Sunday, 19 December 2021

On bell hooks

Photo: Joyce Dopkeen / The New York Times / Redux

When I heard the sad news of African American author, professor, feminist and social activist bell hooks' passing on 15 December 2021, aged 69, I was completely taken by surprise. I couldn't believe it. I'm only one year younger but it wasn't that. I really liked her ... still do. This is such a great loss. I was, and still will, remain one of her admirers.

My knowledge of bell hooks started in the 1990s when I was studying two Birkbeck College, University of London courses: Black Women's Writing and Motherland to 'Motherland': Black Women's History. I read bell hooks' amazing work, in particular her critical thinking on imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchy. I continue to read and reference her in my current studies: Culture Diaspora Ethnicity MA at Birkbeck College.  

Image Source: Radical Reads

bell hooks was the author of 40 books, whose topics covered race, feminism, capitalism, and intersectionality. By the way, bell hooks was discussing intersectionality and writing about the subject long before the term was even conceived or coined by Kimberle Crenshaw. 

Here is a selection of favourite books from my bell hooks' collection, which I'm going to re-read and can definitely recommend:

  • Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981)
  • Talking Back: Thinking feminist, thinking Black. Between the Lines (1989)
  • Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992)
  • Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work (1999)
  • Where We Stand: Class Matters (2000)

Image Source: bell hooks institute

I've watched bell hooks deliver cutting edge talks many times from a distance in the comfort of my own home. On one unforgettable occasion, I actually met her face-to-face, at Hackney Town Hall, East London, during one of the numerous 1997 European Year Against Racism events, where I had the privilege of being photographed with her. I'm saddened that I cannot locate that picture.

bell hooks was one of those black female academics who transcended many disciplines to speak her mind both personally and politically. Sometimes she was misunderstood and this led to her being verbally attacked while she challenged the status quo. I'll remember bell hooks most of all for speaking her mind — talking back — I'm going to miss her.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Bernardine Everisto — Manifesto: On Never Giving Up

Image Source: Southbank Centre

On 3 October, I visited the Southbank Centre (again!). This time to see one of my favourite Black British female writers — Bernardine Evaristo. This event was held at Queen Elizabeth Hall, and I have to say that I really did prefer this space to the Royal Festival Hall. This time our seats were much closer to the stage.

For those of you who may not know, Bernardine Everisto was the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize in 2019 for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. I say win; she shared the prize with Margaret Atwood, which Bernardine did not mind in the slightest since her fandom has expanded dramatically:

“I am happy to share it, especially with Margaret Atwood who is such an inspiring feminist, environmentalist, legendary writer and generous person. I certainly don’t feel that I’ve won half a prize. My name alone appears on the Booker plaque sent to me, just as hers will do the same.” (bevaritso.com) 

Image Source: thebookerprize.com

My friends and I thought she should and could have been awarded the whole prize especially as Margaret Atwood had already won the prize in 2000. 

Bernardine Evaristo On Writing / Vogue Visionaries / British Vogue / YouTube 2021

I've met Bernardine face-to-face a couple of times, most recently on 9 November 2019 at a Wasafiri event at the British Museum: 'An Island Full of Voices', where she was featured in a panel on authorial activism and literary collectives with Rachel Long, Nikesh Shuka and Susheila Nasta. I literally bumped into her in the ladies’ toilets! This was just after winning the Booker Prize so I felt compelled to engage in a few quick words to congratulate her and remind her of the time in 1997 when she did a reading of her semi-autobiographical novel-in-verse Lara, at the Centerprise Bookshop, an iconic community centre where she signed my copy. Sadly, Centerprise closed in 2012 after Hackney Council seized its premises after four decades, during which it was a hub for all things book related. I facilitated a creative writing workshop there during the nineties as part of the Black Literature Development Agency.

Image Source: Amazon

I'd been looking forward to seeing and hearing Bernardine discuss her powerful new book Manifesto: On Never Giving Up ever since I heard of its existence when she shared the news on Twitter, especially as she would be in conversation with another one of my favourite Black British female writers, Afua Hirsch, also a journalist and broadcaster, known for her book Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging.

Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine started with a reading, some of which charted coming of age and leaving home after living within a family of eight children and two parents:

“When I think of it now, I landed very easily as an eighteen-year-old. I wanted a boyfriend, and had one; I needed a home, and walked into one; I needed a job, and found one. The only problem was that the boyfriend and I weren’t really at the nesting stage, but he was the easiest route out of my family home so what did I care? We briefly shared his room in this communal property until the one next door became available and I nabbed it. Finally, I had a room of my own. My first one. Up until this point, I had never slept a single night in a room on my own.”

I could so resonate with the yearning to leave home, although for me the motivation in the 1970s was  because I wanted to return to a culturally diverse dynamic city to live in. After spending eight years living in Northamptonshire, due to no fault of my own, I strongly felt the need to move back to London to re-establish myself. 

L: Afua Hirsch R: Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine went on to tell us how her life of creativity, spanning four decades, included being an actress, playwright, teacher, and activist. Her book Manifesto provides a detailed account of how she lived her creative life, refusing to let any barriers get in her way, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to buy a copy as I could totally relate. This idea of never giving up despite the social issues such as race, class, feminism, sexuality, and aging are all-inspiring and particularly relevant in the society we live in.

Booker Prize Winner, Bernardine Evaristo / Full Q & A at The Oxford Union, 2020

Manifesto is such an inspiring read. I love that Bernardine never gave up and kept going with her writing amongst other pursuits. Her lifelong commitment to writing those original stories — novels, plays — that were often explorations and experimentations that took many years to write, were executed with a sheer determination and diligence that I admire and respect. So if you are creative and struggling with where you are at, you must keep on going, for you never know where your creativity may end up. You might one day win a prize! And even if that doesn't happen it will be well worth the ride.

Bios:

Bernardine Everisto is the author of nine books and numerous other works that span the genres of verse fiction, short fiction, poetry, essays, literary criticism, journalism, and radio and theatre drama. Her writing and projects are based around her interest in the African diaspora. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London.

Afua Hirsch is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster. She is a columnist for The Guardian, and appears regularly on the BBC, Sky News and CNN. Her first book Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, was awarded a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction.

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Thursday, 14 October 2021

Chimananda Ngozi Adichie: Notes on Writing

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
Image Source:The Washington Post

What a few years it has been?! I hope you have kept well during such challenging times. I along with many people I know are now enjoying what was once taken very much for granted — socialising. Going out to a restaurant, theatre and jet-setting away on holiday have all taken on a new kind of norm.  Although we are still living with the global pandemic, I hope that the pandemic has now deferred to living with us, temporarily of course.

It is with much joy that I can actually write and share my recent literary shenanigans in the name of 'going out'. The last time I visited the Southbank Centre in south east London was to see Benjamin Zephaniah. So when I heard that places and spaces were opening up again, I eagerly checked out the listings and found some gems.

On 24 September, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Notes on Writing was held at the Royal Festival Hall. Chimamanda is the bestselling author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. On the night, she reflected on writing and storytelling in conversation with Yomi Adegoke. She also discussed her most recent book, Notes on Grief  written following the death of her father last summer.

Image Source: Blackwells

My friends and I arrived thirty minutes early so as to soak up the exciting atmosphere in the Royal Festival Hall's foyer. The time soon passed and before we knew it, we were locating our seats.  Whilst keeping an eye on the two empty armchairs in readiness, I thought how lovely it was that we would soon be in the presence of such an iconic writer, who I've watched numerous times on YouTube. Now it was a whole different reality, I was going to see her in person.

As soon as 7.30 pm hit, Chimamanda and Yomi appeared and the whole audience woke up with welcoming roars and waves of applause. It was easy to get caught up in this momentous occasion and we enjoyed this warm rush of appreciation as much as she did.

Chimamanda started with a reading of chapter one from Notes on Grief.  I was struck by Chimamanda's openness and honesty as to how she felt, how angry she was that her family were getting prepared for her father's funeral proceedings:

"Grief is a cruel kind of education. You learn how ungentle mourning can be, how full of anger. You learn how glib condolences can feel. You learn how much grief is about language, the failure of language and the grasping for language."

L: Yomi Adegoke R: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It was as if relatives speaking their condolences added more to the pain, the reality and finality of her loss.  Chimamanda wanted time to stand still for a while rather than go through the motions of liaising with family and friends although they meant well. She also had to mourn at a distance during the pandemic. During the lockdowns that spiralled like a domino effect around the world, Nigeria's airports weren't open which meant her father's funeral was constantly being postponed.

Notes on Grief written during the weeks and months following her father's death at the age of eighty-eight, is such a unique read. On the one hand, I can resonate with her words entirely yet she brings a kind of nuance to the language, reflections that are dignified and spiritually nurturing. In terms of her openness, I don't think I have heard death spoken about in such a poignant and realistic way to such a large audience. I listened intently to her mixture of sadness and humour at the way she wanted to resist dealing with grief itself seeing it as some kind of 'performative' action required of her:

"Grief is not gauzy; it is substantial, oppressive, a thing opaque. The weight is heaviest in the mornings, post-sleep: a leaden heart, a stubborn reality that refuses to budge. I will never see my father again. Never again."

Notes on Grief is a wonderful tribute to Chimamanda's father, James Nwoye Adichie, who was Nigeria's first professor of statistics.  Having now read a substantial amount, I found the book's structure of short, almost self-contained chapters works particularly well. It's as if grief can be divided into bite size chunks. Less is more.  The book isn't just for readers who have lost loved ones. Readers of Chimamanda's newest creation will not be disappointed as the story is a universal one. 

Bios:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer whose works include novels, short stories and nonfiction. She has written novels: Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013), the short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), and the book-length essay We Should All Be Feminists (2014). Her most recent books are Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (2017), Zikora (2020) and Notes on Grief (2021). In 2008, she was awarded a MacArthur 'Genius' Grant.

Yomi Adegoke is a journalist for British Vogue, The Guardian and The i Newspaper. In 2018, she co-authored the book Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible with Elizabeth Uviebinene, for which she was named a Marie Clair Future Shaper and was awarded the Groucho Maverick Award. She is also a trustee of Arts Emergency, and a Forbes 30 Under 30 2021 honouree.


Saturday, 24 August 2019

Remembering Toni Morrison

Image Source: naacp.org (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
Toni Morrison passed away on 5th August. I started to write this post on 12th August but felt somewhat reluctant; it seemed too early to write something. I felt numb, stuck for words ... the right words that is. There were no tears, just a sense of loss.

A week later, after watching and re-watching many You Tube videos of Toni Morrison, I felt more prepared to express my thoughts and feelings. 

Toni Morrison was an African American writer whose outstanding literary work significantly influenced the development of my literary journey; be it reading and/or writing. 

I've always admired Toni Morrison's literature. It was Toni Morrison who set this amazing legacy, a landscape that is universally vast and yet meets the needs of many black and brown people, especially the black women I know.

Toni Morrison's writing is imaginatively crafted and artistically excellent and yet representation and meaning is at its core. It didn't matter that her imagination and novels focused mostly on the African American historical experience. I could relate, especially as Toni Morrison spent her entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of her books.

Image Source: theguardian.com
Also, in the light of Toni Morrison's passing, I remembered my blog post dated 15/10/12 'Blog Action Day - Toni Morrison - A Writer's Influence.' The theme for that year's Blog Action Day was the Power of We. It was a no-brainer choosing Toni Morrison and the focus of writing within a 'community'. 

The Bluest Eye

Here's an excerpt from that blog post where I discuss Toni Morrison's debut novel The Bluest Eye (published 1970) still my favourite:

"...The novel focuses on Pecola Breedlove, a lonely, young black girl living in Ohio in the late 1940s. Through Pecola, Morrison exposes the power and cruelty of white, middle-class American definitions of beauty.  Pecola is driven mad by her consuming obsession for white skin and blonde hair – and not just blue eyes, but the bluest ones. A victim of popular white culture and its pervasive advertising, Pecola believes that people would value her more if she weren't black. If she were white, blonde, and very blue-eyed, she would be loved. Pecola is abused by almost everyone in the novel ... my focus here is with the way that Pecola, a little black girl in the 1940s, still resides in a few black girls and women around the globe now, in our modern 21st century."

I look forward to the time when I can pass on my copy of The Bluest Eye to my granddaughter (now aged 12), when she reaches the age of 15, 16, or 17. It's not that I think my granddaughter couldn't take on the reading; it's that I think a few more years and she'll be even more adept at appreciating and working at, and understanding those multilayered musings.
  
Beloved

My admiration of Toni Morrison deepened when I facilitated a two-hour session as part of a Creative Writing course for African-Caribbean women during Black History Month 2004 in Wellingborough, Northamptonsire. In that session we focused on passages of Beloved (published 1984), which became one of my most favourite and memorable teachings.

Given the eternal life of the written word, and Toni Morrison's presence on the Internet, we will continue to be enlightened as we read and tune in to gain yet more insight into the magnitude of her literary legacy as she goes down in history as one of the world's greatest writers.
* * *
How did you feel when you heard Toni Morrison passed away?
What did she mean to you? 
Let me know in the Comments section below.

Friday, 12 April 2019

How to Let Go of Your Old Journals

 My old journals spanning 24 years.

My first ever journal was a small notebook, started in 1995. In those early days, I felt restricted by that size and leapt to A4 size notebooks. Later, I settled with A5 size ones. You can read more about my reasons for starting here.

So why some 24 years later, have I shred most (not all) of those 30+ journals? It has alot to do with my journey towards a minimalist lifestyle, which started at the beginning of March this year. I've never been one for keeping a lot of clutter but I soon realised that minimalism is a lovely way to actually sniff out all those hidden places where clutter resides.

My journals had been packed away in a box after moving house a few years ago and it now seemed crazy to keep them. So when I opened that box, it was with an intention to let go of paper clutter. I certainly didn't want to read them and I definitely didn't want to leave them as some kind of legacy ... that would've been a burden for anyone inheriting them. 


One of the numerous bags of shredded
journals now headed for recycling.

How did I feel whilst shredding my old journals?

I must admit I did spend a minute or two scanning the opening pages, which transported me right back to the past for a while, but I wanted to stay focused on the task of shredding. Letting go of the past felt like a great move in the right direction, the deal being I was working towards my newfound minimalist lifestyle. This has been an amazing journey and I love where it has taken me. I feel light in mind, body and spirit and have released more positive energy and more clarity than I could've dreamed of. 

Did the journals have any sentimental value?

Surprisingly no, the journals had no sentimental value attributed to them, therefore no relevance in keeping them.

I would've liked to burn those 30+ journals as that may have been more of a symbolic, ceremonious way to let them go, but then I thought that wouldn't of been something easy to do. So I decided on a system of shredding the pages of three journals a day over a period of a few weeks. The final journal was shred on 3rd April.

Did I keep any journals? 

Yes, I did keep a few only because there was still enough empty pages when I'd shred the full ones. I won't use them for journaling but for making notes when the need arises.

Have I completely given up on journaling?


My new Bullet Journal

No, but I keep only a few current ones. The most interesting one is my new Bullet Journal, a rather new development started on 30th March. 

A bullet journal is an analog system created by Ryder Carroll, a designer based in New York. In his words, the Bullet Journal is meant "to help you track the recent past, organise the present, and plan for the future." 

A bullet journal is an amazing system that keeps a record of whatever you want. It's entirely up to you how you design your page spreads. I have been in my element setting up my bullet journal with layouts that include the following:

  • Year at a glance
  • Goals 2019
  • New Month spread (here you can design an image or doodle)
  • Monthly spread (yes, more designs and doodles)
  • Weekly spread
  • Future Log
  • Mind Dump (rather than Brain dump)
  • Quarterly Editorial Planner (for my blog posts)
  • Minimalism Lifestyle Goals
  • Mood & Habit Trackers (very revealing)
  • Meditation Weekly Schedule
  • Books/Articles to Read

My list of page spreads along with everyone's bullet journal spreads are unique. I'd definitely recommend keeping a bullet journal. I have found mine to be very inspiring and the experience has definitely improved my way of organising. 

For all those diehard journal junkies out there, I totally get that you may want to keep your journals that date back some years.

I'd love to hear from you if you've been able to let your journals go. What was the catalyst that sent you, like me, to shred them all?

5 Tips for Letting Go of Old Journals:

  • If your journals have been in a box for a year, then it's time to let them go.
  • Keeping journals 'just in case', is a waste of time (and space). If you suddenly need one of them, will you remember where that particular journal is?
  • Recycle them by shredding them.
  • Don't try to shred them all at once. There's no need to rush this process, after all it took you long enough to create them. But don't give up ... it's best to shred a few each day, but keep going until you've let go of all of them.
  • If letting go of all your journals feels too much, you could scan a few of them and create a photobook of specific pages.

For more on letting go of your journals:

Burning Your Diaries: First Person - The New York Times by Dominique Browning

For more on Bullet Journaling:

How My Bullet Journal Saved My Life - Article by Sarah Maber

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Ntozake Shange Memorial Event


Ntozake Shange, who passed on 27th October 2018, aged 70, was an American playwright and prolific multi-award winning poet. As a Black feminist, she addressed issues relating to race and Black power in much of her work. She is best known for the canonical Obie Award-winning choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976), a play about Black women struggling to assert themselves while dealing with the everyday problems of life. 

Carol Leeming
When Carol Leeming – multi-award winning poet, playwright, director, performer, musician, and tutor – rang me and told me she was co-hosting a memorial event to celebrate and honour Ntozake Shange's life and work, with Dr Leighan Renaud (University of Leicester) and asked if I would like to participate at the Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester, on 21st December 2018, I didn't hesitate to say."Yes!"

Me Reading at Ntozake Shange Memorial Event
 I also knew exactly what I would be reading, an article entitled 'Ntozake Knows the Name of the Game' in The Voice Newspaper, May 23rd 1995.  The writer of the piece was not cited.  

I had kept this now yellowing article since studying Black Women's Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London, and was excited that it was now going to be aired at such a poignant celebration of Ntozake Shange's life and literary legacy. 

The Voice article
The following is an excerpt of the article:

"What's in a name? Not a lot, according to the 46-year-old writer and poet. Paulette Williams changed her moniker into an African one a quarter of a century ago in 1970, and to her it is no big deal. Not in Africa anyway.


Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things" and Shange translates into "who walks like a lion". It seems appropriate.

Zaki, as she is known by her friends, is  not sarcastic, as her abbreviated name might suggest.

But when I suggest that to change your name like this is a sign of a bold person she roars like a lion. "Ntozake is like Barbara to Africans. It's not bold at all."

Reading the article to a dynamic audience generated a thought-provoking and interactive discussion. In particular, despite the unknown source of the writing, most audience members believed it to be male, as there was biased reporting of Ntozake Shange, for example, "Despite being dressed casually, her nails are long and a glowing red. They look well manicured, as if someone has spent quality time on them." When the reason for the article was that Ntozake Shange was in the UK after publication of her third novel, Lilane, there was little mention of this until the end of the article.

The Memorial event was celebrated with African Libation, other personal contributions from leading poets and academics, as well as Poetry readings based on  Ntozake Shange's choreopoem, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf,

Participants also included:

Leighan Renaud who works at the University of Leicester. She recently completed her PhD in Contemporary Caribbean Literature.

Sandra Pollock, a multi-award winning director, community leader, and founder of the East Midlands Women's Awards.

Michelle 'Mother' Hubbard, a poet, performer, story-weaver, writer, African drummer and founding member of Blackdrop spoken word/open mic event Nottingham.

Michelle Vacciana who has produced small-scale theatre shows, both independently and by commission.

Michaela Spencer, The Plentiful Poet, graduated with a Foundation Degree in Performing Arts. Michaela studied Ntozake Shange while at University. Ntozake had a huge impact on her degree.

Rosa Fernadez is a writer, slam-winning performance poet and freelance editor from Burton-on-Trent. She studied English at Goldsmiths in London. Since returning to the Midlands, she has been warmly embraced by Leicester's cultural scene. 

Carol Leeming Bio:

Carol Leeming, MBE, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, is a multi-award winning poet, playwright, director, performer, musician, and tutor. Carol's plays have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 and the Centre for New Writing, University of Leicester, and performed in The Curve, Brighton Dome, and Haymarket. Notable works include her two choreopoems 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva'; 'Love the Life you Live ... Live the Life you Love' along with the plays Vex and Women in Pain, co-written with Wendy Christian. Carol published her debut poetry chapbook in 2016 entitled The Declamations of Cool Eye. Her poem 'Highfields Fantasia' is used for teaching at the University of Leicester. Her work is referenced by Dr Corinne Fowler, in the Cambridge Companion to British Black & Asian Literature, edited by Deidre Osborne. Carol is working on a new poetry collection and songs for a music album for 2019.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Hair Power Skin Revolution BBC Radio Northampton Interview 5th August 2018



On 5th August, my interview with producer Suki Somal, aired on BBC Radio Northampton's Mark Dean Show, which is a weekly news and events show for Northamptonshire's African and Caribbean community. 

Eight years on since its publication in 2010 and the subject of my anthology Hair Power Skin Revolution is still relevant today.

To find out more, you can listen to the interview, which was aired in two parts at 8.10pm and 9.20pm by visiting the following link:


My interview with BBC Radio Northampton


Part 1 = 18.45 
Part 2 = 1.12.00

There are 27 days left to listen.