#MondayBlogs Literacy – A Journey to Justice

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One year ago I attended a meeting at the Galleries of Justice with 25 people about a project called Journey to Justice (JtoJ). The day was planned with our partners: Sharon Monteith, Founding Co-director of Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R), Rosemary Pearce then of C3R and Bev Baker (Senior Curator and Archivist at GOJ), Tim Desmond (CEO of GOJ) and Midlands 3 Cities with PhD student Scott Weightman, JtoJ local organiser.

The remit of JtoJ is “to inspire and empower people to take action for social justice through learning about human rights movements.” This voluntary organisation initially focussed on the US civil rights movement, taking Dr. Martin Luther King’s timeless message of solidarity, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” as their mantra. The first major project of JtoJ was a touring exhibition that focussed on the principles of the U.S civil rights movement. This has slowly developed and spread around the globe, linking with other activists to promote and educate about issues that specifically relate to local communities.

We were shown case studies of how other cities had got involved and I was quite taken by the scope and ambition of the project, particularly the ease with which organisations were able to collaborate and promote various causes. Nottingham, as a former ‘factory city’ with a real mix of identities and ethnicities, has a long history of activism so we were pretty spoilt for choice when trying to find causes we could promote. Some of the issues raised were: Nottingham’s refugee history; Streetwise Opera – homeless and non-homeless performers; Sash (Salaam Shalom) a Muslim/Jewish weekly soup kitchen and food bank; October Dialogues – Black History; Polish homeless men project; History of the 1958 race riots and colour bar; Child Migrant Trust HQ in Nottingham; Radical Walks; Women’s History Group; Bread and Roses Theatre group; Creating a school and FE resource packs; Nottingham’s first UK Black Lives Matter chapter. I was there as a representative of Nottingham UNESCO city of literature and Dawn of the Unread.

When Dawn of the Unread was created in 2014 I positioned illiteracy as a form of child abuse. Therefore, it is a human rights issue to me. It has been proven through countless research that an inability to read or write has profound effects upon a person’s life from their ‘trust’ in society to whether they become a home owner. Nottingham is below the regional and national average for literacy levels and so there is additional reasons to fight this cause.

Within the Dawn of the Unread comic serial we have championed other identity politics, from the Operative Libraries of the 1800s that empowered workers to self-educate and demands rights from employers to the #readwomen campaign that addressed gender inequalities within publishing. We explored the lack of representation of Black history in our final issue via George Africanus and George Powe, poiting our readers towards the work of Nottingham Black Archives (who were at the JtoJ) event as well as inspirational figures such as Norma Gregory.

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On Friday 24 March, Aly Stoneman  was invited by Bradley Phipps to host a workshop at Galleries of Justice. She was there as a representative of Dawn of the Unread and as a PhD student as part of Midlands 3 Cities. In issue 10 Aly explored the imaginary life of Ms. Hood, updating the Hood legend to a modern setting where activists are protesting at fracking and the greed of banks. Written as a poem, it takes inspiration from Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife. Of her workshop Aly said:

“The idea was to present a poem and talk a bit about the context of the piece and how it links to present-day social justice issues. Ms Hood seemed a good match, as the poem explores how contemporary social, political and economic situations might create 21st Century ‘Hoods’ and how challenging inequality and marginalization of vulnerable people is as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago. Topics I addressed included authority and anarchism, war, land ownership and the feudal system, race, feminism, education, police brutality, and environmental crisis. Robin Hood may be a myth, but it’s what he stands for that counts: Truth, Freedom and Justice.”

The ability to connect and provoke conversations has been one of the greatest successes of Dawn of the Unread. We have offered small glimpses into the lives of Nottingham’s literary history, created awareness of other organisations through our embedded content, and then left other people to continue the conversations. At the time of Aly’s workshop Rebecca Goldsmith is drafting lesson plans so that schools across Nottingham can use Dawn of the Unread as a learning tool, our student placement James Wood is writing blogs for us and mentoring in schools, Connie Wood is developing and managing our Instagram account, and the recently published book by Spokesman Books has been sent out to libraries and schools across Nottingham as well as UNESCO cities across the globe. And in the background, over many cups of coffee and bus and train journeys, I’ve been putting together Dawn of the Unread II which will be called Whatever People Say I Am. Amelia Sharland has been assisting me with the research. Another journey will begin very soon …

FURTHER READING

#MondayBlogs: NEW The 5th Duke of Portland

At long last we can finally share our new version of issue 8: Duke and Disorderly which tells the story of a posh duke with a very long name: William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (17 September 1800 – 6 December 1879). I wanted this story changed for two reasons: Firstly, the original narrative was over crammed with information which made it difficult for our target audience to follow. This is my fault because I wanted certain things including (the parallel lives of Sarah Winchester and the Duke represented by their respective building projects and influential father figures; the Archduke Ferdinand shooting incident).

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Secondly, the focus was too much on the two young characters in the story and not enough about the Duke of Portland. When you’re producing a monthly digital comic you get caught up in the flow of deadlines and it’s only as a project develops and more content comes in that you realise exactly what it is you want to achieve. I wanted the stories to have more literary facts, such as David Belbin and Ella Joyce’s Shelves (Stanley Middleton) and Kevin Jackson and Hunt Emerson’s D.H Lawrence Zombie Hunter. The below panels are examples of how we added text and images to build up a more comprehensive biography of the Duke.

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 Bottom left panel: We were able to add additional biographical facts about the roller skate rink, ballroom and observatory by linking to the books. The drawing on the right is new too.     

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Originally this panel had no text. Now it gives info about the Duke as well as explaining why Ben (the character being run over) is on the Duke’s land.  

There were too many characters in the original story and so the first thing we had to do was sharpen the reader’s focus. We did this on page 8 by removing the two characters in the top left panel and introducing Suzy and her new meathead boyfriend. This meant they appeared throughout the page and became more significant to the narrative. The additional text helped us introduce bullying to the story.

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We introduced a new character towards the end, a young black girl who Ben hooks up with. She is the opposite of Suzy and likes reading, which fit better with the overriding theme of Dawn of the Unread. Again, this meant erasing peripheral characters so that the reader could focus on key characters.

Point 1: Is the original page and has no text and too many characters.

Point 2: Originally had a random girl taking a photo. This was changed to the black girl taking the photograph (3) as it enabled us to introduce her into the bottom panels.

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We had to redraw the last two panels to sharpen up the narrative. In the previous pages we had seen how money has had a damaging effect on the Duke of Portland and Sarah Winchester. Now we could demonstrate that Ben had learned something and therefore isn’t tempted to sell his signed book on eBay.

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All of our comics include a small animation (again, this was something that was decided latterly). In this issue I wanted the inside of a trench from WWI to turn red to represent blood. This was vital in the rewriting of the story as it helped better link Sarah Winchester and the Duke of Portland as additional text added later on discusses the Duke’s love of the colour pink.

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The red blood slowly fills the trench on this page. 

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This is the linking panel on the following page. I’d like the pictures on the wall to disappear too as later on in the narrative we discuss how the Duke got rid of pictures.  

The writer for our Duke of Portland issue is Andrew Graves who has been shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards for his spoken word show God Save the Teen. I’ve seen it three times, and I hope he wins because he’s a brilliant writer who is able to blend compassion, wit and politics so that you leave feeling a host of emotions.

There’s also good news regarding playwright Nick Wood, who wrote an embedded essay for us about his hopes of one day staging an adaptation of Mick Jackson’s Duke inspired book The Underground Man.  It’s coming to the Nottingham Playhouse later this year.

You can read the new Duke of Portland issue here

 

#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.

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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.

RELATED READING

#MondayBlogs Nottingham Does Comics

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Nottingham Does Comics – ‘Taking Comics Forward’

Nottingham is a UNESCO City of Literature and now it’s also home to an exciting gathering of comics professionals thanks to John ‘Brick’ Clark.

John ‘Brick’ Clark, the writer and artist for issue#2 of Dawn of the Unread has been in contact to inform us that a bunch of comics readers, creators, academics, retailers and possibly their dogs are about to launch our city’s version of the hugely successful London forum Laydeez-Do-Comics. Called Nottingham Does Comics, their brief is a little different and best typified by their by-line, ‘Taking Comics Forward’.

The inaugural meeting is scheduled for 26 April and will feature three fifteen-minute slots from a combination of speakers: an old hand, a newcomer to working professionally and a seasoned academic.

Brick said: “Nottingham Does Comics is a bi-monthly forum by and for anybody interested in reading, creating, publishing, selling or studying new work and new horizons in the comics medium. It is a platform where those curious about comics can explore and exchange ideas with established and aspiring practioners, where the mainstream meets the indies, and where embryonic projects will be supported to find their wings”

Nottingham has a thriving art community so it’s good to see an attempt to draw enthusiasts together. The proposed talks are as inclusive as possible and selected from an open callout. So please submit ideas for presentations. To give you an idea of possible topics, here’s some of the issues that have affected Dawn of the Unread: How to create an equal collaboration between an artist and writer; digital v pen and paper; funding – is kickstarter the way forward for publishing comics?; black and white or colour pages; the difficulties of being a freelancer; given the time it takes to create a page, what’s a fair wage for an artist? How can panel shapes and sizes enhance reading and meaning; what to do when an artist or writer suffers from lack of confidence? If there are a lot of submissions it will also help Brick to potentially theme sessions.

Brick is a fantastic ambassador for comics so I’m not surprised that he’s behind this. During the consultation process for Nottingham’s UNESCO accreditation he was constantly pushing for comics to be part of our bid and reminding that literature comes in many shapes and forms.

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Embedded content works by clicking on a ‘star’ icon within a panel which takes you to a contextual piece, such as the Cloughie page (Top, right). Ok, it’s just a glorified hyperlink…

I chose the graphic novel format for Dawn of the Unread because it was the right medium for our target audience: reluctant readers. I had no prior knowledge of comics and basically learned as I went along. In some respects this was an advantage as I wasn’t influenced by other styles or approaches. I’m pretty sure that Dawn of the Unread is unique in the way that we’ve used embedded content on panels as a means of contextualising and furthering reading. Now I can go and hang out with professionals and find out.

At the end of each issue of Dawn of the Unread we included a ‘how to’ video so that artists could share their approaches and techniques to that particular issue. The aim of this was to show that artists are a varied bunch: some have been to university, others simply practice everyday when they get the chance. The hope was that it might inspire other people to try similar. I suspect that Nottingham Does Comics has similar principles and in addition to offering engaging conversations and guidance will develop into a meaningful support network.

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RELATED READING

#MondayBlogs Nottingham: City of Football, City of Literature

 

women can do it DOTUApparently 150,000 more women participated in sport this year. That’s an impressive rate of growth and largely due to government initiative like City of Football and This Girl Can, education and greater visibility in the media. We’ve come a long way from young women having to lie about their gender in order to play Sunday league football for their local team. But before I tell you about one woman’s incredible determination to play the sport she loves, let me explain how I met her.

I’m an avid bookreader and a director of Nottingham’s recently successful bid to be accredited as a UNESCO City of Literature. I’ve spent the last ten years or so promoting local literature in various forms. In 2014 I started an online graphic novel called Dawn of the Unread which brought back to life literary figures from Nottingham’s past. As I began researching, it quickly became clear that our literary history is dominated by white male authors. Women are conspicuous by their absence. As for Black female writers, forget it.

During my research I discovered an awareness campaign by Joanna Walsh called the Year of Reading Women. Drawing on research from VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, the campaign highlighted the lack of attention given to female authors and reviewers in the press. This discrepancy is odd, particularly given that women consistently perform better than men in literacy tests, as well as read more.

I decided to promote this campaign through Dawn of the Unread and commissioned the LeftLion poetry editor Aly Stoneman to retell the Robin Hood legend through a modern day Maid Marian. This paid homage to Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, a poetry collection told from the perspective of wives of famous men. Aly’s story sees Ms.Hood self-educate at a local library and so I began researching feminist libraries.

Feminist libraries really began to take shape in the 1970s when identity politics began to emerge. One opened in London in 1975 and a Feminist Archive quickly followed in Bristol in 1978. During this period one was opened in Nottingham thanks to Sheelagh Gallagher, Lorraine Meads and other members of the Nottingham Women’s Centre. It is the only one of its kind in the East Midlands.

The Library is still going today and has an incredible archive of zines and books aimed at self-education and empowerment. It recently gained prominence thanks to the WoLAN Project (Women’s Liberation and After in Nottingham). When I visited the centre and talked to people involved with WoLAN I was shocked, amazed and inspired to discover the story of a female football fanatic who was so desperate to play football for her local team that she stopped shaving her legs, cut her hair short, and selotaped her breasts tightly to her chest to conceal her gender. It worked for a while. But as she matured her body shape became more difficult to conceal and she was rumbled. Her football career was brought to a sharp end.

 

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As a ‘privileged’ white male I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for this woman to be denied playing the sport she loved on account of her gender. As a writer and reader I can’t imagine what it must be like to not have your words taken seriously on account of having the wrong chromosomes. But as a working class kid from a mining community, I do know what it means to fight.

Fighting for Nottingham to be taken seriously as a thriving literary culture is one of the reasons I got involved with the UNESCO City of Literature bid. I’m determined to help poets like Aly Stoneman and organisations like the Women’s Centre have a voice. It’s not breasts that need selotaping down in 2016, it’s our mouths. This is so that the ears, the only part of our anatomy that keeps growing, can listen to these incredible stories from women in culture, sports and the arts.

The next digital project I’m putting together is called Untold Stories. It will follow the Dawn of the Unread format but this time the emphasis will be on giving voice to people who have gone unheard due to prejudice, censorship and persecution. It will situate Nottingham as an international city and give voice to ten people from ten different countries who have settled here and share their incredible stories. For the last six months I’ve been in the process of collecting these stories and building up partnerships and sponsors. But if you know of a remarkable story or an inspiring individual, please get in contact.

This is an amended blog which was originally published on the City of Football website on 10 December, 2015