Friday 14 July 2023

Salena Godden awarded Honorary Fellowship at West Dean

Hello there,

Some happy personal news: I’m excited to share the news that I have been awarded an Honorary Fellowship at West Dean. At a ceremony held on July 8th in the glorious West Dean estate in the warm sunshine myself and author Joanna Moorhead were made Honorary Fellows and given our certificates. Then we each gave short acceptance speeches. It was such a memorable and joyful experience. We also presented the awards to all the brilliant students who were graduating that day. I met so many wonderful people and had such a lovely time. I am so looking forward to exploring West Dean more and writing books here. The gardens and orchards and landscape, interior and exterior are exquisite.

As someone who went to secondary school and sixth form college in Sussex but was unable to make it to university this is such a wonderful honour. Thank you to all at West Dean and Sussex University. Thanks also to my brother Gus and partner Richard who were there too. I send congratulations to my fellow Fellows: Sue Timney, Joanna Moorhead and Alexandria Dauley and congratulations also to all the amazing graduate students I met and chatted with that day.

At the after party someone came up to me and asked me if they could have a copy of my speech. I felt self conscious as I had wept a little onstage and gone off page so I didn't want them to have my crumpled pages - I felt incredibly shy about it all. Now a few days have passed so I will publish an excerpt of my speech here on my blog in case that person finds it and sees this.

What a beautiful day! Thank you!
Thank you! Thank you! 

Read more here - 

West Dean Fellowship Acceptance Speech (excerpt)

It is a huge honour to be invited to receive an Honorary Fellowship at West Dean. This is such an inspiring place to write, to nourish ideas and art, creativity and visions. I enjoyed a memorable time as writer-in residence at West Dean and loved exploring the beautiful grounds and gardens. I worked on the first draft of my next novel here and wrote lots of ideas and poetry sitting under these glorious trees. I'm so grateful and so happy to be selected for this. It is an encouragement and a wonderful gift.

As so many of the graduates here today will be entering a range of creative and conservation careers, I have been asked to say a few words on how my own education influenced my career and opportunities. Well, the truth is I went to an ordinary secondary school in Hastings and sixth from college in Bexhill and also Hastings art college. Overall looking back I enjoyed school because I loved books. However, after sixth form college I did not find a way into further education. I had already left home at around age sixteen and seventeen and so I had to find rent and feed and clothe myself and start this work. 

If I was honest I didn’t feel like I belonged in the education system, that I was different or that I wanted to do something different. I was impatient and headstrong and I wanted to get to work in the real world and go to London to make books and records. So I guess London was my university and Soho was my classroom. It was a magic place where my wild heart and big dreams and creative freedom had room to grow. I was learning skills in live performance and theatre, how to book shows and also how to make invoices to get paid; how to promote and produce my work, how the cogs of record companies and publishing turned. I worked two jobs, my first job was working backstage at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane during the first run of Miss Saigon. My other job was working at Acid Jazz records where I started as a receptionist and got promoted to A&R. I loved it, I dealt with bands and learned how to cut vinyl. I was out and about at poetry gigs and music gigs most nights, I remember soaking everything up, watching, learning. 

Now, If you told the 1990s me that 2020s me would be standing here today, that she would be thriving and healthy and happy and making the work she wants to make, she would not believe it. She was self doubting and self sabotaging, she was rejected and underestimated, struggling in a world that told her that her story, her voice, her work did not belong and did not matter. 

If I was to pass on anything like advice to the brilliant graduates here today it would be this: Go where the love is. Enjoy belonging in the unbelonging, it is where the good work is made. It is where the truth lives. I would want you all to know that doing the hard thing and the most difficult thing is very often the right thing to do. Imposter syndrome is your signal: If you are in a room and you are cosy and comfortable and you feel like you are belonging and you feel safe, it is highly likely you are not challenging yourself or pushing yourself and your work. Put it this way, I do not feel comfortable standing here reading this speech and so because of that I am glad to be here. 

When you make your work you are walking into the unknown, I want you to imagine you are walking into ocean, I feel you should always feel a little out of depth. What is the point of making work where you stay in the shallow and can always feel the soft warm sand beneath your feet? Go deep as you dare and you will get the results you desire. Stay humble and keep your integrity and gratitude in check. And before I go I will leave you with this quote, my favourite quote right now is from the great artist and conservationist Cesar Manrique  “If it should be done - it can be done” so keep on keeping on...

Thank you.

Salena Godden and Catherine Kurtz 

West Dean's new Honorary Fellows: Salena Godden and Joanna Moorhead

Honorary Fellows, Joanna Moorhead and Salena Godden,
Principal of West Dean Francine Norris 
Professor Robin Banerjee, University of Sussex,
Chief Executive, Alex Barron

Mrs Death Misses Death

Pessimism is for Lightweights 

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