Episode 3 - A quick review of Swing Time ( 2016) by Zadie Smith. As well as my thought on why we need more black critics in literature.....
Thank you so much to everyone who has listened to the first episode! All the positivity: feedback, comments and emails. It’s good to know that there is a consensus felt with Black British writing and its writers; that there is a bouncer at the door and some of us are wearing trainers…. if you know what I mean. Thank you and thank you again. Wanted to shout-out two other podcasts that you should definitely look up if you want more on books and culture – MostlyLit a funny and informative podcast series with interviews and discussions on UK culture whether that’s books, music or pop culture. Also check out Spectra Magazine’s podcast that focus on feminism from all perspectives, intersectional and diverse viewpoints. Big thanks to Adiba for her lovely email, really appreciate of your kind words.
I was shitting myself when I announced the first episode. Social media is literally my scrap book of my interests. As a result I’ve never seen it as a tool beyond that, it’s not really about me, but it is about me if you know what I mean. One thing I will say about podcasting is that I can’t help feel a sense of intimacy; microphone in one hand and duvet over my head, I am literally in a cocoon! If this turns into a therapy session please let me know. No one should bare the brunt of that….Before I get into my 2017 book recommendations I wanted to just quickly answer some questions off the back of the first episode.
Interviews, will I be doing them? Well I would one day like to move away from the sound of my lone voice and share my studio/duvet. Yes! I would definitely like to in the future. It is very early days, but we will see.
Second comment/question I got was posted on my Instagram profile was from a writer based in the U.S. regarding how to bring Black British writers to the forefront of our thinking (I guess that is in terms of visibility and recognition of their work) as it’s a similar issue in the states. It’s a great question and it’s one that needs to be approached without a tokenistic lens. What I mean is that an article on ‘My month of reading BAME writers’ or an interview with a book publisher who has decided to publish one Black or Asian writer for example in the catalogue of one hundred that year are to some degree good gestures, as they can raise awareness. Just like categorised sections in bookshops are a good way to navigate the sea of books that are available. They are all good gestures. But good gestures are not conditions of change. What I mean is that you can have a bunch of writers and bloggers for one month all wanting to tell you about how their perspectives have changed now they’ve read about gang-culture in London, poverty in Africa, or stories of self-determination and resilience during the transatlantic slave trade (no criticism on those stories) But after you read that article, after you’ve perhaps read the book, then what?
My suggestion and this is my opinion; is that I would like to see are more collaborative efforts between writing development programme and publishers. From what I have seen the workshops and programmes that are available to help mentor and advise writers often work in silos. They get funding and then it is on them to deliver. The six to nine months perhaps goes well as they are still in the momentum of receiving financial support, but once it comes to the review at the end of the year that resubmission of funding crops up - it’s back to square one. Government policy is forever changing, budgets continue to be cut within the arts and culture sector within the U.K. and you could find yourself reapplying for support in a very different environment from the one you initially submitted to. So many programmes or workshops come to end because of funding, therein leaving another gap of guidance for those who want to write. Let’s be honest: writing is a collaborative act. Don’t be fooled by romanticism of the lone writer scribbling at a desk in a lowly lit room somewhere. Good writing comes from editing, soundproofing and guidance. Working with others. Just check the acknowledgement pages of any of your favorite books.
A programme that I think is a good example of this type of collaboration is The Complete Works - a yearlong poetry development programme that has been around for eight years. They work with established poets as mentors to a group ten emerging writers from a range of cultural backgrounds, all from around the U.K. Supporting amazing UK poets like Kayo Chingonyi, T.S Eliot winner Sarah Howe, and Warsan Shire. What I like about the programme is that it has a direct link with a BloodAxe Books a well-known poetry press, and at the end of the programme they publish a collection of work from these ten writers. Hint I am giving you your first 2017 recommendation here! Look out for this collection called Ten: Poets of the New Generation edited by Forward prize nominee Karen McCarthy-Woolf it should be out later this year in September. Also do check out Karen McCarthy-Woolf’s own work too her 2014 collection - An Aviary of Small Birds it is so powerful it is impossible to not be moved by it.
Other development agencies and organisation you should check out for support for writers and their writing are:
Sorry that most of these are London based! I am, and I know the sum total of the world is not London…. please share any others that I have missed and are outside of London.
What should you be reading in 2017?
Episode 2 - What can be done to raise the visibility of Black British writing? I discuss this as well as share some of my 2017 book recommendations from Courttia Newland, Leone Ross, Keith Jarett, Grace Nichols and others.
Podcast Shoutouts to MostlyLit and Spectra Magazine!
Hello and welcome to the Black Applause podcast a series discussing Black British writing.
My name is Stephanie King and I am the creator of Black Applause; a blog dedicated to providing reviews on fiction, poetry, and non-fiction by Black British writers. This podcast series is an extension of the blog; it is something completely new for me. I've always wanted to explore other avenues to communicate and have a conversation about something that I feel really impassioned about - literature!
Why Black British writing?
Why not.... No seriously it's something that I think about. Why not? Why aren't we giving more attention to those that write in the U.K? Why aren't we talking about the categorisation of Black British writing, is detrimental?
But typically what I do when posed with the question of why, is pose one back to whomever is asking: Can you name ten Black British writers who have published books in 2016?
It is a difficult question. I think the best answer I have been given was three, possibly four off the top of their head. No Google, no phone a friend none of that and that was pretty good! But it is quite difficult to list ten writers without doing some research, without googling and looking up smaller press catalogues etc. I use that question to highlight the environment and where I think the perception of Black British writing is today.
If I use Stuart Hall's phrase the 'politics of the image' I twist that in this instance and re-title it the 'politics of the literary image' for Black British writers. I use that in the context of looking at literary publications and just how much of their focus and/or space is given to a non-white writer (I am using the term Black British as a signifier for those who are non-white in my explanation. However, the following episodes will primarily reference those of Afro-Caribbean decent). If you look at digital platforms mainstream ones like the Guardian, or well known publications like; Granta, Ambit, London Review of Books, The White Review, The Poetry Review, PN Review, anyone of that ilk and examine how many writers in those magazines or platforms are Black British there will be a handful. Five or less, might be more in October in a supplementary edition, because you know how it is.... But generally there are very few names that get into these spaces.
Those few names that do get in there have often been the same names for the past couple of decades, leading since the eighties/nineties a coterie of writers. If you look at that you can quickly come to the judgement that the space for writing if you are Black British hasn't grown, it is stagnant. We are still referring to same names that published their work some twenty years ago, as if new talent is a rarity. In my opinion it is a bit of a misconception the lack of new writers; because if you do the work (and does require work which is a problem) and you're thorough you will find Black British people are writing across the U.K. You can find workshops, competitions, and presses out there who are looking to support new writers and their work. But you just wouldn't think that if you were to refer to the U.K. publications aforementioned.
The literary perception of activity is stuck in a post-windrush age. Were it still refers to (and we should be talking about this writers too by the way) Sam Selvon, CLR James, ER Braithwaite, VS Naipual, and Andrew Salkey, the canon of Black British writing. Writing concerned with immediate experiences of migration. Or if it does move further down the timescale (and you happen to listen to a BBC podcast on Black British culture and literature like I did a couple of months ago) they might mention more contemporary writers; Linton Kwesi Johnson, Bernadine Evaristo, Jackie Kay, Hanif Kureshi, Fred D'Aguiar or Monica Ali. These names have been granted a small window to the literary prizes and the accolades that exist. But in 2016/2017 the media spotlight makes you feel like very few of 'us' can and have passed this threshold.
I tried to highlight this in an Instagram and Twitter post that I put up in December of my Top Books of 2016. I tried to reel off a list of books published in 2016 that I had read, some new names others are slightly more established. But I recognised how hard I had to think about it. I had to really think back and ask myself who 'who has actually released something this year?’ There is just not enough noise that accompanies these writers, and that is really unfortunate. Great stories are coming out of smaller presses like Hope Road Publishing based in Manchester with their Young Adult novels by Pete Kalu, Outspoken Press publishing poetry pamphlets by newcomers Hibaq Osman and Bridget Minamore, Jacaranda Press with Irenosen Okojie, OWN IT! publishing the only debut last year by a Black male writer - Robyn Travis. Or even more established presses like Peepal Tree Press based in Leeds, a long time platform for Caribbean writing.
There are new names out there.
They are just not getting the movement nor the noise in U.K. literary world. It's this communication; the slack of sharing messages and representation in the media about Black British writing that I trying to take back in this podcast, out of the hands of those with power. I want to give a platform, applaud, recommend work, and critique work because that is something that is definitely missing. There are not enough reviews of Black British writing. I am a big advocate of criticism within communities. A quick name-check, or a simple synopsis that you might come across is not enough to inform the writer or the reader in my opinion. You do need to critique the work that is coming out. It shouldn't be a case of 'well they are black, box ticked' because I'll be honest I have read some woeful literature out there by Black British writers. Criticism is a valuable asset and is necessary to improve quality, to challenge the literary space and the writing itself. That is definitely needed. Criticism shouldn't be assigned to only those who have academic/literary backgrounds, it should be democratic. You shouldn't need a university degree or verbose language to have a valued opinion on the matter. The reviewing/critiquing is something I will do in these episodes, because 1) there is no other way I would want to do this 2) I do not have any literary ties to be afraid of cutting..... I won't be reviewing work by a friend, nor am I a writer trying to publish my own work. I don't work in the literary industry so it won't affect my career....
So you have me at my full non-bias! Well... as much as that is possible with anything you do. I am going to discuss what I am reading as if talking to a mate face to face. If it’s not worth your time, I'll let you know! That is what the podcast is - communication. My way of having a conversation because these things have to keep being talked about, they have to keep being present in our discussions about literature. They can't be switched on and off when you want to use keywords like 'diversity' in an article, and recommend a bunch of black writers you've been reading for one month of your life.... It has to be integral and continuous.
I'm hoping with the release of a new episodes (ekkk I just said that out loud, commitment!!!.....), that they will be my small contribution to that conversation. I do implore you to tweet, Instagram, or email me. Send some feedback. Message me! I promise you I am not scary. I really looking forward to just talking about what I love, and sharing that with others.
I hope you enjoy the following episodes and thank you for listening!