Nottingham’s Black Writers – Part Two
Lenford Alphonso Garrison was an educationalist, community activist, historian and poet who had moved to London as a schoolboy in the 1950s. After gaining a degree in African and Caribbean history he achieved his MA in local history, his dissertation on Rastafari and Identity forming the basis for his book ‘Black Youth Rastafarianism and Identity Crisis in Britain’ (1979).
Garrison was involved in a growing network of community-based initiatives and radical black publishing. He realised that the British education system was failing black children, denying the reality or existence of Black history or culture. To develop the Black British identity and record its history, Garrison believed that this information needed to be made available to school children. Having co-founded the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton in 1980 he formed Afro-Caribbean Education Resource (ACER) and began pioneering education packs.
ACER, an archive of Black history, would allow for the creation of educational material for children of all ages and abilities, providing a proud sense of identity and belonging, and improving their opportunities in life. He also promoted the works of young black writers, organising the Young Penmanship awards which helped to launch many careers, including those of the playwright Michael McMillan and the novelist/barrister Nicola Williams.
By 1988, ACER’s educational packs had spanned the nation, giving inner-city African and Caribbean pupils materials and textbooks that concerned their heritage and history. After ACER ended, due to a lack of funding, Len Garrison came to Nottingham.
Garrison was an acclaimed poet and the author of ‘Beyond Babylon: Collection of Poems, 1972-82’ (1985). He saw culture as another key community initiative and, once in Nottingham, he helped to develop the Afro-Caribbean Family and Friends (ACFF) Education and Culture Centre (which later became the Association Of Caribbean Family & Friends), at 28 Beaconsfield Street, Hyson Green. The venue hosted a series of Black bookfairs and, as director of ACFF, Garrison advanced the education of the public, especially those of African-Caribbean origin or descent. Expanding his ACER concept, he also created a successful mentoring project known as BUILD.
Having written the paper ‘Post war immigration and settlement of West Indians in Nottingham 1948-1968’, Garrison helped produce the 1993 exhibition ‘The Black Presence in Nottingham’, at Nottingham Castle’s museum. It was thanks to Garrison and his development of local history research that life of George Africanus, Nottingham’s first black entrepreneur, was featured at the Castle. Ten years later, local historians were able to uncover the grave of George Africanus in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market and plaques were put up in his memory, at St Mary’s and in Victoria Street, near where he ran a business. By this time Garrison had returning to Brixton where he died in 2003. Every year the National Black Cultural Black Archives hosts its Len Garrison Memorial Lecture, dedicated to him.
Thanks to Garrison’s work, Black history is now part of the mainstream British educational curriculum and his vision for a fully multicultural society lives on. His legacy has inspiring the likes of Sharmaine Lovegrow, publisher of the inclusive imprint Dialogue Books, and the Nottingham poet and archivist Panya Banjoko, who describes Garrison as “a great cultural historian” and shares his mission to ensure that black history is properly recorded, celebrated and available to all, which she does with Nottingham Black Archive (NBA).
Banjoko has another mission: “to put Nottingham on the map as the home of some of the finest Black Writers in the world” and she is currently halfway through her research into the history of Black writing in Nottingham for her PhD, working on ‘The Politics in Poetry and the role of African Caribbean Writers and Networks During the 1970s and 1980s in Nottingham’.
Nottingham is home to an impressive list of Black writers and poets. Forty years ago, the organisation CHROMA (the Chronicle of Minority Arts’) hosted workshops and poetry evenings, helping to produce a wave of Nottingham writers including Pitman Browne, Nezzle Saunders, Beverley Dennis, Christine Bell and Granville Levi. In 1983 CHROMA published an anthology ‘‘The Writers Club Book One’, edited by Frederick Williams.
Pitman Browne from St Ann’s has been a presence on Nottingham’s literary scene since his arrival from Jamaica in 1962. He may have arrived here feeling “cheated because of the weather and living conditions” but Browne has become a valued, award-winning member of the community, mentoring emerging writers, performing poetry, initiating events and much more. As a key member of CHROMA he helped to put black writers on the map and he runs his own publishing company. Browne’s six books, about culture and philosophy, include ‘Children Get Out of the Ghetto Mentality’ (2000) which explores Nottingham’s youth subculture, covering case histories and conversations about drugs, truancy, gang wars and prostitution. In 2005 he published his autobiography ‘What Is My Mission?’.
The language of Jamaica has been brought to life through the poetry of Nezzle Saunders. The author of ten books, she has been writing since the 1980s, winning prizes for her poetry and gaining a Bursary award. Saunders has worked a range of jobs, including as an auxiliary nurse at Sherwood hospital, and she brings these experiences to her writing.
As discussed in Part One (#57), many Nottingham writers have written about the experiences of African-Caribbean people in the city.
Norma Gregory is one of our finest writers and historians. An exhibition curator, media contributor and consultant, photojournalist, content writer and public speaker, Gregory has been researching African/African-Caribbean experiences in the UK for nearly three decades, producing heritage-related media products, educational resources and exhibitions. She is committed to improving and advancing education through heritage and to community development. An advocate for equality and inclusion, Gregory’s many published articles and academic papers include work on Black British literary and social history, and Black history in Nottingham. Her published books include a collection of poetry ‘Crooked Carousel: Selected Poetry’ (2016)
Nottingham’s Black writers have a tradition of portraying real experiences and raising issues, with the aim of increasing awareness and helping the reader.
Zimbabwe-born entrepreneur Faith Gakanje founded the African Women’s Empowerment Forum (AWEF). The organisation helps women to overcome domestic violence and integrate into a new country. The AWEF has also improved literacy levels within the group. In ‘A Life Robbed’ (2019) Gakanje chronicles her experience in our complex and unwelcoming asylum system. The author lives in Bestwood Park where she continues to provide support through confidence building, seminars, workshops and other activities.
Carrol Rowe used the domestic abuse and bullying she’d experienced in Jamaica to help others. Once in the UK she qualified in Health and Social Care, Counselling and Psychotherapy, and Criminal Psychology, working in related fields. In addition to her roles in women’s support groups and schools, Rowe has used her writing to raise awareness and give strength to people. In the book ‘Survivor: The Escape’ (2016), she reflects on her childhood difficulties. A resident of Strelley, Rowe wrote the play ‘Change’ to raise awareness about gun/gang related issues.
Lee Arbouin’s ‘The Nottingham Connection’ (2012) tells the story of four women, from their Jamaican childhoods to experiences settling in England. Arbouin is a retired teacher and has worked for over forty years as a community volunteer. The author and poet is a member of a local writing group that give free community performances of their work.
Sharon R Stevens
Sharon R M Stevens is a primary school teacher and the founder of Model Behaviour, a social enterprise of volunteers that encouraged children to do their best. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing she wrote her first book ‘Oscar the Curious Cat’ (2015). Stevens is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio and has written many magazine articles as well as romance fiction.
Courtney Alexander Smith
With degrees from the University of West Indies and Nottingham Trent, Dr Courtney Alexander Smith of Sherwood wrote ‘The Wonderful You’ (2016) as an innovative self-help book for a more successful life. Smith, a former civil servant, is the founder and director of Your Purpose Your Goals Limited, a social enterprise organisation devoted to transforming the lives of the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Many local writers call on their pre-Nottingham experiences for inspiration.
Now living in Nottingham, Ken Kamoche was born and raised in Kenya. The Doctor of Philosophy’s short stories and articles are widely published in anthologies, journals and magazines and he has written two novels, ‘True Warriors’ (2011) and ‘Black Ghosts’ (2015) which is based on his decade living in Hong Kong. Kamoche is the Director of the Africa Research Group at the University of Nottingham.
Freddy Fynn grew up a few miles from the coast of Ghana. His collection of short stories, ‘Of Life and Love: Eight Moral Tales’ (2010), is inspired by the traditional history of story-telling that he had enjoyed in childhood. Fynn arrived here as a student in 2001.
Jenny McLeod’s ‘Stuck up a Tree’ (1998) is set in her own Black community of St Ann’s. In the book, Ella Brightwell gets news of the death of the mother she hasn’t seen for 10 years. She thinks she can just nip up the motorway to Nottingham for the funeral and return to her London life unscathed. But Ella has reckoned without her large Jamaican family. Even as she enters her home town she begins to feel ambushed and when she enters her mother’s kitchen she is overwhelmed by the secrets and memories which lie in wait for her in her old home.
Victoria Williams was brought up in Jamaica by her grandmother who first taught her poetry when she was three. ‘New Horizons of Hope’ (2016) is Williams’ own collection of poetry, written so that the “rich quality of cultural diversity can be enjoyed and appreciated.” The Nottingham author is also a performance poet.
As you can see, we’ve a strong output of contemporary poetry collections and novels. Recent releases have come from retired nurse Lilleth Clarke, who shares her innermost feelings on everyday issues in her collection ‘Shared Thoughts: Poems for Everyday Living’ (2017), and from Betty-Maxine Onwuteaka whose romantic novel ‘Hired Fiancée’ (2018), is the first in her ‘Betty and Ryder’ series, written between taking her A’ levels and becoming a law student.
And there’s Caroline Bell Foster.
As a twelve-year-old, Caroline Bell Foster went on a six-week family holiday to Jamaica, and stayed for 18 years. Now in Nottingham by way of Canada and Kenya, she has written nine contemporary, multicultural and interracial novels and has two more out in 2020. An award-winning, best-selling author, Foster was named by LeftLion as one of Nottingham’s most influential women of colour. Her novel ‘The Cat Café’ (2015) is set in Hockley.
Poets and Spoken Word Artists
Aside from the written word, Nottingham an abundance of poets and spoken word artists. Our impressive number of poetry nights, groups and publishers, have helped to provide a voice for our poets. Two such groups, ‘Mouthy Poets’ and ‘Blackdrop’ have given the opportunity for performance, be it spoken word, song, social commentary or poetic expression.
In addition to the poet/writers featured above, here are a few more of our finest:
Banjoko has performed her poetry at high profile events such as the 2012 Olympics. Her published works include ‘Brain Drain’ published in ‘IC3– An Anthology of New Black Writing In Britain’ (2000) and ‘Rasta in the Millennium’.
Michelle ‘Mother’ Hubbard
A published poet and stalwart of the Blackdrop poetry group, Michelle ‘Mother Hubbard’ has been involved in the organisation of many creative community projects as well as facilitating workshops and acting as a mentor. In her work, she explores everything from domestic violence to identity, through the written and spoken word, and storytelling.
Sarah ‘Rain’ Kolawole
Associate Artist at Nottingham Playhouse, Sarah ‘Rain’ Kolawole has been writing and performing spoken word poetry for 15 years. Originally from Nottingham, the social worker is also a successful playwright; her playwriting described as poetic. Kolawole’s first play was ‘Notts Sweet Home’, her latest ‘Rootless Island Baby’. Through her writing she confronts societal issues such as race, gender and inequality and challenges concepts of the family, relationships and life journeys.
David Stickman Higgins
The spoken word poet, actor and storyteller, David Stickman Higgins explores issues about human rights, positive truths of Afro Caribbean identity and global identity. For many years he has been researching, developing and delivering the hidden voices of his African-Caribbean/British identity. Since the mid-1980s he has been involved in creating and delivering a wide range of innovative arts projects that connect cultures and communities.
The performance poet Ioney Smallhorne has been an Associate Artist with Nottingham poetry group Mouthy Poets, and is a member of SheAfriq, a collective of creative women of black heritage. She has shared some of her poetry at Nottingham Playhouse on multiple occasions. Among her fine videos for the NBA is the documentary series Black In The City, in which each short film offers a new perspective of Nottingham’s Black narrative.
Ravelle-Sadé Fairman is a poet, spoken word artist and workshop facilitator that explores mental health taboos and the importance of positive self-belief. Fairman may be new to Nottingham’s poetry scene but she is making an impression, performing at the Windrush Day of Action.
Rapper/poet Ty Moran-Healy moved to Nottingham in 2004 and became one of the frontmen for ‘1st Blood’ & one half of the duo ‘Green Ratt’ before taking the spoken word route. He was one of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s four Young Poet Laureate Finalists.
The writers and poets featured above are just some of Nottingham’s Black Writers and it doesn’t begin to include the wider population of BAME writers in the city.
Every year, Nottingham Black Archive organises a ‘Read a Black Author in Public’ event, to promote diverse reading and authors of African descent. Hopefully you’ve come across new additions for your reading list and that the next Black author you read is a Nottingham one.