The  Conference was unique in bringing together black writers from across the UK to discuss changes in publishing and the spoken word arena, and how these changes might affect them.  It was also a rare opportunity for black writers to network with one another, tackling difficulties jointly as well as swapping news about innovations and sketching plans for collaborations and partnerships.

There have been some major changes over the last five years in the publishing industry. Some changes –such as the demise or absorption into mainstream presses of  independent black presses –  X Press, Mantra, Arcadia, Angela Royal Publishing, and  Tamarind Press – have affected black writers particularly.  At the same time the growth of vibrant new presses Flipped Eye, Saqi Books, and a host of micro black-focused  or black-run presses such as Dog Horn. Add to that the vistas  opened up by digital publishing and clearly it was time for black writers to come together and get a collective take on these changes.

Meanwhile, spoken word poetry had been moving at a rate of knots.  The proliferation of venues and the merging of what used to be disparate media of  film, sound, dance, theatre, stand-up comedy, & poetry to create  contemporary spoken word practice means that what has been the oldest of art forms, -in his time, Homer’s poems were spoken and heard not read – has rejuvenated. It has transformed itself into an at form that sits at the centre of contemporary arts practice and is innovating new artistic engagements all the time.   The Conference set out to explore what new poets, especially young poets setting out to make their name in spoken word, need to be aware of regarding these border-dissolving  shifts.

Panellist Bios (2012)

Feedback from the Conference was overwhelmingly positive.

“I found the e-books and children’s sessions particularly interesting and informative.”

“I can’t say how impressed and inspired I have been by your outstanding services to literature over the years in Manchester and beyond. Perhaps unwittingly, you have also had a very strong influence on my own thinking and to my commitments in my work.”

“Thanks to everyone who organised Saturday’ event. I found it really useful and enjoyed myself so much. I now feel really excited to keep writing and inspired to embark on future projects.”

“The discussions were lively and informative.  The poems in response to the day were fab – the last guy in particular is very talented – but you don’t need me to tell you that.”

“It was very well done and well organized! Thank you for all your hard work in putting it together! (via facebook).”

“Excellent day, very informative, well done!”

“Moved by one particular writer’s story.”

“Time to think, great atmosphere, sense of our legacy of creativity.”

The sessions

1112pmPoetry Futures’ :       Spoken Word:  What Next?  The Way Forward

The spoken word scene has come alive. Young people have embraced the form.  Primary recent influences have been the Brave New Voices Spoken Word competitions in the USA.  In the UK, the post-dub, post-punk  live performances of seminal artists such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Cooper Clarke,  and Jean Binta Breeze are being superseded by a raft of younger spoken word voices –  Saul Williams, Kat Francois, Patience Agbabi, Tony Walsh (Longfella), Polar Bear and Inua Williams to name a few.
As video begins to be an integral part of the performance event, and as sub-genres proliferate and influences expand, where will the next innovation come from?  What is the future for the spoken word and, crucially, what do new poets need to do to prepare themselves for this future?

Panel: Khadijah Ibrahiim of Leeds Young Authors, Madeline Heneghan of Liverpool Young Writers, Shirley May of Manchester’s Young Identity; Derri Burdon of Curious Minds, Shamshad Khan, poet.

This large debate took place with panelists, Khadijah Ibrahiim, Leeds Young Authors, Derri Burdon, Curious Minds, Shirley May, Young Identity and Elmi Ali, young person’s representative and Shamshad Khan, spoken word artist.  There was a great deal of audience involvement both in asking questions   and in offering statements reflecting on the future of poetry and the best way of fostering talent among young poets.  The role of schools in creative writing development was also touched upon.  Film of the debate can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QspgNDXk2Z4

 

12pm-1pm     Ebooks and social media:  The Book is Dead. Long Live The E-Book

There are more poets than poetry readers.  Or at least, sales figures suggest nobody seems to want to go and buy a tree-based book of poems.  Will the advent of ebooks shake this up?  How will Kindle and other ebook platforms –some of which allow embedded audio and video at the same time as scrolling text – change the market?   And how can poets –both page poets and spoken word artists – best take advantage of these changes?

Panel: Zahid Husain, Manchester based, author; Simon Murray, Yorkshire based poet, author and blogger; Nii Parkes, flippedeye publisher and web designer, Adam Lowe, writer, publicist, blogger.

This lively session had a smorgasbord of panelists : Chaired by Nii Parkes, MD of FlippedEye, and including Zahid Hussain, novelist and social entrepreneur; Adam Lowe, leading tweeter and  Dog Horn publisher; and Simon Murray, poet and former marketing executive.
The central question up for speculation was the death or otherwise of the paper form of the novel. Arguments raged to and fro with the consensus opinion being that both would survive though ebooks could only grow.  Authors (and publishers) were advised to think multi-platform: to launch texts in all formats.  Film of the debate can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QspgNDXk2Z4

1pm – 2pm    Informal  Salon session:

How are writers making use of various social media, not only to promote/market themselves but to share/get feedback on their writing, and even develop new collaborative forms?  Three writers showcase their innovations.

2pm-3pm Writing For Children & Diversity: Why Are So Few BME Writers Published In This Genre?

While the achievements of Malorie Blackman, Bali Rai, Benjamin Zephaniah and (in poetry) John Agard are to be applauded and their publishers congratulated, nevertheless, the publishing industry struggles to publish books for children that reflect the diversity of the society that those children live in. Why is this?   How do we address this?  What initiatives exist, and what more is needed?

Panel: Jacqueline Roy, author and academic at Manchester University; Catherine Johnson, London based, children’s author; Melvin Burgess, Penguin author; Jake Hope, children’s librarian and judge of the Diverse Voices prize; Verna Wilkins of Tamarind Pres, Kuljit Chuhan, creative producer.

The panel here came from all parts of the literary and publishing spectrum, from Carnegie Award winning novelist, Melvin Burgess, to acclaimed novelist and academic Jacqueline Roy, and included two judges:  Catherine Johnson, children’s writing specialist and judge  of the Commonword Diversity Writing For Children Award, and  Jake Hope, judge of the Frances Lincoln Award. The session was chaired by the savvy and experienced Kuljit Chuhan, cultural activist and multimedia specialist.  Stiff argument debated the reason for the relative dearth of BME writers getting published by mainstream children’s publishers.  The solutions ranged from sharper editing, to black writers orienting their work more toward s more ‘commercial’ ends, to grass-roots activism.  The main practical assistance offered (though somewhat lost in all the smoke and heat of debate), was the existence of the two Diversity focused Awards – the Frances Lincoln Prize and the Commonword Diversity in Children’s Writing prize.

3pm -4pm  How To Get Your Novel Published

What publishers are looking for; how is the publishing industry changing; how submissions are assessed; common errors and misunderstandings; how to stand out from the slush pile.

Panel: Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press; Kavita Bhanot, writer, editor for Tindal Street Press anthology ‘Too Asian, Not Asian Enough’; Divya Ghelani, author, Betel Martin, Bristol based publisher, Chair: Jacob Ross, London based  author.

A packed venue saw the final debate. Offered an impossibly short time of one hour to cover this terrain were five panelists: Kavita Bhanot, writer’s representative, Divya Ghelani, editor at Tindall Street press, Jacob Ross, novelist, editor and reader at Literary Consultancy, Bertel Martin, the Bristol based publisher,  and Jeremy Poynting, MD at Peepal Tree Press.   Surprisingly, the most speaker who had the audience eating out of her hand was newcomer, Divya Ghelani. Her heartfelt story of her trials and tribulations trying to defy the limitations of editors’ ideas of ‘Asian’ writing, engaged and moved the entire audience.  The common denominators of the panels’ views were that the market is very tough at this time; that t mainstream likes to pigeonhole;  and that therefore persistence is a prerequisite of success.

 

Break out Sessions & Fun!

The delegates loved Young Identity and their acerbic poetry reporters who performed poetic summaries of each debate at the end of the Conference.
Link here (Reporters are from 1min 06sec)   http://youtu.be/CxneJQXERYs
They also loved the evening showcase for its wide range of acts and artistry.  Link here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNkPTIUmv8E

Most of all, they loved networking with one another . They came, with a thirst to network,  from many different parts of the UK –  Leicester, Bristol,  Manchester, Birmingham,  London, Cardiff among other places , as well as from Jamaica, the United States  and Nigeria! The buzz of the informal sessions in the packed cafe overspill gave a great sense of a community meeting and cross-fertilizing. It was tempting to consider that the Conference agenda was being fulfilled as much in the cafe and overspill spaces as in the Conference main theatre auditorium.

Panellist bios: http://www.culturewordconference.org/panellist-bios-2012

Finally here is a short video focusing on the talented Young Identity group who so impressed the delegates.

To find out more about Young Idnentity visit: www.youngidentity.org