Tuesday 9 June 2015

Blog: Be brave, be too brave


Salena Godden on stage Stoke Newington Literary Festival photo by David Green

This weekend I was at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. The @stokeylitfest is such a highlight of the London summer and literary festival season for me. I had a brilliant, boozy time at The Mascara Bar for Tim Wells RISING...Fancy! event. It was awesome to hear my friend Francesca Beard perform some fabulous new work from her new solo show and also to catch new talent Jack Jones do his first poetry gig too. Make sure you visit Tim Wells 'Stand up and Spit' project page here!!

On Sunday night I was opening for the comedian and political satirist Mark Thomas. This was my third time being invited to play the big stage and the main hall. As poets we don’t often get to speak in big spaces at literary festivals, I was thrilled to be asked to contribute and it was a sell-out show. Mark Thomas is compelling to listen to and I highly recommend you check him out if you haven't before. 

The Stoke Newington Lit Fest goes from strength to strength, I have been every year and every year it offers us a spectacular line-up of new voices, superb authors, independent publishers and fascinating talks and debates and this year was the best ever. This year there were two panel debates on the hot subject of diversity. On Saturday afternoon Influx Press and Media Diversified hosted a panel exploring the experiences of writers of colour, examining what makes our work distinct and discussing how we can nurture and develop talent and literary expression. The panel was chaired by Chimene Suleyman and featured Kavita Bhanot, Courttia Newland and Sunny Singh – you can watch that debate on youtube here!!

Crystal Mahey-Morgan, Courttia Newland, Sarah Shaffi, Salena Godden, Sarah Odendina by David Green

On Sunday afternoon I was asked to contribute to The Booksellers panel discussion about diversity. Our chair was Sarah Shaffi and my panel comrades were Courttia Newland, marketing director Crystal Mahey-Morgan and publisher Sarah Odedina. Today there is a piece about our debate and the festival in the bookseller, click here!!

I was quoted as saying that publisher should "Be braver, be too brave." and that "publishers need to think about the fact they are making books for the next 100 years and not just for now."  I'd like to take some time to expand on that a little and recall some of what I was trying to say here.

I remember we talked about tokenism and I spoke about competition, that competition is healthy, but I feel that if you're a writer of a certain box and label, there's a sense that there's only so much of a small slice of the pie available to you. I talked about the romance of the *outsider. We like our writers to struggle, to be outsiders, but there's only so much you can do on the outside and from the outside.

The writing life is a strange life, sometimes it can feel like you are on a raft, making life changing decisions, financial sacrifices and long shots, based on navigating the tides of whims of people in offices who haven't even been to see the sea. When there is too much focus on lists and prizes we create a playground, a pressure of who is in and who is out and what is the next big copycat thing - An X-Factor or high-school popularity contest dominated by one narrator and from one perspective, just exactly like history being written and edited by the winners and victors. We must focus on more broad and diverse publishing, all across the board, from the decision makers to the writers in the trenches, we need more women, more flavour, more spice and more colour, to reflect and document this life, through fiction, poetry and memoir. I worry that if we continue like this, in one hundred years from now our books of the early twenty-first century will feature mere ghosts of the invisible; smudged shadows of other stories, token whispers of other voices that were once existing in this community of humanity that we are now and here.

I remain positive about the future, I believe things are changing. I am published by Unbound and Burning Eye Books who both publish a high number of diverse books, books by women and people of different backgrounds. It has been two decades since I started writing, getting published and performing, but back in my early days I was often the only girl and often the only brown face too. Now in 2015, I am performing alongside the likes of powerful poets like Vanessa Kissule and Deanna Rogers and Paula Varjack, to name just three, and I love what these strong women are creating and saying. It is important to keep positive, as I always say, feed the hope and not the fear.

Looking back, this last few weeks, this latest run of gigs have been nothing less than epic; I’m still buzzing about the fantastic WOW festival in Liverpool, The Poetry Reincarnation at The Roundhouse and the excitement at Tongue Fu’s sell-out show at The BritishLibrary with Saul Williams. I just want to say I’m enjoying work at the moment, I feel very alive and excited to be now and here and taking part in such lively and memorable events. Thank you. Please scroll down for more listings and summer festival dates. And before I sign off a massive salute and halleluiah to Malorie Blackman who has just come to the end of her term as children’s laureate, what a lady and what a beautiful trailblazer. 

electric blue shoes photo by David Green

Salena Godden and Tracey Moberley photo by David Green

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