Breaking ground: teaching diverse voices at St Mary’s, Twickenham

The issue of diversity in publishing in the UK and beyond is one that has become increasingly prominent over recent years – although of course in academia the fight against the teaching of just “dead white males” has a much longer history. So long, in fact, that “dead white males” – the ‘giants’ of the Western canon – has been superseded as a term by the rather more slick descriptor “pale, male and stale”.

Recent attempts to push publishing towards reflecting the make-up of the British reading public include a special report from industry journal The Bookseller, and the inauguration of two prizes for black, Asian and minority ethnic writers.

The first-ever Jhalak Prize, organised by non-profit organisation Media Diversified, for best novel written by a BAME writer who is either British or resident in Britain, was won by Jacob Ross, for his Caribbean-set crime novel The Bone Readers.

And this year sees the second Guardian and 4th Estate BAME short story competition, for a short story written by a British or Irish BAME writer, won last year by Abiola Oni for her story ’75’, which you can read here. The deadline for this year’s competition is 2 April, and you can enter here. No entry fee, word count of 6,000 words.

Then, just this week, there was another attempt to promote British writers of colour, Breaking Ground, a digital guide to 200 of just those people produced by Speaking Volumes, a live readings and events organisation. You can see the full publication here, and we were of course keen to see just who gets covered – and, to keep the focus on St Mary’s, how many of these writers appear on our Creative and Professional Writing curriculum.

Well, by my count, six of them have been taught in our lectures and seminars – seven if you include Linton Kwesi Johnson, who isn’t in the list but, as an elder statesman of the British poetry scene, provides its introduction – and eight if you count Anthony Joseph, who will be coming to give a poetry masterclass in a couple of weeks.

Those that we’ve taught this year at St Mary’s are: Monica Ali, Warsan Shire, Salena Godden, Malorie Blackman, Jackie Kay and Helen Oyeyemi.

There are plenty more names we could be teaching of course, and I’ll be looking through the other 194 names with interest. It looks worth anybody’s time to check it out.

Video: Jess Kidd reading from ‘Himself’

jess_kidd_1tb7140We were hugely excited to have St Mary’s Creative Writing alumna Jess Kidd back last month for a reading, interview and Q&A to celebrate the publication and acclaim of her debut novel, Himself, published by Canongate. She read wonderfully – as you will see if you play the two videos below – and talked to us about all aspects of her writing practice, from the origins of Himself, to her love of Magic Realism and her plans for future novels.

Here she is, reading the prologue to Himself:

And here is a section from Chapter 12, inspired by Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.

 

As you can see, there was a great turn-out, and just as well as it was a fascinating evening.

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Flash fiction competition – and inspiration

Following on from Sophie’s flash fiction pieces earlier this week, here are details of a Flash Fiction competition, from Fish Publishing. This is one of the biggest prize catches for this short brand of fiction – but there is an entry fee.

The word limit is a cute little 300 words, and the closing date is the end of the month: 28 February. Enter here.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, how about Lydia Davis? The Man Booker Prize-winning author was writing long before the ‘flash fiction’ tag became common currency, but it fits anyway. Read some of her stories online here and here and read a Paris Review interview with her here.

Competition call for essays on the theme of feminism

Details of an essay competition open to female undergraduate students, run by the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (UK & Ireland).

The annual competition is intended to encourage and promote a new generation of feminist scholarship, with the six short-listed and winning entries published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies. Long-listed essays go through a peer-review process with external judges, and the short-listed entries are revised following feedback prior to submission, so it is an excellent experience for those students wishing to continue in academia after their studies. The winner will receive a year’s free FWSA membership. The deadline is Friday 5th May 2017.

Find out full details, and read past years’ shortlisted and winning entries here: http://fwsablog.org.uk/prizes-and-grants/student-essay-competition/

Jess Kidd wins Costa Short Story Award

kidd-jess-c-travis-mcbrideLast night St Mary’s Creative Writing alumna Jess Kidd won the Costa Short Story Award for her story ‘Dirty Little Fishes’. This is a fantastic win for Jess, who has completed both an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing at St Mary’s – not least because the award is voted on by the public, from a shortlist. The award comes with a prize of £3,500.

Jess will be coming to the University to read from and talk about her debut novel, Himself (published by Canongate) on Tuesday 14th February, at a free literary event to be held in the Waldegrave Drawing Room, from 6.30-8pm. This will be a great opportunity to hear from this exciting new voice in Irish fiction, albeit nurtured here in south-west London. Details of the event here.

Here is the opening to ‘Dirty Little Fishes’:

She must be a good friend because on Mammy’s day off we catch two buses and walk up a billion stairs to visit her. It’s an estate like ours, only with less swears written on it. We are waiting outside Mammy’s good friend’s door in a corridor the colour of evil. Mammy pulls down her sleeve and holds it over her face.
‘God protect us from the reek of cat piss,’ she says, and knocks on the door.
‘Be quiet in here now, the woman’s dying.’
‘Will she die today? While I’m here?’ I ask hopefully.
Mammy gives me a look and knocks again.

You can download a copy of the story to read here. There is also an audio version to listen to and download on the Costa website.

The Costa Short Story Award is open to published and unpublished writers over the age of 18 living in the UK or Ireland. Entries for this year’s award will open in the summer.