Account of writing & producing a New Choreopoem Commissioned by Affective Digital Histories: Centre for New Writing Leicester University
Thursday, 30 October 2014
WEM BlogHop: I Have A Dream…As I Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants
Black History/Herstory, is mine, and yours, it is World History/Herstory. Therefore it should be an all year round subject for us all, in terms of understanding various forms of oppression faced by Black people. Rewriting,reframing and reconstructing, so much important information,that has been hidden from us over the decades and centuries. Writers have always played an important role in re- imagining the past. So when I think of my own writing, there have been so many influences and inspirations-to many to mention them all. I will highlight in particular those Black Writers-African American, Black Caribbean and Black British Writers. Those who have undoubtedly shaped significantly,my journey as a writer, social/cultural commentator and as a person.
As a Leicester born black young girl, of African Caribbean Windrush parents, experiencing racism in England, not quite fully understanding, its profound negative long lasting effects, on myself or across the wider African Diaspora. I simultaneously witnessed, importantly via TV the coverage of such momentous historical events e.g as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X,the Civil Rights Movement, British colonial strife in Africa: South Africa, Rhodesia now Zimbabwe and Kenya. So a dream of a better world, one of Social Justice, Equality, Human Rights etc. took hold in my mind fairly early on and continues to this very day.
A pivotal point for me, is from the tender age of 13 years, after going through reading, greek mythology, comics, Jackie magazines and Tolkien. These rebellious teenage years of mine, led to a a brief Skinhead phase, then I became a committed Soul Girl. A passionate soul funk music fan, and I enthusiastically,took on the idea of 'Black is Beautiful' part of an American Black Liberation revolutionary movement, and this new consciousness, took root firmly within in me. These ideas were further embedded, after seeing American films like Uptight and Cleopatra Jones, featuring many previously unseen charismatic, beautiful black actors, in afrocentric dress, black narratives about racism-the aftermath of riots and Civil Rights, accompanied by sensational, influential Black music.
Later I started reading books by Black Power Writers, Soledad Brothers George Jackson, Soul On Ice Eldrige Cleaver and If they Come in the Morning-Voices of Resistance Angela Davis. Discovering seminal works like,The Autobiography of Malcolm X Alex Haley and Frantz Fanon's Black Skins White Masks. Poetry was now also key, as I encountered radical Black Poetry in Leicester, in a pamphlet titled Black Chat, produced by the local Black Peoples Liberation Party. This publication always had a fair amount of incendiary Black Liberation-Revolutionary poetry, interspersed with equally fiery political articles, written by men and critically by women (all the poetry I learnt at school was invariably written by men). My political awareness therefore grew exponentially. Leading me to find the stirring words, of great orator and prominent Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey,alongside the Harlem Renaissance movement e.g.Caribbean Jamaican poet Claude Mckay's poem, If We Must Die or African American Poet Langston HughesA Dream Deferred. In addition to the Negrititude movement, as translated from French speaking African poets, e.g. Leopold Sedar Senghor,and Aime Cesaire based in Paris.
Over the following years, during my 20' ad 30's, my life long study of Black History/Herstory, continued to grow, largely as a result of Feminist/ Black Womanist and Queer studies. As I learnt about the achievements of Poet Phylis Wheatley, Underground Rail Road Slave Liberators, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Jamaican Guerrilla leader,Nanny of theMaroons and African Resistance Fighters, Ya Assantewa of Ghana and Queen Nzinga of Angola. I went on to search out other Black women and men writers, poets, essayists and journalists. African American ones, largely at first, e.g. Giovanni's RoomJames Baldwin,Their Eyes Were WatchingGod Zora Neale Hurston, We A People SoniaSanchez, In Memoriam: Martin Luther King Jr. June Jordan,For Coloured Girls Who have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf ' the very influential Ntzake Shangwe, Beloved Toni Morrison Pullitzer Prize winner,The Colour PurpleAlice WalkerAnd Still I Rise Maya Angelou, Zami A New Spelling of My name Audre Lourde, Jamaica Labrish Jamaican folklorist/ poet performer Miss Lou aka Louise Bennett,Tongues Untied Black Gay Mens Poetry Anthology, Poets Essex Hemphill, Assotto Saint both African American and Dirg Aaab -Richards who is Black British. Over time more Black British writers were read by me, that included, e.g. Black Theatre in the African Continium; The Theory & Praxis Su Andi, Brown Girl In the Ring Plays Prose and Poems,GetA GripValerie Mason John (one of my most seminal influences a pioneer of Queer Writing), Connecting MediumDorothea Smartt,I is a Long Memoried WomanGrace Nichols, Blood Shot Monochome PatienceAgbabi,Trumpet Jackie Kay and The Fifth FigureJean Binta Breeze.
During the 80's 90's and over the last decade or so, I was very fortunate to either, meet and/or hear readings of some of these selected Black women and men writers above. Now I still find there are many other books I would like to read e.g. one written by writer, a Jamaican English woman, who I understand used to live in my home city of Leicester for a while, the book is 'The Unbelonging' by Joan Riley. The first Afro-Caribbean woman author, to write about the experiences of Blacks in England. All of these writers I have mentioned, made invaluable contributions to literature, of great importance and critical significance, and consequently,are a great inspiration to me as a writer. All of the writers,social commentators, historical figures, the books, poems,publications etc.I referred to, all have in common,the fact that they have been groundbreaking, and wholly influential, in so many different ways, for a host of different reasons. I do hope others will seek the rich rewards, of seeking out their written material for themselves to read. For me they are giants, historical and literary colossi if you will, whose incomparable legacy i.e. are the very shoulders, I stand upon. They have helped shape my own dream of a better world and ignite my own literary imagination.
Also taking part part in Writing East Midlands Blog Hop are as follows: