Calling all BAME writers

And following on from my post earlier in the month about the Bare Lit Festival – I’d like to encourage anyone who is interested to take part in this competition for Black and Ethnic Minority writers living in the UK – BAME Short Story Prize – it’s organised by The Guardian and the 4th estate and has a prize of £1000 for the winner.

And please also check out a publisher that I just found on Twitter called Kamaria Press which calls itself a “not-for-profit African and Caribbean publishing house with the aim of distributing original and uninhibited works of literature” – this is the Facebook page – Kamaria Press

I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again, it’s so important that our story is told in our words and we must support each other as much as possible for this to come about.

I am happy to promote any organisation, event and/or individual that is dedicated to the aim of encouraging and enhancing the Black community in Britain.

Further reading:

Well-Read Black Girl

Marie Claire article on the ‘invisibility of black women writers’

Happy New Year

So Christmas and the New Year are out of the way and it’s time to once again start posting on this blog – I just hope there are still people out there following it.

I’ll begin with a simple shout out for a new event taking place in February showcasing writers and poets from the Black Caribbean community, amongst others, called the ‘Bare Lit Festival’.

Bare Lit Festival

Bare Lit Festival

According to the event’s website the festival, which is the first of its kind dedicated to Black and ethnic-minority writers, has been created because “last year, the UK’s three largest literary festivals featured over 2000 authors… and of those only 4% were from Black Caribbean, Black African, South Asian or East Asian backgrounds”.

The festival has been organised by a group called Media Diversified which “seeks to cultivate and promote skilled writers of colour by providing advice and contacts and by promoting content online through its own platform”.

I’ve said before on this blog how important I think it is that as a community we try to support and encourage each other, so it would be great if anyone who sees this post could also promote it, as well as trying to go along next month.

Let’s hope it leads to new recognition, respect and exposure for writers in the UK from all kinds of backgrounds.

Further coverage:

The Bookselller – Bare Lit Festival to celebrate BAME authors

LondonList: New Festival celebrates ethnic minority writers

Jamaica’s Booker Prize winner

So I’m a bit behind on this one as it happened in October however it’s definitely worth mentioning on this blog so forgive me if you know already, but the Man Booker prize winner for 2015 is a Jamaican author – Marlon James.

Man Booker Prize

Man Booker Prize

James is not only the first Jamaican to win one of the most prestigious International prizes for writing, which is an amazing achievement, but his book ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings‘ is all about Jamaica and its political history interwoven with a mythical plot to assassinate legendary reggae singer Bob Marley and told from seven different perspectives.

Marlon is only the second Caribbean writer to win the Booker Prize in its 47-year history – Trinidadian-born V.S. Naipaul claimed the honour in 1971 with his book ‘In a Free State‘.

Currently living in the US, James was born in 1970 in Kingston, and ‘A Brief History…’ is his third novel. The book had already won two other awards before the Booker Prize and was also a finalist in 2014 for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Marlon James (@MarlonJames5)

Marlon James (@MarlonJames5)

Michael Wood, Chair of the Booker Prize judges, said: ‘This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.

‘It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.’

'A Brief History of Seven Killings'

‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’

Marlon now lives in Minnesota after being offered a teaching job at Malacaster University. His decision to live in America is directly linked to his homosexuality which unfortunately still makes him a target in his home country.

In a riveting article written in the NY Times, Marlon provides a fascinating insight into his contrasting life as a gay man in Jamaica and the US and I highly recommend you read it – NY Times: From Jamaica to Minnesota to Myself

So congratulations to Marlon James. I really hope that Jamaican’s are aware of him and his internationally recognised writing achievements – he is doing his country proud and as a Caribbean descendant I am happy to shout about it.

I’ll be buying the book – I hope you will too.

Further reading:

BBC: Man Booker Prize winner 2015

‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’: Oneworld Publications

Man Booker Prize official press release

Black History Month

So just a quick post to draw your attention to some of the events that are going on to mark Black History month. I don’t know if it’s me but this year there seems to have been even more effort put into making BHM more meaningful and telling some important stories.

BHM_640x280 The Black Cultural Archives are putting on a range of events including a look at the lives of Black people during the Georgian era 1714 – 1830 – Black Cultural Archives – Black History month events

BHM-webbanner3 Goldsmiths University are also marking the month with various events which are part of the official launch of the institution’s upcoming – MA in Black British Writing Goldsmiths – Black History Month events

BlackHistory And Black History Walks London is having a talk on “the African, Caribbean and Asian war effort with video clips and interviews with black Spitfire & bomber pilots, Nigerian and Somali troops fighting in Burma, black and asian women secret agents, u-boats in the Caribbean and the importance of Africa and India’s raw materials.” – http://www.blackhistorywalks.co.uk/talks/talks-on-african-history-of-london

There are also events going on in other parts of the UK – check out the Black History Month website for more information – Black History Month – National Listings

I think it would be great if Black people in Britain supported as many of these events as possible because all of our stories are important, and it’s essential we learn about them, especially from the people who experienced it first hand – no one can tell ‘our story’ more truthfully and clearly than us.

Scotland’s first black professor

Apologies that it has been so long between posts!

Today I want to write about a leading Caribbean scientist / educator who I came across while I was researching this blog a few months ago.

Like most of the people I’ve written about on here, I’d never heard about him before, and again I think this is a failing of the British education system which IMO does not provide black and ethnic minority students with enough positive role models or information about our rich, diverse and amazing history.

http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/bios/professor_palmer.htm

Sir Geoffrey Palmer

Sir Geoffrey Henry Oliver Palmer was born in St Elizabeth in Jamaica in 1940 and moved to the UK in 1955 to join his mother who had emigrated to Britain a few years earlier to work as a dressmaker.

When he came to the UK just a few months before his 15th birthday he was apparently assessed as educationally subnormal and placed into a secondary school in North London, but he was recognised for his cricketing abilities and played sports at a high level while also gaining six O’levels and two A’ levels.

Just a quick internet search for Sir Geoffrey will provide you with enough information to justify his inclusion on this website as yet another sterling example of how Caribbean people have been, and are continuing, to make a difference to the fabric of British society.

Here is a quick list of some of his achievements outside of his specialisation in grain science and technology:

  • In 1989 Sir Geoffrey became Scotland’s first black professor
  • In 2001 he wrote a short story / fable about racism called ‘Mr White and the Ravens’
  • In 2007 he was named among ‘the 100 Great Black Britons’ list
  • In 2014 Sir Geoffrey was knighted for services to human rights, science, and charity

I first heard about Sir Geoffrey when I read an article in March in The Telegraph in which he said that claims Scotland is ‘more tolerant’ of immigration is a myth.

I wasn’t surprised to read what he had to say on the issue as obviously I live with racism and discrimination on a daily basis, but it was interesting to know what someone who has done so well and made such an important contribution to the UK, thinks about the issue of prejudice.

In one part of the article it says: “Sir Geoff told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that when he was interviewed in 1964 by Sir Keith Joseph, who later became an architect of Thatcherism, he told him he should “go back to the Caribbean and grow bananas”.

Sir Geoffrey added: “That sort of prejudice no longer exists, but if you want to know whether prejudice exists against immigrants per se, just look around your office and see how many immigrants you have working next to you.”

Now Sir Geoffrey is recognised as one of the world’s leading experts in his field and it’s inspiring to know that someone who came to the UK as a teenager from the Caribbean and was almost written off in terms of his educational ability and several more times because of his colour, has achieved so much professionally and personally.

Further reading:

100 Great Black Britons – Sir Geoffrey Palmer

‘Times Higher Education’ article on Sir Geoffrey

Second Coming: A film review

So a few weeks ago I went to see a film called ‘Second Coming‘ at the Hackney Picturehouse.

Obviously going to see a film in the cinema is not really that special nowadays but this film stands out because it is written, directed and stars Debbie Tucker Green who is black, female and British and it features a predominantly black cast including superstar Idris Elba.

I thought it was an ambitious, sensitive and thought-provoking film but what I loved most about ‘Second Coming’ is that it showed black people in ‘normal’ situations – there was no violence, gratuitous sex, swearing or anything else that usually accompanies a black person in a feature film.

It wasn’t about slavery, drugs, the ghetto, racism or any other weighty subject that we of course must not shy away from, but don’t have to be defined by all of the time.

And because of that I found it to be a breath of fresh air.

Second ComingThe film just follows an ordinary black family of three who are going about their every day existence – eating, talking, going to run-of-the-mill jobs and school, and just trying to get on with life which we can all relate to.

The couple, Mark and Jackie, played by Idris and the equally superb Nadine Marshall are seen having meals, getting ready for bed, going to work, visiting extended family and just living.

Their 11-year-old son JJ, who is played by the outstanding Kai Francis Lewis, goes to school as per usual, has a girl as a best friend and a wonderful affinity for nature which at one stage sees him take home an injured bird which he hopes to nurture back to health after his friend damages its wing (more on that later).

The ‘twist’ in the film (and I’m not giving anything away by mentioning it) is that Nadine’s character is pregnant, and she finds this difficult to accept, primarily because she has a history of miscarriages and also because she hasn’t slept with her husband, or anyone else as far as we are told, for months.

The early part of the film is spent building up the relationship between Jackie and the audience and it wasn’t hard for me to like her as she reflected so many things that I could relate too – she tied her hair up at night (as I do), she spoke with a London accent (as I do), she spent most of her time at work (as I do) or at home looking after her family and was in all ways just your typical, black British woman.

So we find out early on that Jackie is in denial about her pregnancy and after a series of bad dreams/ visions involving water and a grilling by her best friend (played by the writer Debbie Tucker Green) we also find out that Mark probably isn’t the father.

Mark is still in the dark but eventually finds out the ‘happy’ news about the baby from JJ. However as his wife gets big very quickly and is obviously further along in her pregnancy than he realised it doesn’t take too long for him to work out that he can’t be the dad.

This revelation leads to one of the most tense, emotionally-charged and difficult scenes in the film when he confronts Jackie and also drags in their son into a heated, but one-sided argument, that leads to more questions than answers.

The couple’s relationship falls apart and Jackie becomes increasingly isolated and desperate as she struggles to understand what is happening to her and deal with her nightmares which are getting more strange and vivid.

Eventually she takes drastic action to end her predicament and this is another scene in the film that IMO was well-managed and sensitively acted, written and directed.

While in hospital Jackie is given psychiatric treatment and in these sessions it slowly becomes clear that even she doesn’t have any answers and so the audience must accept that it will never really find out how she became pregnant or who the father is. Although some parts of the story moved slowly I was completely gripped as it became obvious that this was not going to end all tied up with a neat bow.

Anyway, eventually the baby is born and the film, which has a general grey feeling of prevailing sadness throughout, actually ends on a quite uplifting note with a family BBQ where the baby girl is already walking and is the centre of attention as she is fussed over by her doting big brother.

Meanwhile Jackie and Mark sit on white plastic chairs and reminisce about their long history which hints at the possibility of a happy ending, even after all they’ve been through. And to symbolise the revival of their relationship, the bird that their son JJ was nurturing but had died and was buried, emerges from its grave and is fully healed and able to fly off into the sunshine.

So, what I loved most about this film really was that it didn’t pander to stereotypes or preconceived notions. I really felt part of the family’s mini-drama and the fact that at the end we are left to interpret whether the main character has really experienced a ‘miracle’ or was just having some sort of pregnancy-induced mental breakdown is the perfect way to leave it.

The film is essentially about how the extraordinary clashes with the ordinary every day and sometimes we are just too engrossed in living to see or accept it.

I hope Debbie Tucker Green and ‘Second Coming’ get some deserved exposure and recognition and that other film makers see that when you cast black people you don’t always have to go beyond the every day to tell an amazing story.

Rating: 9/10

Other reviews of ‘Second Coming’ –

The Guardian review of ‘Second Coming’

The Telegraph review of ‘Second Coming’

Britain’s first Black female MP

When I first started this blog for my MA in International Journalism I knew that one of the areas I really wanted to cover was the impact of Caribbean people on British politics.

As a child of the ’90s I was acutely aware that in 1987 the first four Black MPs to serve in the House of Commons had been elected including the first Black female MP Diane Abbott who is of Jamaican descent.

As I dug deeper I was surprised to find that these trailblazers were actually preceded into public office by two members of the House of Lords, Sir Learie Constantine and Lord David Pitt, and that they had followed Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns who had become the first person of Caribbean descent ever elected to public office in the UK as far back as 1903.

But I guess Diane Abbott stands out from this group because she was the first Black female MP so when I started this blog I really wanted to talk to her about her experiences not just as an MP but as a Black Briton.

I contacted her office for an interview and her PA returned my email and asked for my questions which he said he would put to Ms Abbott even though she is busy campaigning to become Labour’s candidate for London Mayor – I sent back a long list including:

– what was it like growing up as a black child in Britain in the 60s and 70s
– did you feel any conflict between being Black and being British
– what was it like being elected in 1987 along with Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant, Paul Boetang
– what were your main goals as a young black, female politician
– was being in public office all that you expected

Unfortunately Ms Abbott did not get back to me and I am still waiting for any sort of reply.

However this week I read that she had given an interview to the BBC’s Witness programme, during which she talked about her political career and what it was like to be the first Black female MP, and if you can take a listen I recommend it – BBC witness: Britain’s first Black woman MP.

Have you heard of Olive Morris?

I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Olive Morris until today although I’m not surprised because that kind of ignorance is why I started this blog in the first place.

I came across Olive’s story today when someone I follow on Twitter posted about a seminal book called ‘The heart of the race:Black women’s lives in Britain’ which is 30 years old today.

This book was published when I was nine-years-old and I think it is a sad indictment of the UK school system that I had not even heard about until now.

I’m not going to pretend I know much about it but the introduction to the book states: “this book originally came about as a response to gaps in the historical record, especially concerning Black women.

“Histories were being produced about Black struggles as a whole, but too often Black women’s roles and experiences were left out or diminished. The white-dominated women’s movements in the UK were also repeating the same thing: documenting ‘herstory’ from every angle except our own”.

I find it really moving that in 1985 there were people who recognised that the story of how Black people (especially, in this case, women) have and are contributing to the UK was not being heard and wanted to address it.

But it’s also a little bit sad that 30 years later IMO this topic has still not been properly addressed beyond a few committed and passionate individuals and organisations.

Anyway, back to Olive Morris who was a leading voice in the Black women’s movement in the UK and spoke out on a range of social issues especially housing and education.

Olive Morris at a rally

Copyright: BBC

Olive came to the UK from Jamaica when she was 9 years old and grew up in South London. During her teenage years she was involved in political activism and later co-founded several influential civil liberties groups including the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent.

During the 1970s, which we all know was a turbulent time for Black people in the UK due to widespread racism and discrimination, Olive could be called on to mobilise and organise people and ensure their voices were heard. She was evidently a strong, committed and active woman who was determined to stand up for vulnerable people who may otherwise have been ignored by the system.

Instead of sitting around, bemoaning the way things were, Olive set about trying to make them better and her courage in the face of what must have seemed daunting odds, is to be admired, even if you might not agree with all of her ideas or methods.

People like Olive don’t come along often but when they do they shake up the establishment and show other individuals that we can all make a difference.

Sadly, Olive died of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1979 at the age of just 27, but I’ve often said you don’t have to live a long life to make an impact on the world and it’s clear that she certainly did from what I have been reading.

I really think that learning about Black Caribbean people such as Olive, Claudia Jones, Walter Tull, should be compulsory in British schools.

I certainly wish that I had known some of these stories when I was growing up – it may have helped me to realise just how much Black Caribbean people have added to the history of the country I was born in and so deserve to have their sacrifices remembered.

Further reading:

https://rememberolivemorris.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/om_biog.pdf

https://rememberolivemorris.wordpress.com/category/remembering-olive/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8310000/8310579.stm

 

Black British exposure on the BBC

So I’m not sure if someone from the BBC is following this blog but alongside a few recent documentaries highlighting the immense contribution of Black Caribbean people to the British Armed forces, which I have covered quite a bit on here, they have now also latched on to Cecile Emeke who I also mentioned a few months ago when I found her latest series ‘Ackee and Saltfish’.

The BBC magazine article is plugging Cecile’s YouTube channel about the Black British experience and I think it’s great that she is enjoying national exposure so please check it out – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-32848057.

You can also find Cecile’s YouTube channel here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSv7x7CZ8TduR2t0SXB5KQA

Fighting for King and Empire

Well it seems a few people might be beginning to understand the value of Caribbean people to Britain over the decades, as there seems to be almost a plethora of news, exhibitions, articles and programmes that have emerged recently celebrating the theme of this website.

The BBC are showing a documentary tomorrow (Wednesday 13th May) that fits in nicely with some of the posts I have put on here about the brave men and women from the West Indies who voluntarily fought in WWI and WWII for ‘the mother country’. The film, called ‘Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean heroes’ will be shown on BBC Four tomorrow at 9pm and will then be available on demand on the BBC player.

The promotional copy for the documentary says: “This programme is based on a film entitled Divided By Race – United in War and Peace, produced by The-Latest.com.

During the Second World War, thousands of men and women from the Caribbean colonies volunteered to come to Britain to join the fight against Hitler. They risked their lives for King and Empire, but their contribution has largely been forgotten.

In this programme, some of the last surviving Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories: from torpedo attacks by German U-boats and the RAF’s blanket bombing of Germany to the culture shock of Britain’s freezing winters and war-torn landscapes. This brave sacrifice confronted the pioneers from the Caribbean with a lifelong challenge – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people.

In testimony full of wit and charm, the veterans candidly reveal their experiences as some of the only black people in wartime Britain. They remember encounters with a curious British public and confrontation with the prejudices of white American GIs stationed in Britain.

After the war, many veterans returned to the Caribbean where they discovered jobs were scarce. Some came back to Britain to help rebuild its cities. They settled down with jobs and homes, got married and began to integrate their rich heritage into British culture. Now mostly in their 80s and 90s – the oldest is 104 – these pioneers from the Caribbean have helped transform Britain and created an enduring multicultural legacy.

With vivid first-hand testimony, observational documentary and rare archive footage, the programme gives a unique perspective on the Second World War and the history of 20th-century Britain.”

I’m going to try and watch it – I hope you will too.

See also:

http://www.the-latest.com/bbc-film-recognise-britains-caribbean-heroes

http://newafricanmagazine.com/britain-divided-by-race-united-in-war/