Black History Month Q&A - with Lydia Towsey

  • Mon, Oct 24, 2022

  • This Thursday, 27th October will see us present our annual Black History Month Special - with Mellow Baku ("A must for all" - Courtney Pine OBE) and all the way from LA - Fred D'Aguiar ('One of the finest British poets of his generation' - British Council). Abi Willock caught up with WORD!'s Creative Director, Lydia Towsey to find out more...  

    Abi: What do you think we can achieve through celebrating black history with spoken word and poetry?    

    Lydia: Black history is everyone's history - and spoken word poetry, as a living, breathing, oral artform - is ideally suited to celebrating and exploring it. As an increasingly popular artform, spoken word has the power and potential to engage wide audiences with a narrative that is sometimes forgotten by the global minority. It can provide a democratic platform for statistically marginalised and unheard voices from black and brown communities to tell compelling stories and be heard - and for allies to contribute and join a dialogue that affects us all. From ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ by Linton Kwesi Johnson - addressing racially motivated police brutality - to Jean 'Binta' Breeze’s ‘Anthem for Black Britain’ reflecting on the contribution made by black and brown people to contemporary British society - to name but two points in a constellation. Poetry has the ability to chart history, make visible, highlight injustice, celebrate experience, ask questions, lift up, unify and now more than ever, in an ongoing context of Black Lives Matter - press for positive change.    

    Abi: Can you give me an overview of the spoken word evening that is upcoming at the Attenborough Arts Centre on October 27th - who will be performing and what can we expect?    

    Lydia: The Special is being presented in partnership with Renaissance One and Attenborough Arts - and is going to be VERY special.    The evening event will be headlined by the multi-talented, Mellow Baku - “A must for all" (Courtney Pine OBE) - then all the way from LA  (and we don’t mean Lancashire)… Fred D'Aguiar - “One of the finest British poets of his generation” (British Council).   

    Mellow is a sound, word and visual artist who has performed across Switzerland, Denmark and New York, and received airplay on BBC Radio 2. She’s toured work across the UK, including her latest critically acclaimed show, Mmm Ahh Whoosh, which was recently presented at London Southbank, Opera North and The Gulbenkian amongst others. She’s also an Associate Artist for Spark Arts - as well as for us at WORD!  

    Fred D'Aguiar is a multi-award winning poet, novelist and playwright. He spent his childhood in London and Guyana and is currently based in Los Angeles where he teaches English and Creative Writing at UCLA. WORD! is unique in the UK for being co-produced by an NHS Trust - so Fred’s identity as a former psychiatric nurse is also of great interest to us. What initially drew him to working in the field of mental health and how significant is such life experience for an artist?   

    He went on to read African and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, before focusing on creative writing, undertaking residencies at both Birmingham and Cambridge University, then relocating to the USA.  

    He is the author of four novels, including The Longest Memory, which won both the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. His plays have appeared at venues including the Royal Court, London and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. His poetry has garnered multiple awards including being shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. All in all, you can probably see why we’re so excited!  

    As if such stunning headlines weren’t enough, in addition to her own work, Mellow will also be presenting a specially curated and soundscaped performance from our Wednesday WORD!s collective. She’s currently working with the rolling intake collective, online every Wednesday morning to develop the piece/s, drawing on Afro-centric traditions and her own Caribbean heritage.   

    Our high quality open mic is also a huge part of WORD!’s many events -  so attendees can also expect to experience bite size jewels of material from some of the regions finest. I’ll be compering the event and very much looking forward to sharing something too. 

    Abi: It sounds amazing - how can people get involved?

    Lydia: There are so many ways! People can still sign up to take part in our special Black History Month Wednesday WORD! sessions - with one more remaining, on Wednesday 26th October, 10.30-12ishpm. On the day itself, we will also be running a totally unique and unbelievably free workshop with Fred D’Aguiar from 4.30-6pm. People can sign up to any of the workshops by dropping a line to [email protected] Do it! They’re open to people with all levels of experience, from absolute beginners to mid-career and more established. We can’t wait for Oct 27th - it’ll be very much a one-off. 

    You can book tickets for The WORD! & Renaissance One Black History Month Special via Attenborough Arts Centre's Box Office, online here, or by ringing 0116 2522455    Delivered in partnership with Attenborough Arts Centre and Renaissance One.