Featuring contributions from:
Kevin Le Gendre, Joanna Traynor, Sol B. River, Catherine Johnson, M. G. Zimeta, Koye Oyedeji, Salena Godden, Brenda Emmanus, Uju Asika, Henry Bonsu, Colin Babb, Ionie Richards, Panya Banjoko, Judith Lewis
In 2000, Courttia Newland and Kadija Sesay co-edited a landmark anthology of Black British writing. For such an expansive subject, the title was comprised of just three characters: I-C-3.‘ Why did we call the book IC3?’ Newland asks in his section of the introduction. To provide an answer he quotes an email he sent to a contributor in which he outlined his struggle to come up with a suitable title: ‘I was searching for a name that defined Black British people as a whole. Lo and behold, there was nothing.’ For Courtland, IC3 was the binding agent: ‘The fact that IC3, the police identity for Black, is the only collective term that relates to our situation here as residents…is a sad fact of life I could not ignore.’
In her own contribution to the introduction, Sesay announced that the editors were staunch in their belief that ‘with the calibre of writers in this anthology, we have taken concrete steps in recording some of the vast and varied expanse of our history.’ IC3:The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain featured more than 95 writers. It mixed the new with the established, and served as much more than simply a record of its time and place.
Some contributors were already famous, others were on the cusp. Some felt the springboard effect of IC3. A few savoured publication in IC3 as a career highlight.
IC3 continues to have a lasting effect, both on the commissioning of new projects and the rediscovery and reissue of older books. The Fire People, a poetry anthology edited by Lemn Sissay in 1998, will be republished in Spring 2022 alongside More Fiya, a new poetry anthology by Black British poets edited, curated and introduced by Kayo Chingonyi. IC3 connects directly to the recent Black Britain Writing Back series of novels chosen by Bernardine Evaristo to celebrate and rediscover pioneering books from Black Britain and the diaspora. The momentum of this twenty-year-old project has never abated.After witnessing IC3’s impact, Benjamin Zephaniah set out to create Black Radical — a working title — an intensely researched poetry anthology, with Kadija Sesay.
After IC3 was published, Sesay saw there was little critical work written on Black British Writers and commissioned a book of essays, Write Black, Write British: From PostColonial to Black British Literature (2005), that included chapters on individual poets and novelists born in Britain and writing about Britain from a specific British perspective.
As well as helping to historicize the movements the anthologies created, IC3 foregrounded the achievements of individuals who, during the past twenty years, have won major awards. Notable amongst these are Roger Robinson, who won the 2019 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry for A Portable Paradise — only the second writer of Caribbean descent to do so. Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker Prize in 2019 for her novel, Girl, Woman, Other. Kevin Le Gendre won ‘Jazz Journalist of theYear’ at the Parliamentary Jazz awards in 2009 and ‘Best Historical Research in Recorded Roots or World Music’ at the ARSC Awards for Excellence for Don’t Stop the Carnival: Black Music in Britain.
Award winners are not the only ones who have made significant achievements in the field of Black writing. Stella Oni’s 2020 debut novel, Deadly Sacrifice, broke through in the crime genre to introduce the first African British woman detective in Britain. Colin Babb told the editors of IC3: ‘It was your encouragement when I worked at the Beeb that inspired me to contribute to IC3 and “restart” writing!’ He has since published a second book, the memoir 1973 and Me:The England v West Indies Test Series and a Memorable Childhood Year (2021) — a work notable for its inclusion in a genre that has up to now included only a few titles by Black writers. Uju Asika’s Bringing Up Race: How to Raise a Kind Child in a Prejudiced World (2020) broke ground in its own genre, speaking precisely to parents the world over, offering life lessons for this fraught moment in time.
To celebrate the anthology’s twentieth birthday, Five Dials asked as many of the original contributors as possible to reflect on the experience and examine what’s changed for Black British writers in the intervening years. Do you remember, we asked, where you sat down as a young (or younger) writer to add your contribution to this kaleidoscopic view of the Black British experience? Why, we asked, was IC3 so special? ‘It held us all together in a way,’ poet Salena Godden wrote in her response. ‘It archived us. It put the flag in the mountain to say, “We were here, we can climb, we do exist.”’ What was it like to pick up a finished copy and look at the table of contents? ‘The project included so many great names that I loved as authors,’ Brenda Emmanus wrote. ‘I felt like a stone being thrown into a bowl of rose quartz, diamonds, and rubies.’
Kevin Le Gendre
I was at a very early stage of my life as a writer when IC3 was published. In fact, it had been just three years since my first piece was published in a noted Black music magazine, Echoes —an interview with Wyclef Jean of the Fugees — and I was still testing the water, working out how to create buoyant narratives and stop from sinking financially. Looking back, I think I felt a wave of excitement and an undertow of uncertainty ,if not fear, at the speed at which everything moved in journalism, from the turnaround time for copy to the shifting sands of editorial agendas and opinions.
Having fallen into freelance writing unexpectedly after a friend of a friend asked me to contribute to a short-lived lifestyle magazine, of which there were many in the late 90s, I was by no means convinced that this was the kind of work that would solidify into a bona fide career.Yet, I made a major step forward when I began writing for The Independent, and it was the first commission I received — a piece about the legendary 1960s Jamaican jazz artist, Joe Harriott, that formed the basis of my essay for IC3.
When Kadija Sesay approached me to contribute, I was both flattered and surprised. First because of my inexperience in relation to renowned figures such as Jackie Kay, Bernardine Evaristo, Ray Shell and most especially Linton Kwesi Johnson. Put simply I had bought the master dub poet’s records when I was a teen, so to be granted the honour of sharing the pages of a serious book with him was properly ‘tap-natch’.
Yet there were connections between myself and several other contributors, which I think reflected some notion of shared endeavour, if not community in Black London culture at the time. I had worked with Roger Robinson and Malika Booker at Apples & Snakes poetry agency.I had interviewed Courttia Newland for The Independent; I had come across Henry Bonsu and Diana Evans while gigging at The Voice; I had met Margaret Busby because any black writer had to meet as inspirational a figure as she. These people were part of what I’d call a whirlpool of energy. You bathed in it.
IC3 may have opened doors for me because of the credibility it afforded, but I think that first and foremost it gave me far greater confidence in what I was doing and strengthened my sense of purpose. I remember writing about Harriott while holed up in a cramped bedsit in Finsbury Park and also travelling to Notting Hill to interview one of his surviving band members, the bassist Coleridge Goode. I felt fortunate to be able to come face-to-face with people like this, precious living vessels of our history.
These people were part of what I’d call a whirlpool of energy. You bathed in it.
In any case, the anthology was important because it provided a spotlight for emerging as well as established Black writers in Britain.The great success achieved by many in the collection attests to the vitality jumping off the pages twenty-one years ago, which seems like both another age and a yesterday that is worth keeping fresh. I can’t think of a better way of marking the occasion than by blowing the dust off the sleeve of Joe Harriott’s Free Form album and reminding myself of the sounds that gave me words.
Twenty-four years ago, my first novel Sister Josephine won the Saga Prize — an award for new Black writers, and henceforth I was herded into a field of literature I wasn’t quite sure I belonged in. I didn’t feel Black enough. When I was invited to write for IC3, I’d written and published two more novels and although well reviewed, they weren’t a great success. And so, I shrunk, in stature and ambition. Would I only ever be ‘seen’ in a field with other Black writers, in a ghetto of the Black experience? That’s what it felt like.
On reflection, my ‘Black experience’ credentials were very strong, if you paid attention to the mores and preferences of white mainstream media that is. I had grown up poor, disadvantaged and dispossessed, abused, rejected and having to struggle to make it through life, alone. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed a solid career of drug taking and law breaking, providing anaesthetic and resources for survival, respectively. I was an IC3 gift to any police officer who came near me.
The first Black symbol of belonging that I was ever given was a name.
So what did ‘being Black enough’ really mean? To me? I needed to know something of my Black self, my Black family, culture, nationhood. I never got to know any of that stuff until I found my biological father via a search engine on the internet. The first Black symbol of belonging that I was ever given was a name.
I was given just one ‘first’ name as a child when everyone else had two. This always struck me as an act of sheer negligence. Raised by Catholics, at 11 years old, I was delighted to receive a confirmation name,Teresa. At 24 years old, I discovered that my birth mother had intended for me to be called Joanna Maria which made me feel much more ‘wanted’ even though the woman herself has never owned up to me. Name-wise, however, I was doing OK.
The African name, Omóbòowálé, which means ‘the child has come home’ was given to me a couple of months after I’d made first contact with my biological father and just before I was asked to contribute to IC3. After its publication, I went to Nigeria to meet my father in person, and at a special ceremony he addressed me as Omóbòowálé Rasheedat (my Muslim name) Mojidi (his name), and since I was living in sin, he also tagged my husband’s name on the end, Miller. So within the year of IC3 being published, if I’d been stopped and searched by the police I may well have told them my name was:
Joanna Maria Teresa Omóbòowálé , Rasheedat Mojidi Miller Traynor’
Somewhat more impressive than IC3.
Sol B. River
Looking back to see where I was in my writing life in the year 2000 when IC3 was first published took me on a brief journey. The last place I actually thought of looking was within the book itself.
I had retired aged twenty-something. I had retired from solely writing for theatre. Writing for radio, directing television and film seemed to be the new focus. I continued to explore the Black British Diaspora, moving from the past to the present. From The Agenda Album to The Progressive Album … I’m still thinking about the tracks.
The importance of IC3 was due to a collective of groundbreaking talent; of soothsayers and artisans. Books can remain on the shelf, ready and patient; this is part of their attraction.
On publication IC3 stood upright on the shelf, a coming together and a call to arms. A real example of ambition. IC3 was not to direct or influence my movement, and any inspiration was for that time. One day at a time.The unpredictability facing a ‘creative of colour’ could not depend on a heartfelt memoir. I think we were all aware that this was some kind of marathon. This life. I live in the north of England — Yorkshire, ‘God’s Own Country’. It’s greener here (not as much concrete) but it still can be harsh — not too dissimilar to the Deep South. Beautiful. My contribution to IC3 was written here and at the same table as I wrote everything else. A small fridge, not room for more than one in the kitchen, and a short walk to the window.
The importance of IC3 was due to a collective of groundbreaking talent; of soothsayers and artisans. Books can remain on the shelf, ready and patient; this is part of their attraction.
‘This is what I said … back then, this is how I felt. This is what I wrote.’
I was and am privileged to have met and know a great many of my fellow authors.Their works line my walls. The shelves observe me from every angle. I can only encourage their longevity.
I will mark the reissue by reminding people of the book’s existence, I am honoured to be in such company. I will let my son hold it, if even for a moment, prior to him understanding what is in his hands.
I had been published for almost ten years when IC3 came out; three children’s books with a lovely small press, a couple with OUP. I’d had some critical success but no sales to speak of. I was working part time in community literature, bringing up two children and living in Hackney with my then partner. My life now is completely different. I think the me of twenty years ago would not be disappointed. I am independent and self-sufficient, I live alone. I make my living writing, not books, which provides a light garnish of cash compared with the telly and teaching.
What would I do differently? I’d be more confident in my work, I’d value that work properly and I wouldn’t be so damn grateful.
It was lovely being published with ‘real authors’. It felt like a total privilege. And I hope my short story, ‘Scary’, (A Mel B ref) is quaintly vintage rather than dated and irrelevant.
M. G. Zimeta
I was a teenager when I wrote ‘Enter The Professionals’, my essay for IC3 on careers and vocations. My parents had raised me to identify as not-Black and not-British: I was an Ethiopian, born in Ethiopia to Ethiopians. Ethiopians were not Black, and Britain, my home since I was a baby, was not my home. But the fundamental premise of IC3, named after the police code for all Black people, required me to both recognise that others named me as Black and to name myself as Black, and to recognise that I am vulnerable to the coercive power of the British state.
Names and naming: a few years after IC3, I decided that I’d make sure that anyone I worked with should know that my name is Mahlet — in case they mistook my nickname Milly, the traditional Ethiopian diminutive of Mahlet, as an attempt to disavow my Blackness. Within a year of IC3 being published I stopped straightening my hair. (I explored this in, ‘Did it have to be the hair?’, a commentary on Rachel Dolezal for the London Review of Books, written, like my piece for IC3, in a thrilling state of joy and rage.)
‘Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined,’observed Toni Morrison in Beloved. As someone who has been defined I’ve tried to be attentive about who I’m defining, and how, and why. When I was reporting on neo-Nazi militia in Ukraine, I set out to approach the subject without judgement; the conclusions I reached seemed counterintuitive and the piece was rejected by nearly 40 current affairs magazines before being published by The Paris Review as literary reportage, ‘Letter from Kiev: reporting undercover on nationalism in Ukraine’. But it laid the groundwork for my current journalism project on Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, generously supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. I taught at a university where a high proportion of the students came from backgrounds under-represented in UK higher education—students who weren’t white, students with disabilities, students who had come through the social care system. My peers at other universities would ask me if my students were ‘difficult’, but I found their intellectual voracity easy; what I found difficult was the presumption of my peers.
What’s taken me the longest to come to terms with is my vulnerability to the coercive power of the British state. For a while I focused on my academic career — dreaming over philosophy books in libraries in Oxford, Cambridge, London and York, and mostly feeling vulnerable to the coercive power of librarians. In York, I acknowledged myself as British for the first time — mainly, I think, out of my fierce respect for the Northern sense of humour. But it has only been in the last couple of years that I’ve started to believe there could be a role for someone like me in helping to shape the behaviour of that British state, in my role as a policy-maker for Data and AI.
The future is there to be written.
IC3 showed me that conceptual schemes, tools for understanding and making the world—my own and other people’s—can be fragile, and they can be tenacious, and sometimes they can be both. Like people. Sometimes this has been a disorientating realisation, and sometimes it has been a frightening one. But mostly it is a realisation that exhilarates me, because it means there is more for me to learn, more to create, more to do. The future is there to be written.
‘Home: The Place Where You Belong’ might’ve been my first ever published short story. I’d won some citywide competitions prior to its publication and had published a poem in an anthology edited by Lemn Sisay. I was very young. I remember feeling the weight of the moment, the magnitude. I wasn’t familiar with half of the luminaries who were in the anthology, but I understood even then that they were luminaries and to be included alongside them was both daunting and gratifying for a young boy from South East London. Today, I have mixed feelings about the actual story. I’m proud of it, proud of that moment in time, the person who I was then and the achievement. It served as an endorsement of sorts, not just Kadija and Courttia saying, ‘Hey, we like your work,’ but the universe also putting it out there that, ‘Hey, your work, your voice, it has relevance.’ I’m a different writer today.
I was very young. I remember feeling the weight of the moment, the magnitude. I wasn’t familiar with half of the luminaries who were in the anthology, but I understood even then that they were luminaries and to be included alongside them was both daunting and gratifying for a young boy from South East London.
Back then, as an adolescent, a first-generation born to Nigerian immigrants, I was preoccupied with discovery, my identity and the space I occupied in the UK. I explored this through the lens of short-term foster care, which was often a practice of Nigerian parents in the UK during the sixties through the eighties. Without the communal kind of child-rearing that they were accustomed to back home, many Nigerians felt compelled to put their children in short-term foster care. It takes a village, after all, right? Well, these foster families were almost always white and were mainly based outside of London and other metropolitan areas. So you can imagine the kind of experiences that many of these young black children might’ve had, shipped out to places like Clapton and Portsmouth where hardly anybody looked like them back then. It was very hard for many of that generation and I tried to convey a kind of cultural schism in the story, the trauma that that kind of experience can have on a person many years later, how the past can shackle us.
Flash forward twenty years and there are many of the authors in the book that I’ve come to call friends over the years. Some of them are no longer with us. I think of them when I also look back at that moment in time. I do recall one reviewer lamenting that identity was all too apparent or heavy-handed or something like that. But some topics are just like that, you can’t treat them with a subtle hand. I think that’s the beauty of a film like, say, Get Out and a book like IC3. It felt to me that many of the young writers in the ‘Crusaders’ section of the book were feeling the raw explosion of the moment we were living in. There we were on the cusp of a new century, a new millennium; Y2K had arrived and it felt like there was an unspoken consensus: the world had not fallen apart after all. Well, we better start putting it together.
Twenty years ago, I was a struggling poet. I was travelling a lot and touring. I was trying to find my way, doing poetry gigs in smoky backrooms, in pubs and squats, raves and basements. Everything was DIY and homemade back then. I was self-publishing and printing my own zines. I was in my band, SaltPeter with Peter Coyte and we were producing our own CDs and albums, gigging lots. Back then I was performing poetry to punky guitars and ska and drum and bass beats in clubs, festivals and raves. It was a lot of fun and also a lot of uncertainty to live so precariously.
I was writing about all the things I was experiencing; I was exploring themes of identity and feminism, lots of sex and break-up poems, mixed up with comedy, politics and social commentary. Some of my poetry was being published in zines like Rising and Full Moon Empty Sports Bag and the occasional anthology here in the UK. The Fire People with Lemn Sissay was out then. I was also published in the US in indie poetry journals like Barbaric Yawp. Around this time I was touring with Coldcut and NinjaTunes and the Let Us Play! album was huge. My focus was on collaborations, music and performance and trying to make albums, get good gigs that paid and hustle. The world of publishing and books was kinda closed off; it didn’t seem to have space for me. I used to send poems off every Friday, I recall walking to the post office to post packages of poems to all kinds of poetry journals and magazines and publishers, little and big presses, all over the world. I dreamed of being published one day, to see my work published in my own book, it was all I was working towards. I love how in all that itinerant chaos and hunger there was always so much discipline and passion.
I was very proud to have work published in IC3. I think it is a beautiful collection, so many of my heroes, so many writers I look up to, Jackie Kay, Benjamin Zephaniah, Labi Siffre, Margaret Busby, Lemn Sissay. I have to say I will always be very grateful to Kadija Sesay and Courttia Newland. Massive thank you!
Why was IC3 important? It held us all together in a way. It archived us. It put the flag in the mountain to say, ‘We were here, we can climb, we do exist.’ I have kept the press cuttings from this publication in a scrapbook.The fact I still have that scrapbook means something, it must have meant a lot to me to be seen and included in this book and in this way.
It held us all together in a way. It archived us. It put the flag in the mountain to say, ‘We were here, we can climb, we do exist.’
I think I remember writing it sitting in a rainy pub in Hastings, I have a memory of that—nursing a pint, trying to make it last and watching gulls out of the pub window.
IC3 was published at a significant period of my career. At the time, I had aspired to become a journalist but yet to decide on what platform — radio, television or print. The latter seemed the obvious choice because while undertaking my degree in Media studies, I had already started freelancing as a reporter for a news publication that had given me opportunities while studying.
Creative writing had been a hobby to me, but one I took relatively seriously at the time. I was participating in workshops and was particularly inspired by those I attended conducted by author and poet, Professor Colin Channer often dubbed ‘Bob Marley with a pen’ and the founder of the Calabash International Literary Festival. He was an encouraging soul, who navigated me through disastrous attempts at creating work inspired by the wonderful work of writers that I had admired at the time, and to delve deeper, be brave and find my own voice, even if it was not as sophisticated as published talent.
It was great advice. I began to write for writing’s sake. Simply to get ideas out of my head, experiment with character development and learn to focus. I was not a confident writer, to me it was play …I would ask, ‘what if?’ and then attempt to create the said scenarios. I remember being told not to write constantly about characters too close to my own experience, to push myself to think and develop ideas beyond my imagination. That would help to stretch me.
I remember being told not to write constantly about characters too close to my own experience, to push myself to think and develop ideas beyond my imagination. That would help to stretch me.
I remember the advice well but as becoming the next Bernadine Evaristo or Toni Morrison was way beyond my writing ambition, I did not always stick to the plan. I think in my head, if I had a choice, I would have wanted to learn to write screenplays as I could see clearly in my mind’s eye the stories that I wanted to tell, but fine-tuning the skills to shape them into quality fiction seemed beyond my capabilities. It is no surprise then, that I found myself working in television where I could tell stories and share ideas with pictures.
That said, I was beyond thrilled when I had been asked to submit a piece of work for IC3 and it was accepted. Being published in such a ground-breaking anthology, amongst some wonderful and inspiring talent was humbling. The project included so many great names that I loved as authors. I felt like a stone being thrown into a bowl of rose quartz, diamonds, and rubies. Somehow, just being a part of this ambitious project that shone a spotlight on an eclectic mix of creative writers was a prize big enough to suppress any insecurity about the quality of my little contribution. I had been part of something special.
Now as I look at the roll call of names in this anniversary issue, I gasp with shock and pride. The poetry, essays, short stories and memoirs include friends, associates and award-winning stars of the literary world. Some I have interviewed in my professional capacity, others I have shared late nights socialising with, and a few who have encouraged and supported me in my chosen career. This is a special publication for personal reasons, for political reasons and for pure pleasure.
When IC3 came out, I was a grad student (magazine journalism) at NYU. Prior to that, I’d been an arts and culture journalist in London writing for The Weekly Journal (part of The Voice group) as well as publications like New Nation, Touch magazine, Untold and The Guardian.
Most of the stuff I was writing about explored identity, creativity and culture from a Black/multicultural perspective. Pretty similar to what I write today as an author and a blogger, although now it’s largely through a parenting lens. Outside of journalism, I’d had some poems featured in a couple of anthologies. My very first published writing appeared in an anthology that was also edited by Kadija Sesay titled Burning Words, Flaming Images Vol. 1.
I felt proud and honoured to have my work included among such a range of UK talent. Poetry was something I did mostly in private, so I’ll never forget the buzz of seeing my poem mentioned favourably by Maya Jaggi in The Guardian alongside Linton Kwesi Johnson, Dorothea Smartt and Jackie Kay!
We’ve always had that ability to turn something shitty into something amazing.
Before the anthology, I had never actually heard of the police code IC3. It’s such a reductive way to describe an incredibly diverse community. This anthology helped reclaim and transform that in a way. So now when I hear IC3, I think of Black people coming together to tell powerful, funny, truthful stories in our own voices. We’ve always had that ability to turn something shitty into something amazing.
I wrote both pieces while I was still living in London. The memoir ‘Two-Tone Chameleon’ is about my first day as a Black Nigerian girl arriving at an English boarding school. It’s quite a visceral piece that just poured out of me. The poem ‘Said the Moose’ was inspired by a short article I read somewhere about a moose in Vermont who fell in love with a cow. I thought it was such a sweet, funny and romantic idea.Years later, I stumbled across a thesis someone wrote in which they’d analysed my poem giving it all sorts of layers of meaning. It was fascinating to read because I hadn’t actually intended anything so profound. It was just a love story. But it was a reminder that anything you write is only partly yours — the rest is for the reader’s imagination.
When IC3 was published I was writing for a variety of publications, ranging from The Times to The Express to Pride magazine. As a journalist and broadcaster my columns were usually inspired by the news and current affairs stories I was covering on TV or radio. I’d developed a specialist interest in politics, race, mental health, gender relations and sport. I was a pretty confident columnist, sometimes turning around features at a few hours’ notice, but, like a lot of daily news folk, not required to think much deeper about a subject. Nevertheless, when Kadija and Courttia approached me I seized the opportunity to try something different. It was pretty clear from their vision and from the quality of the contributing writers that IC3 was going to be a significant piece of work.
It was 1999, the year of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, when Britain was forced to take a long hard look at itself and found the reflection wanting. I wondered how I could help to capture this zeitgeist for the new book. By then I’d been living in Brixton for 6 years, and the community was in the grip of a Harlem-style gentrification — one that was generating all kinds of tensions. I decided to use a seemingly innocuous encounter outside a local nightclub to make deeper cultural points about some of the ethnic and cultural fault lines that had been thrown up by this phenomenon.
It was pretty clear from their vision and from the quality of the contributing writers that IC3 was going to be a significant piece of work.
Although I was delighted with the way ‘A Brixton Tale’ resonated with many who read it, I didn’t pivot in a literary direction. That was because then ,as now, the tragic murder of a Black man triggered a clamour for more voices like mine. So I decided to pursue radio presenting full time. But I remain as proud now as I was then that I made a small contribution to a landmark tome that is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago. That’s why I plan to re-read as many of the poems, essays, memoirs, and short stories as I can before we all meet again.
I first met Kadija Sesay in 1999 when I interviewed her for a radio programme on African writers I co-produced for the BBC World Service. After the interview, I told Kadija I was searching for an opportunity to return to writing. Kadija immediately suggested that I should contribute to a book project she was editing with Courttia Newland. This was IC3. I was inspired by Kadija’s generous encouragement.
For many years, I was interested in exploring the relationship between the Caribbean diaspora in Britain, West Indian cricket, and my memories of growing up in a Guyanese/Bajan household in 1970s Britain. These themes underpinned my contribution to IC3, ‘Cricket, Lovely Cricket: London SW16 to Guyana and Back’.
I was pleased to be included in this anthology and fascinated by the contributions written by some of the other writers. Some of whom I knew or would meet in future years.
Writing for IC3 wasn’t just a turning point as a new outlet for my writing. It provided me with a launch pad for some of my future endeavours. After the launch of IC3, I continued to work for the BBC as a website producer, broadcast journalist and member of the radio and television audience services team. I produced studio sessions and interviews with Mahlete-Tsige Getachew, Bonnie Greer, Vincent Magombe and Véronique Tadjo for the BBC World Service radio programmes. All of whom were contributors to IC3.
In 2012, I completed a Caribbean Studies MA at the University of Warwick. One of the people who encouraged me to start the course was Professor David Dabydeen. David was the Director at the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies at Warwick. He contributed a poem, ‘Carnival Boy’ for IC3.
Some of the themes I explored in IC3 filtered through two books I wrote for Hansib publications. They Gave the Crowd Plenty Fun: West Indian Cricket and its Relationship with the British-Resident Caribbean Diaspora, and 1973 and Me:The England v West Indies Test Series and a Memorable Childhood Year.
I also contributed to Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation by Colin Grant (Jonathan Cape), and The Bowling was Superfine: West Indian Writing and West Indian Cricket authored by Stewart Brown and Ian McDonald (Peepal Tree).
Some of my magazine and website work since IC3 includes, writing for the Caribbean Intelligence website, BBC Food, BBC Learning, the Lobi news and current affairs magazine for Albanian language speakers in North Macedonia, Modern English Teacher (MET), and the online Dictionary of African Biography (Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University).
I worked as a librarian, and as a website editor for schools, universities and the public health sector. I worked as a freelance photographer in Antigua, Dominica and St. Lucia for an education book publishing company. I was a guest on television in Guyana and radio in Australia, Barbados, Grenada and Trinidad, and made guest appearances with the BBC TMS radio cricket commentary team.
When my piece ‘Nine Nights’, a memoir about my father, was published in IC3 in 2000, I was ecstatic. It was my first piece of work published in an anthology amongst a long list of distinguished writers. For years I had written short pieces, essays, poetry, short stories, but here I was on the brink of launching myself into the world of a published writer.
I remember the invitation to the launch event that year and how desperately I wanted to go to celebrate but I was unable to do so. The year 2000 and many years to come was a period of challenging health issues so huge, it propelled me to write my own autobiography of that experience as therapy. It was as though ‘Nine Nights’ was just the start of what was to come and gave me confidence to write about that experience. Yet, twenty years on, where am I now?
In my writing and my thinking, I have always explored the economic, social and political underbelly of society, speaking about the underclass, migration and giving voice to the dispossessed.
I am currently developing an historical fiction novel based on my research into my slave ancestors, discovering more about who I am and my place in this world as well as exploring new ways of storytelling.
I am also developing a poetry series, preserving untold stories from Caribbean elders. These will be added to an extensive collection of poetry on the human condition produced over the decades, through my lens.
My writing journey has over the years reconnected with both editors, Kadija Sesay and Courttia Newland through retreats, writing courses and publications. My poetry appears in the anthology Red: Contemporary Black British Poetry.
It is a legacy of what was achieved then, with the promise of what was still to come from many of us as contributors.
The reissue of the publication of IC3 in 2021 to mark its twentieth anniversary now gives me that opportunity to be part of a celebration of Black British writers who, while twenty years older, are part of a canon of writers who provided a snapshot of our collective experiences at the time. It is a legacy of what was achieved then, with the promise of what was still to come from many of us as contributors.
IC3 unlocked new opportunities for me. I began writing in the mid-1990s and published poems in Nottingham magazines; IC3 brought my work to a wider national and international audience.
The idea for my poem ‘Brain Drain’ came while I was in The Gambia on a writers’ retreat organised by Kadija Sesay in the late 1990s. Looking back, it was the contrast between the Gambian and Nottingham landscapes that sparked it and how social media was beginning to influence our lives, but it was written well before handheld devices became the norm. Most of all, it was influenced by dub poetry, the style in which I was performing and writing, and the tension between writing for performance and writing for the page. Like many Black writers then, I worried that my work wouldn’t stand up to literary criticism when the critical apparatus typically did not take account of poetry as a sonic performance and event, so being published in IC3 helped me gain confidence that it could.
I quit my job and went freelance after IC3 because I wanted to spend more time on writing beyond snatched moments between raising a family of four and holding down full-time work. I still freelance today in the heritage sector and, in 2009, founded Nottingham Black Archive. I changed direction after IC3, undertaking two MAs, one in Children’s Literature and another in Museum Studies. I wrote two early years publications for the museum service, and have never stopped writing and performing. I have been published in several anthologies since and my debut collection Some Things was published in 2018 by Burning Eye Books. I’ve almost completed a practice-led PhD at Nottingham Trent University. My research mines Black literary history in Nottingham through Nottingham Black Archive and responds to its recovery via a new poetry collection. Some of the poems are forthcoming in (Re)Framing the Archive, slated for publication in June 2022, as the wider collection continues to build.
Like many Black writers then, I worried that my work wouldn’t stand up to literary criticism when the critical apparatus typically did not take account of poetry as a sonic performance and event, so being published in IC3 helped me gain confidence that it could.
My poetry has taken me in many directions. It has featured in an exhibition by Black British artist Keith Piper at the Beaconsfield Gallery, at a British Film Festival and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. IC3 helped me to build confidence in my creativity. I am grateful to Kadija and to Courttia Newland for helping me gain my footing on the first rung of the publishing ladder. They also inspired me to be proactive on behalf of others and in 2018, through the work of Nottingham Black Archive, I published an anthology of Black writers in Nottingham so they could experience the thrill of being published. Beyond personal benefits, IC3 is an important cultural resource. I use it when teaching poetry, whether at Nottingham Trent University or in the community when leading writers’ workshops. To mark the reissue of IC3, I will raise a glass of white rum with my eldest daughter, Asha Banjoko, who was also published in the IC3 anthology at the age of sixteen.
I had not published my first collection when IC3 was published. I was published in many anthologies and magazines at the time. A short story and a poem was accepted for IC3. In both pieces I wanted to document the experience of the African Caribbean community in London through my own personal experiences. So the poem ‘They Thought we Couldn’t Speak English’ was autobiographical. It’s about race and class and those first interactions with English people (good and bad) as a Caribbean child — the process of learning where I fit in the universe.
The short story is about alcohol addiction, isolation and the breakdown of family connections within the community.
A section of the poem was/is used on the Caribbean O Level exam. It talks about using Irish potatoes for West Indian soup. The poem connected that British experience to young people in the Caribbean, a couple of whom tracked me down and phoned to talk to me about the poem. It highlighted for me the importance of writing and getting stories out and how the young are influenced by that.
I’m due to do some workshops in Lichfield soon and will use this this poem which I haven’t read or talked about for a long time. I usually work with poems from my Bogle-L’Ouverture collection, ‘My Grandmother Sings to Me’.
When IC3 was first published in 2000, I had just become a mum to my daughter Taja. I had put my writing life on hold to concentrate on motherhood, with every intention of resuming it when parenthood offered an opportunity for creativity.
I have never been confident in my writing life, even now. In spite of many ideas, I fall victim to both procrastination and doubt. That said, I am sure in the knowledge that I am born to write. I hope to share my writing as a gift for good.
Publication gave me a sense of pride and allowed me the luxury of seeing myself as a writer in a way I had not fully grasped before. There was something quite magical about seeing my name in print in this way. The direction from there was very simply onward.
IC3 opened a window on the talent of Black writers in the UK in a collection that allowed us to be seen in our full glory. Both established and new writers were able to highlight their work.
I have to admit that it was a rushed piece written in my bedroom. Even now, I can see myself sitting on my bed and thinking about a trip to the island of my parents’ birth. During the trip, I recall trying to breathe in everything I saw and feeling quite overwhelmed. I wondered what it must have been like for my parents to walk those plantation roads.
I will mark the reissue by sitting and re-reading it. I will then share it with friends and family, hoping to engage the younger members of my family to author their own stories. As my birthday arrives in time for the 20th anniversary, I reflect on how far I have come not only as a person, but as a writer. Some years ago, a writer I respected, and still do, told me that I would not write my best work until I had lived a full life. That writer friend was correct, as one’s senses become more attuned as a result of life, death and heartbreak. ◊