Black Joy

The Journey So Far

As this is the first blog of the New Year it seems apt to spend some time reflecting on last year when our podcasts came into being.

In our episode with poet, Rachel Long, she said she made a promise to herself that she, “would not talk to any other Black poet going forward about anything but joy” so I’m going to follow her advice in this blog and not dwell on the seismic inequality, racism and sexism that shook and tilted the world and that are still resonating from the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and the #MeToo movement and share with you seven of my moments of Black Joy.

  1. Hearing in early spring that we’d received funding from Arts Council England to produce 12 podcasts (two brown smiley face emoticons and a Woohoo!  Is there an emoticon for Woohoo! or Yay!?).
  2. Contacting poets, novelists, playwrights and non-fiction writers, and inviting them to discuss their writing lives and craft (how lovely to bring good news to writers – we want to celebrate you and the work you do).
  3. Getting to grips with producing audio recordings during a pandemic- two hosts and an interviewee (hey we’re not going to be phased by recording three people in three different locations – that’s what Cleanfeed, an online recording studio, is for!).
  4. Launching the series with four podcasts during Black History Month and being interviewed on BBC Radio London and featured in The Bookseller and Alt Africa.
  5. A special moment of Black Joy for me came when I was doing the research for our interview with the historian, Colin Grant and reading his non-fiction book Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation. It’s a joyous book filled with the interviews he’d carried out with Caribbean people who had immigrated to the UK.  One story gave me goosebumps, a lady called Lynette May Simms, two years older than my mum, grew up in the parish of St Catherine in Jamaica.  Her mother used to sell fruit and veg at Linstead Market.  My mum was also born in St Catherine and her father used to sell meat at the same market. My imagination was on fire wondering if Lynette and my mum, who had also immigrated to England, had ever met or walked past each other at that market.  Lynette was a bus driver with London Transport and my mum, although in London for a few years, moved to the East Midlands in the seventies.  My Aunt Ruby, also immigrated to the UK, became a bus conductress in London.  I don’t know if my mum or aunt ever met Lynette but I loved the thought of them sharing the same spaces in Jamaica and then again over four and half thousand miles away in London.
  6. Adjoa Andoh (who plays Lady Danbury in Bridgerton), naming our podcast as one of her cultural highlights in The Guardian. (Woohoo! Yay!).
  7. Writers approaching us to be interviewed.  (You can never have enough Woohoos! and Yays!).

What We’ve Loved Hearing About

We’re all about spreading the word for Black writing and celebrating achievement.  So here are a few moments.  We’ve been thrilled to hear that Booker Prize winner, Bernardine Evaristo, was named as the new President of the Royal Society of Literature and that the Brunel Prize is being renamed after her – The Evaristo Prize.

Last year also saw the Alfred Fagon Award for Black British playwrights celebrate its 25th anniversary and the launch of the inaugural Mustapha Matura Award.

It was heartening to see a crowdfunding campaign launched between Christmas and New Year to save the New Beacon Books bookshop surpass its target within 36 hours.  What a great start to the New Year for them.

Writers Mosaic launched in 2021.  It brings together new writing from a mosaic “of literary voices and cultures across the UK”.  One of the directors is the previously mentioned historian, Colin Grant who features in our episode titled “I’ve been a ventriloquist”.

Congratulations to John Agard who was the first poet to be awarded the BookTrust’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.

Malorie Blackman, a former Children’s Laureate, is funding three Malorie Blackman Scholarships for Unheard Voices at City Lit for 2022-2023.  What a wonderful initiative from Malorie and a great opportunity for under-represented, talented writers.

Sir Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder commissioned a collection of essays about the importance of Black and all lives within society called Black British Lives Matter: A Clarion Call for Equality.  The hardback is out now.

And we loved Transport for London’s collaboration with the Black Cultural Archives to create a London tube map featuring the names of a wide variety of Black people who’ve contributed to London and the UK from pre-Tudor times to the present day.

Pioneering publisher, Margaret Busby, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the London Book Fair.

What We’re Looking Forward To

A new year brings optimism and challenges.  We’re looking forward to releasing the final four episodes of series 1 of the podcast; starting our fundraising campaign for series 2, and I’d like to congratulate my fellow host the mega-wise, Pat Cumper, who made her debut directing the BBC Radio 4 audio drama series Faith, Hope and Glory in 2021 and will soon take up her post as Chair of the Arvon Foundation.

We had fun. And now to 2022.

Pauline Walker

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