As the lockdown restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19 begin to be relaxed across the UK, we’re bringing you the final instalment of our Literature on Lockdown series.
Following the worldwide demonstrations, protests and public events in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, conversations continue about publishing’s role in changing the future, and its reckoning with the past.
We’re reminded that literature reacts, responds to and retaliates against global issues and times of crises – it changes people and is changed by them.
With this in mind, our recommendations this week offer more learning opportunities for and from the literature world – including articles by Dorothy Koomson and Travis Alabanza. We’re also marking World Refugee Day by sharing online events, competitions and reading lists to raise awareness and amplify refugees’ voices.
The Emerging Writers Festival – one of Australia’s most established and well-respected literary festivals – runs from 16-23 June. Its opening night event: The Bogong Blak Futures features three First Nations artists, Travis De Vries, Emily Munro-Harrison and Tre Turner, who lay down their blueprints for the future. The event will free to stream around the world here.
You can watch the stage adaptation of Andrea Levy’s Orange Prize-winning novel Small Island from 18 June. The story explores post-war Caribbean migration to the UK through four narrators. Available on YouTube and the National Theatre Live website.
In recognition of June as Pride month, British Council India has partnered with The Queer Muslim Project to present More Films for Freedom – three short films that showcase a breadth of distinctive new filmmaking voices supporting urgent, creative collaborations which explore LGBTIQ+ themes.
New Writing North have launched Murmuration, a ‘collective poem for our times’ that invites people to submit writing celebrating the natural world as a response to the climate emergency and Covid-19. Contributors are invited to send in lines beginning ‘because I love…’, or ‘what if…’. Submissions will be curated to form a collective poem that will be brought to life as a film animation by writer Linda France and artist Kate Sweeney. More information on how to submit your lines can be found on the Murmuration website.
Creative Debuts have launched the Black Artists Grant– a new monthly grant of £500 open to Black artists in the UK for whatever you need: time and space to make new work, equipment, research, travel, or emergency funds. Successful applicants will be chosen monthly by a different organisations. The first selectors are ROOT-ed Zine, which promotes and supports the work of people of colour in the North West of England.
Award-winning UK novelist and short story writer Mahsuda Snaith is running a free writing course on YouTube. The workshops are deliberately short and aimed at being accessible to writers at all levels. Craft lessons on dialogue, plotting and character are offered alongside practical skills like dealing with rejection and overcoming writer’s block. New videos are posted every week.
While lockdown means that The Children’s Bookshow can’t offer in-school workshops and theatre performances, they are engaging schoolchildren with their new Letters from Lockdown project. Artists and writers – including Quentin Blake, Valerie Bloom and Axel Scheffler – have created handwritten, illustrated letters to inspire children to write their own letters. 7-11 year-olds in the UK can enter the Letters from Lockdown competition, and have their work judged by editor Sian Griffiths.
Beatfreeks is a community of young creatives who find opportunities for young people to build the ‘Institutions of the Future’. They have launched the Black Lives Matter Language Commissions that will support two pieces of work created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Black creatives are invited to document protests, interview family and community members, and produce artwork in their chosen field. If you are a non-Black POC creative, you are invited to make digital banners, to share flyers, and to make art in languages other than English. Commissions are rolling and there is no set deadline.
Bustling award ceremonies might not be possible right now, but the awards themselves continue. This week, the Forward Poetry Prizes announced their shortlists, and English PEN revealed the winners of the PEN Translates Awards, including Eddo’s Souls by Stella Gaitano – the first novel from South Sudan ever to be published in the UK – and Waiting for the Waters to Rise by Maryse Condé, the first time the prize has been awarded to a writer from Guadeloupe.
Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem is among the shortlisted books for the Forward Prize for Best Collection, while Rachel Long and Malika Booker are shortlisted for Best First Collection and Best Single Poem respectively. See the Forward website for poems, interviews and more.
14 June 2020 marked the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. Those commemorating this are still seeking justice for the families affected, who remain in temporary or sheltered housing. Those of us who use literature to make sense of the world may find ourselves returning to Surge by Jay Bernard, whose poems explore the links between the lives lost to the New Cross Fire and those lost to Grenfell, or to After Grenfell: Violence, Resistance and Response, an anthology of writings from Pluto Press, who have recently made the book free to download from their website.
Dorothy Koomson has received praise for her article 'Do Better, Publishing People', an open letter to the publishing industry. Koomson describes the industry as a ‘hostile environment’ for Black writers and calls for change to create a level playing field – beyond performative social media posts.
Artist, performer and writer Travis Alabanza has published 'I didn’t think 2020 would have me crying tears of joy at the death of a statue, but here we are' in gal-dem magazine. Alabanza explores the meaning and resonance of the removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Coulson in Bristol through their own experiences with racism and homophobia whilst growing up in Bristol.
Penguin Books have published 'How to support Black publishers and bookshops' on their website.
Author Candice Carty-Williams’s article 'Publishers want more Black authors. Why have they silenced us for so long?' takes a look at what needs to change before books get into the hands of readers.
Author and Influx Press co-founder Kit Caless has produced a 'Radical call for change in the publishing industry' for Minor Literatures.
The George Padmore Institute might be closed, but this hasn’t stopped them making a wealth of their archive available online. The institute houses educational resources and materials relating to the Black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. Learn more here.
World Refugee Day
20 June is World Refugee Day. In recognition of this, many publishers and literary organisations have worked inventively to use the lockdown to give it more focus.
Peirene Press will host the Shatila Stories Q&A. Shatila Stories is a novel-anthology hybrid, featuring the work of nine Syrian and Palestine refugees, that emerged from a writing workshop facilitated by Meike Ziervogel and Suhir Helal, and translated into English by Nashwa Gowanlock. The Q&A will take the form of an online webinar with Omar Khaled Ahmad, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar and Samih Mahmoud – three of the authors whose work featured in the book. Tickets to the event on 20 June have no fixed price, and work as a donation to the Alsama Project.
For those of you using the lockdown as the perfect opportunity to stay in the burrow and read, Room to Read – a charity that works to improve literacy and gender equality in education for children in low-income communities – has put together its list of 35 Children’s Books to Read for World Refugee Day.
The Refugee Week Flash Fiction Competition is looking for stories of up to 50 words. With three separate categories for adults, under-18s and under-12s, submissions can be in any language, but must be on the theme of ‘Imagine’. The entries will be judged by Onjali Rauf, Sharon Duggal, Umit Ozturk and Monika Akila Richards. Apply before 5pm on 20 June.