“People don’t always know what’s going on outside London because they’re scared to get on the train”, said Kadija Sesay (co-director of Inscribe) before she read her poems and introduced us to the panel. Manchester, Leeds and Brighton were all represented. So too were Jamaica, Liberia, Germany and Uganda. Short story writer and novelist Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, performance poet Akila Richards and poet and Artistic Director of Leeds Young Authors Khadijah Ibrahiim have diverse pasts.
Diverse pasts made for complex readings. Being taken from the murder scene in Uganda described in the prologue of Jennifer’s novel Kintu (2014), to Cowper Street in Leeds in Khadijah’s poem ‘Homespun’ via Akila’s performances was quite a journey. Careful lyrical mappings of personal history mingled with dramatic gesture at this Emerging Women’s Voices event. Not far from the old docks of Shadwell, as the rain battered the windows, Watney Market Idea Store — community centre, library, local literary venue — was transformed into a textured memoryscape.
Akila Richards performs ‘Ritual for a Mango’
As for the voices of the other performers? You can hear Khadijah on 22 October when she launches Another Crossing at Leeds West Yorkshire Playhouse. Her book ‘tells the stories of an individual life, of a family, of the communities of Chapeltown and Harehills, and of crucial moments in the making of Leeds’. You can also read Jennifer’s short story ‘Let’s Tell This Story Properly‘, which won the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
It is Jennifer’s words that stay with me the next day. Describing her writing ambitions, that of her fellow Ugandans and the confidence it takes to write she said, “I will set a novel on the moon but the people will be Ugandan”. Last night the moon shone in Watney.
Steve Willey, Commonwealth Writers