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The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Jackie Kay Presents

Young Digital Reporter Elizabeth Gibson is inspired by Jackie Kay’s International Literature Showcase choices.

Whenever I see Jackie Kay live, she is a lovely, calm presence, with whom it is impossible not to feel immediately close and at ease. As part of the International Literature Showcase, she has selected ten Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers working in the UK whose words she finds exciting and important. It is an honour to hear her introduce three of these writers: novelist Diana Evans, and poets Nadine Aisha Jassat and Imtiaz Dharker.

As a long-time fan of Imtiaz, I am delighted to hear her read several poems, including a moving sonnet to her late husband. She also shares a poem written years ago which feels alarmingly relevant today, about judgement and prejudice, with the refrain, ‘She must be from another country’. She explains the poem was inspired not so much by the states of belonging and not belonging, as by the ‘cracks between’ these states.

The work of Nadine and Diana is new to me, and I am excited to hear it. Nadine’s simple and fresh poetry explores voice, evoking her parents’ ways of speaking. Her affection for them flows from her words and is very touching. Nadine also isn’t afraid to discuss trauma and recovery in her poetry in order to reassure and comfort; the resulting poem, ‘Let Me Tell You This’, is incredibly powerful.

Diana reads from her novel Ordinary People in which, she tells us, her goal was to capture the lives of black middle-class families, something she believes we do not see enough of in literature. The scene she shares is at once humorous, sad and relatable, as the central couple, Melissa and Michael, argue over trivial things such as dinner and Michael’s overuse of his mobile phone. However, as we see the argument from both characters’ viewpoints, rather than just one, we can understand both sides, which I find unusual and interesting.

Jackie then leads a lively discussion, as well as telling some anecdotes of her own. Topics raised include whether we should channel other people in our writing – Nadine says she does not really write as anyone besides herself, and even writing about other people, such as her aunt, she wonders if she is drawing on her own subjective view. Diana, on the other hand, enjoys exploring new and different characters, and likes fiction because you can be more extreme, including elements such as the paranormal plotline in Ordinary People.

An audience member asks the three guests for recommendations of other BAME writers who could have been on the list. I am happy to hear Malika Booker, who I have worked with through The Writing Squad, mentioned by Imtiaz; other names include Raymond Antrobus and Booker Prize-winner Bernardine Evaristo.

The conversation between the four writers moves so smoothly and affectionately that it is a joy to hear. Seeing them so comfortable together allows the audience to believe we are part of an intimate and relaxed chat. On a freezing cold October evening, I find myself feeling warm, inspired and hopeful.

Elizabeth Gibson has been announced as a New North Poet at the Northern Writers’ Award, as well as coming second in the Timothy Corsellis Prize. Her work is inspired by daily life in Manchester, as well as nature, love, sexuality and protest. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel set in Spain. She blogs at http://elizabethgibsonwriter.blogspot.com, tweets at @Grizonne and Instagrams at @Grizonne.