Irish Writers Centre, with funding from the Irish Research Council.