#MondayBlogs: The Nottingham Essay – Slavomir Rawicz

In Dublin today representatives of the 20 UNESCO Cities of Literature are gathering to have a good old natter about what the status means to them and how they are defined through their literary heritage. Nottingham’s representative is David Belbin, Chair of the City of Literature team. In exactly one month today (23 June) there will be a national custody battle to decide who gets ownership of the UK. Both of these issues can be understood in terms of literature, in particular Slavomir Rawicz, but I’ll come back to this in a minute.

Dawn of the Unread was at the heart of Nottingham’s UNESCO City of Literature bid in so many ways. We highlighted Nottingham’s incredible literary legacy; we positioned illiteracy as a form of child abuse; we demonstrated digital innovation through storytelling across multiple platforms; and we consistently promoted other organisations at every opportunity.

I mention this as plans for a part II have been in progress for the past year and I am now finally ready to put forward an arts council bid after securing various match funding and partner organisations. Collaboration is at the heart of everything I do and this underpins the ethos driving the UNESCO Creative Cities network. This is in stark contrast to the linear views of Michael Gove, who is spearheading the ‘leave’ campaign for the Brexit debate. To quote D.H Lawrence, I don’t want to “stuff newspaper in your ears.” You can make your own mind up about Europe. Instead I’d like to turn to Slavomir Rawicz, the author of The Long Walk who featured back in Issue 2 of Dawn of the Unread.

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Chinese student Weng Wa, Si Tou

Rawicz features in our ‘Nottingham Essay’ series which are now available on our Youtube channel. The essays were originally published in LeftLion magazine when I ran articles for one year about why we deserved UNESCO accreditation.  Since then, I’ve been working with Nottingham Trent University students who have been creating photoessays as part of a Humanities at Work placement. The Rawicz essay has been visualised by a 2nd year media studies student called Weng Wa, Si Tou (Coco). Coco (above) is a Chinese student and so it’s been really interesting working with her as she has no cultural frame of reference for European history and so adding images to the audio has been very difficult. But hasn’t she done a good job, mixing humour with facts to guide the viewer through the talk.

Rawicz famously escaped from a Russian gulag camp in 1941 and eventually found freedom. His story was recently turned into a film called The Way Back (2010) and starred Colin Farrell. Rawicz is one of many Polish people who eventually settled down in Nottingham, something that would not be possible if Britain votes to come out of the E.U. Rawicz recorded his incredible story in the ghost written memoir The Long Walk, a book which caused much debate as some people argued that it was inaccurate and was perhaps a composite of other stories. Whatever the truth, it’s a story of hope and endurance which has universal appeal, hence why it has shifted millions of copies.

govelee

When Michael Gove was the education secretary he had a parochial view of literature, removing John Steinbeck and Harper Lee from G.C.SE reading lists. Books which got millions of kids reading, including myself. This infuriated Graham Joyce (whose daughter Ella collaborated with David Belbin for issue 14 of Dawn of the Unread) and he started a petition for Gove’s removal which attracted over 110,000 signatures. Now Gove wants us out of Europe altogether.

I will reiterate once more in the simplest language possible. Dawn of the Unread featured the story of a Polish immigrant called Slavomir Rawicz. His story has been turned into a photoessay by a Chinese student embracing British history as part of her studies. Dawn of the Unread takes Nottingham’s literary history as a means of encouraging people to read and feel proud of their history. Nottingham is one of 20 cities around the world using literature as a means of finding commonality rather than difference with each other.

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