Q & A with Seni Seneviratne

  • Sat, Jun 22, 2024

  • Seni Seneviratne is a writer and an artist of English and Sri Lankan heritage who collaborates with film-makers, visual artists and musicians. Her poetry is featured in the AQA GCSE exam syllabus and she is published in anthologies and magazines, recently 100 Queer Poems (Penguin) and New England Review.  She recently co-edited Out of Sri Lanka, a newly published Bloodaxe anthology of Tamil, Sinhala and English poetry and she is working on an LGBTQ project with Sheffield Museums entitled Queering the Archive and her fourth collection, The Go-Away Bird was published in 2023. WORD! Team members, Radiya Allom and Saira Mohan asked the questions…

    1) What does togetherness mean to me?

    If I were to give a broad brush answer it would include words like relationship, family, friends, community, love, acceptance, inclusion, the joy of difference connecting in harmony, humanity and sharing values that enable everyone to thrive and survive.  Fo the finer detail a few recent moments:  gardening with the beloved woman I share my life with; having lunch with my precious daughter;catching up with my darling granddaughters; talking with trusted friends;  being part of an LGBTQ choir and singing together; joining like-minded people on rallies and peace camps for Palestine; collaborating with creative artists.  

    2) How do I feel about the show?

    I’m very happy with the show – its turned out even better than I’d hoped. I think it does justice to my father’s story and the history of my mixed heritage family.  I love the way we have managed to combine different elements to make the story more accessible.  I’ve learnt a lot in the making of it and worked with some amazing creatives.  

    3) What inspired me? How did I integrate multi-media elements..? 

    My book Unknown Soldier was born out of silences.  Particularly my father’s silences about his war years.  At its heart an album of photos – the only surviving record of a friendship between two signalmen who served in the Royal Signals Corps in the North African desert war. One of them was my father a young man from colonial Ceylon, the other was an unknown photographer whose voice I discovered in the writing of the book.   After the book was published in 2019 I had this longing to do more with the photographs and to create a piece of work that allowed the two men to speak for themselves through the voice of actors.    Melanie Abrahams at Renaissance One encouraged me to apply for an Arts Council Grant and gave me a lot of help and support in putting the application together. It developed from there into a one-woman show and exhibition.  

    The Arts Council funding enabled me to work with a very skilled team of creative artists to create the finished work.  It developed in a collaborative way.  I was very fortunate to be able to work with Amanda Huxtable on developing a script and storyboard.  Gavin Repton the filmmaker and James Waring the sound and design consultant were excellent collaborators.    The three of us talked through how best we could pull all the elements together. We tried various things out, experimented with ideas.  It took a lot of work to get the final elements working well together for the staged performance.  The whole project was held and supported by Melanie as curator and Renaissance One as producers.  

    4) How do themes of togetherness, home and belonging manifest …?

    I don’t approach my work with any kind of mission or desire to communicate particular messages.  I write from the heart, my authentic place and whatever is in there comes out on the page.

    5) How do I navigate the challenge…?

    My starting point is to maintain authenticity and honesty in my work.   In this case staying true to my personal narrative was important and it was very helpful to be able to discuss with Melanie and Amanda how to present material that might be triggering for some members of an audience.  

    Seni Seneviratne 18/06/24

    Seni Seneviratne will be headlining WORD! Renaissance One and BrightSparks present Spoken WORD! Summer, this Saturday, 22nd June from 6pm at Attenborough Arts Centre. You can book tickets by ringing 0116 2522455, by visiting the theatre website www.attenborougharts.com or by doing so in person at the venue.