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World Book Night: A Class Act

Becky Cullen
Wed 21 Apr, 2021

It's World Book Night today, and Dr Becky Cullen wants you to join in the celebrations

When World Book Night launched in 2010 I applied to be one of the 20,000 people who would receive 48 copies of a book to share. After the initial joy at the prospect of receiving a book for free came the dilemma of which book to choose. There was a (very middle class!) list of titles; I plumped for Case Histories by Kate Atkinson rather than some of the weightier titles on the list, giving copies to the people on my street and the people I worked with. I left some on a bus - but most of them were used to set up a book club for parents at my kids’ school. I haven’t got one myself, although you can get them for £3.50 on ebay. Taking part in World Book Night was a gift of sorts. It kick-started a journey back to books for me; watching other people enjoy a book reminded me, in the midst of being a time-poor working mum, why I loved books myself. Part of the joy was sending words into the world to give people pleasure.

“As part of NTU Culture, we are encouraged to be ‘playful’ in our approach – dangerous and liberating words!”

I’ve been on the receiving end of several World Book Night choices since, but I was particularly thrilled when Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature got in touch with an offer of copies of the fabulous Kit de Waal’s Common People: An Anthology of Working Class Writers for staff and students at Nottingham Trent University. First of all, the book looks great. de Waal has edited an enticing mix of writers, including Malorie Blackman (Stormzy’s favourite) and Stuart Maconie (Radio 2 listener favourite) and it’s a book with broad reach. The anthology’s combination of poems, memoir and essays means you can dip in and dip out. (By the way, has anyone else found short non-fiction appealing during lockdown? I loved Safe:20 Ways to be a Black Man in Britain Today, edited by Derek Owusu, and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me). The publisher’s blurb says Common People represents and celebrates the working class; perhaps some distance has been travelled from that first World Book Night list.

I spend a lot of time with books these days, lecturing in English at NTU, where I lead the University’s WRAP (Writing, Reading and Pleasure) extra-curricular programme for students. Since October 2020 our team of published writers has delivered over 120 hours of book clubs, writing workshops and events, collaborating with some fabulous writers. We have engaged with over 800 students, reaching out through books and writing with the aim of giving them a creative experience of being at home in our fabulous city.

Recognising that books can make connections between people, we have recently launched a Staff Bookclub network. A Notts TV Book Club is in production. As part of NTU Culture, we are encouraged to be ‘playful’ in our approach – dangerous and liberating words! So this World Book Day, we will be hiding copies of Common People in plain sight in different locations across our 4 campuses. aA massive thanks to Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature for giving us the chance to start some new reading journeys.

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