#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 I know what our writers did this summer

We’re currently working on a print version of the Dawn of the Unread serial and then I’ll be going into hibernation as I begin 6 months of research into a possible part II to our literary graphic novel. It’s tentatively titled Untold Stories and will give voice to those who dare not, or cannot, speak for fear of persecution. But more of this another time. For now, here’s a quick update on what some of our writers and artists have been up to. 

Kate Ashwin, the artist for our Byron Clough issue, achieved the first stretch goal of her kickstarter campaign in record time, waking the next morning to discover she’d reached her pledged goal of £4,000. At the time of writing she’s nearly doubled her original goal. The money will enable her to print the latest issue of her Victorian adventure romp Widdershins: The Green-Eyed Monster. She’s also dyed her hair blue.

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Nicola Monaghan (aka Valentine) explored the life of Alma Reville in issue 6. In addition to offering aspiring writers advice via trance tracks, she’s found a digital publisher in Blue Morpho Press. The Troll book 1 is out now and book 2 is due to follow any time soon. You can also read her first collection of short stories ‘The Night Lingers and other stories’ or sit back and enjoy her forthcoming film STARCROSS. Phew, that girl’s been busy.

nick wood three

In Issue 8 Nick Wood gave us an insight into book adaptations. ‘First thing I do is skim read. Quick as I can. Finish. Close the book. Try and forget it. Let a week pass. Write down those things that come first to my mind. Somewhere, somehow, in that process I’ll start to get a feel for the book. What it’s about. And whether I want to adapt it.’

In the exclusive article, Nick expressed his desire to adapt Mick Jackson’s The Underground Man. It’s been a long time coming. It’s had to battle its way through round after round of arts cuts but thanks to persistence, cracking source material, and the support and determination of Nottingham Playhouse, Nick will be bringing this incredible story to the stage on 27 September 2016. It will be a co – production between Nottingham Playhouse and ajtc Theatre Company. After opening in Nottingham it will tour the region before spreading out nationally.

God Save The Teen A3

Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves was the commissioned writer for Issue 8. Here he explored the life of the eccentric, subterranean Duke of Portland. Since then he’s had his second collection of poetry published (Light at the End of the Tenner) and is now preparing for his Arts Council funded spoken word show God Save the Teen which will initially tour the East Midlands. In it he recounts his past life as a council youth worker, offering tales of drugs, relationships, and the various mistakes that invariably become wisdom in later age.  Your best bet for catching him locally is at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio on 25th September 7.30pm – £5.

As a freelance writer Adrian Reynolds, author of our Gotham Fool issue, has his fingers in many pies. He’s currently waiting to find out if he’s writing a low budget American feature film, which is contingent on fee and contract. Fingers crossed. In October his science fiction short White Lily will finally be viewable, initially by Kickstarter backers, and hopefully at Broadway Cinema’s Mayhem Festival. Elsewhere he’s got another sf short about to shoot in London once some minor script revisions have been approved and his online comic Dadtown now has a publisher, Canadian indie outfit Under Belly Comics. But best of all, as far we’re concerned, his Press When Illuminated talk will be featured at Nottingham Playhouse as part of their upcoming Conspiracy season.

Aly Stoneman is the lady in green, to the right of the picture.

Aly Stoneman is the lady in green, to the right of the picture.

Alyson Stoneman wrote our Ms Hood story for issue 10 and recently won the Buxton Poetry Prize on 7 July. The theme was ‘time’ and the prize was judged by Helen Mort. Aly’s poem ‘Windfalls’ laments the death of her father, a man of his time, through the changing landscape of an apple orchard.

Windfalls

Father, you pelted our legs with tiny windfall apples
when we looked for you at dusk. You would not recognize
the orchard now; a storm felled the old Bramley and Pippin,
we lost Browns and Discovery to voles, root-nibblers,
that long cold year the Crimson King rotted, crashed down.

Hard green apples bounced like raindrops, raised
bruises as we chased and hollered. You knew where
the robin nested, prime locations of knots and hollows,
you lifted me up to see, it was you made me flinch.
You watched Exeter burn when you were five.

Father, you came from a time hard as windfalls,
territorial as birdsong. When we buried you,
Spring sunshine fell through bare branches,
sheep bleating in orchards beyond the churchyard walls.
If you walked in now, you wouldn’t know us.

rob burrows

Wayne Burrows was our primary researcher and my first point of contact for odd and intriguing facts. I dubbed him Nottingham’s Stephen Fry for the arts years ago having worked with him on other projects. Wayne also helped write the biogs for our literary figures.

He’s just seen Black Glass go to press, which is effectively his greatest hits, poetry wise. The experimental collection Exotica Suite was launched at the New Art Exchange in July. The book is accompanied by a CD of the texts set to music by Paul Isherwood (The Soundcarriers). The launch events also included screenings. Crossing and merging art forms was a characteristic of Wayne’s editorial of Staple magazine. You can find plenty of copies of Staple at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, but be warned; they’re ever so difficult to put down.

But where’s Robert Holcombe these days…

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David Belbin, the author of our Stanley Middleton story in Issue 14, can finally put his feet up and concentrate on writing after successfully chairing Nottingham’s bid to be recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature. I’ve sat on those board meetings and there’s been some sweat. We find out the result on 11 December.

The Great Deception, the latest installment of his Bone and Cane serial,  comes out later this year.  In David’s words; ‘Sarah Bone is the Labour MP for the fictional, marginal constituency of Nottingham West. Nick Cane was her university boyfriend. He spent five years in prison for running a cannabis factory in a cave below his flat in The Park, but is now trying to shake off his criminal past. Through these two, I tell the story of Nottingham in the New Labour years. They’re mysteries with a serious undertow. The Great Deception features characters from the first two books but is also, in a way, the sequence’s origin story. It has three timelines – the sixties, the eighties and the nineties. There’s Sarah’s grandfather, who was a cabinet minister in Wilson’s governments, and her dad, who died of AIDS. There’s espionage and prostitution. Three prime ministers appear in the novel, along with one famous spy.  The overall story’s about how lies can resonate through generations and the past is never really past.’

And yes, I know I’ve missed loads of other stuff out but a blog has to end at some point and there’s those Untold Stories that need a voice…

RELATED READING

Babes in the Hood: Aly Stoneman

Aly Stoneman is the Poetry Editor of LeftLion magazine and author of Lost Lands. Here she talks about her collaboration with Amanda Tribble for issue 10: Ms.Hood

This is your first comic. How did you find it?
It’s been a really interesting process. I’ve collaborated with artists before – Steve Larder provided the illustrations for my pamphlet Lost Lands, for example – but creating Ms Hood posed different challenges. Amanda Tribble (the artist) is studying in Lincoln, so we only met up once in person, towards the end. The rest of the time we collaborated through email, ‘phone and Skype. I sent the initial poem text over to Amanda and then she created the first ‘roughs’ with text boxes and shared them with me on Google Drive so I could see the suggested layout. I had a look and sent back comments and suggested tweaks (both to the layout and my text) and she responded to those. We worked like that the whole way through. It was exciting waiting for the next draft to be uploaded, especially as we progressed through the pencil and ink versions to the final piece. It’s interesting as a writer to see how an artist responds to your words, how they envisage a character or a scene and also how the two forms weave together to create a new version or piece.

Judi Trott, mostly curls.

Judi Trott, mostly curls.

Where did the idea come from to have a modern day Maid Marian?
I loved the 1980’s series Robin of Sherwood when I was a kid; Marian was played by Judi Trott – she was a proper member of the gang and a deadly shot with the bow. So I always imagined Marian as an independent spirit, a fighter. My contemporary re-telling of the Robin Hood legend was initially penned for LeftLion Magazine and illustrated by Rikki Marr. One of the inspirations for telling the story from Ms Hood’s point of view, and for the title, was Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection The World’s Wife, a series of monologues from historical and mythological women who are usually defined by their male partners. Apart from justice and an affinity for the poor, Robin Hood’s special regard for women is a feature of the earliest stories from the 14th Century. 2014 was declared the ‘Year of Reading Women’ so it felt right that Ms Hood should be the December publication for Dawn of the Unread. Although her real name is never mentioned in the story, I hope it’s clear that at the end she becomes Ms Hood, the idea being that anyone who stands up for social justice is ‘Hood’.
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How have you updated the Hood legend?
It struck me that some things never seem to change: Foreign wars; corruption, greed, abuse, social inequality and an elite who tell the poor to tighten their belts and pay their taxes while their ‘overlords’ feast (or in the 21st Century, spend £275,221 on Champagne in the House of Commons over four years – that’s approx. £69,000 per year!). I would argue that stories about the fight for social justice in this country are as relevant in the present day as they were in Medieval times. Back when I first wrote the poem, the war in Iraq was at the forefront of my concerns, along with reports about police infiltration and framing of environmental protest groups, heavy-handed policing of protests, and the erosion of the right to protest. For some people, a police caution would be comparable to being ‘outlawed’, as it would make it hard for anyone requiring a DBS for their work to find employment. As a storyteller, I wanted to explore how contemporary social, political and economic situations – especially events covering the last 30 years – might create 21st Century Robin Hoods.
DEAL OR NO DEAL
Poetry is all about shape and rhythm. How do you get that balance in a comic split up into panels?
Well poetry is an adaptable form; the oldest written poem (the Epic of Gilgamesh) dates back about 4000 years and was written in ancient Iraq, and poems have been transmitted through the oral traditions of songs and stories as well as being written down. Technically Graphic Novels started in the 1960’s and comics in the 19th Century, although if you count murals, tapestries and cave paintings, again the idea of telling stories through pictures is pretty ancient. Basically, I edited the text down so that it wasn’t too wordy, while trying to preserve the internal rhymes and rhythms of the piece. Amanda included some of the text in her illustrations so that it became dialogue between the characters, newspaper headlines or words on a gravestone. The poem naturally shifts from scene to scene every couple of lines, and is quite specifically located, so perhaps that made it easier to split into sections.
BNP
The Labour politician Emily Thornberry had to resign after posting a picture on Twitter of a house draped in the St. George’s Flag. This was seen as snobby. One of your panels has a girl pushing a pram with the flag. Are you a snob?
I’m a writer and my purpose is to ask questions and hopefully encourage other people to ask questions too, because if people are too intimidated to ask questions then – seriously now – we are all dead in the water. So why do you suppose I’m being a snob by showing a scene featuring the St. George’s flag? What has displaying the St George’s flag come to represent and why is it that displaying the flag is automatically connected with working class areas and nationalism? If you look at the original Robin Hood stories, you could pull out the ‘Saxons versus the Normans’ themes and say, ok this is a story about nationalism and Englishness, but for me and for most people through the ages, the story is about the fight for social justice. The whole English class-system is nonsense; there are only two real classes in society – the minority who ‘have’ and wield all the influence and power and the majority who ‘have-not’ and are powerless – and in essence that hasn’t changed since 1066.

STEALING

These issues are also important to you because of your job…
I work in the ex-coalfields areas of Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire and I see boarded up houses, joblessness and deprivation. There are many, many people in this country living bleak and hard lives of absolute drudgery and misery, but there are also people campaigning and fighting for social justice from all walks of life, and also people living within deprived communities doing amazing work to improve and re-energise their areas. That provocative panel in the comic begs this question: isn’t it poignant that people living the hardest lives in the economically hardest-hit areas are supposedly waving the flag for an England that sends their kids off to foreign wars, cuts their benefits and education, closes down their workplaces and demonises their communities?
yer get to travel
It’s usually working class boys who die in foreign wars, something you elude to in the poem….
In the comic, I was drawing a parallel between the war in the Middle East in Medieval times (led by King Richard The Lionheart) and the combat there now. I do understand that joining the army can seem a good option. As there are no jobs down the pits, on the railways or in industry, the army can seem to be the best prospect, particularly for young lads from poor communities leaving school with few qualifications. The statistics from the BBC and the Guardian (among others) speak for themselves: 30% of British army recruits in 2010 were under 18, probably due to spiralling youth unemployment. Young people are attracted by the ideas of comradeship, training and travel. However, although no one under 18 can go into foreign combat, 12 soldiers aged 18 and 23 aged 19 have died in Afghanistan since 2001. 453 soldiers died in total. The way I see it is, there should be other options for young people and better support for returning soldiers, but I’m not criticizing the soldiers or their families at all. Again, it feels like some things never change – but that shouldn’t stop us from hoping that they will.

You can read issue 10 Ms Hood on our website or download our App and feature in our final chapter.

RELATED READING

Renaissance One: Creative Saloooon

Top right Jean 'Binta' Breeze, bottom left Melanie Abrahams, bottom right, James Walker (me)

Top right Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, bottom left Melanie Abrahams, bottom right, Ahem.

Melanie Abrahams is the creative director of Renaissance One, which offers mentoring and advice to emerging writers about all facets of the creative industries from launching and touring a performance to how to earn an income. One way she promotes the local literary scene is through a Creative Salon, whereby a selection of writers are invited to share their experiences and projects with other professionals.  This is then followed up by a Q&A.

The event was hosted on 2 November at Embrace Arts, University of Leicester. It was my first public talk about Dawn of the Unread outside of Nottingham and I shared the stage with Aly Stoneman, Bubba Bennett and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, with guest readings from Panya Banjoko and Joe Coghlan.

Although DOTU has a very specific focus on the Nottingham literary scene I was keen to get over to Leicester because they have such an incredibly supportive literary scene, something raised by Bubba Bennett when he produced handouts for the audience on every spoken word event in the city as well as statistics regarding the demographics of attendees. Any event I’ve ever been to at Leicester has always been very well attended. I’m not entirely sure why this is but it’s certainly something that Nottingham could learn from.

In the talk I outlined the methodology to DOTU and explained how you identify a problem and then put together a project. This was a diluted version of the manifesto I’ve recently written. A manifesto sounds very serious and so it should be. There’s no point embarking on a project unless you know where you are heading and why.

One emphasis of the talk was the importance of diversifying content as a means of building audiences and new partnerships. I have some very ambitious targets for how many people I want to engage and this talk is one of the many ways in which these ambitions become a reality. Sure enough, I met many interesting people and below is a little teaser of what we talked about and how conversations can shape the direction of a project.

Lydia Towsey is involved with the running of Everybody’s Reading in Leicester in October 2014 and so there are obvious links there. However, I also discovered she’s a complete Zombie nut who is putting together a show about reading and zombies. We’re planning a cuppa for the end of the month so watch this space.

Carol Leeming has a blog whose title is inspired by a Sillitoe short story (the same story that inspired Nicola Monaghan’s blog). Her work and promotion of black female writers also ties in with our themes around race.

Panya Banjoko is someone who I’ve had in mind for a long time to coordinate a response to the race issues raised in the project with Mouthy Poets. But I discovered she’s also recording testimonies from Black servicemen from WWII. There are many parallels about ‘forgotten histories’ that we could link to.

Michael ‘Sureshot’ Brome is a poet who works in a prison and was interested in how DOTU could be used to address literacy in prisons, an area I hadn’t considered before. He mentioned an inmate who had a quote tattooed on his arm but didn’t know who it was by. His comments related to my discussion of Agnes Richter’s mental jacket and how fashion and literature can work well together and raises the possibility of exploring the realtionship between body art, fashion and literature.

The digested read: You can’t go home again.