As we prepare for the release of Series 2 of The Amplify Project, our co-host Patricia Cumper reflects on the journey so far and the absorbing conversations with our guest writers.
The first series of The Amplify Project was recorded during the pandemic: we connected down the line with ten writers and learnt about their work, their practice, their lives. Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd was an undercurrent all our conversations. Our lives had shifted and we were learning to adapt to those changes.
As we record the conversations for Series 2, there are a whole new set of challenges facing the writers we speak to. The changes during the first series were seismic and opened up possibilities of new opportunities, new allies, a new interest in the work of Black British writers with British audiences. These opportunities are beginning to fade. The society we live and work in is facing new and harsher challenges. Writers are not new to financial challenges: to pursue a career as a writer is to know how to survive hard times. It is harder to face the hostility to the arts and those who make it, to minorities however defined, to the institutions and funding that feed – indeed nourish – the arts in the UK.
And, of course, there is the looming threat of AI. Can an algorithm replace creativity and originality? The scramble to legislate how it can be used suggests that many believe it can. Between social attitudes, financial constraints, AI and a general devaluing of the arts, what future is there for Black British writers?
None of our conversations were gloomy. All of them were uplifting, informative, affirming. The thoughtfulness about the world around them, the ability to find opportunities to create work, the joy they found in their practice and their determination to continue to grow and improve shone through. Sometimes moving, sometimes hilarious, the conversations ranged from the practical to the metaphysical. Okay, so I love writers – they are my tribe – but goodness me, they are spectacular.
Just about every writer we spoke to has created opportunities where not existed before for their work. Most created organisations that reached across to fellow writers, reached down to help new writers up, reached out to spread the word about their work.
Also impressive was the range of backgrounds and experience they included in their work. Drawing from roots in West Africa, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, their work celebrated and blended cultures, histories and traditions with modern Black British life. They experiment with form and content with confidence. They have no intention of being silenced.
And we still have a few more conversations to go. We can hardly wait. I will confess though that there is one I am intimidated by. We’ve called it Titans and it is a conversation with Margaret Busby CBE Hon. FRSL, Verna Wilkins FRSL and Susheila Nasta MBE, Hon FRSL. We wanted to celebrate those women who paved the way, who wrote, published, edited, curated over the last half a century and blazed a trail for today’s writers. If today Black British writers have to be increasingly resilient, these women will have lessons that we would all do well to learn from.