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Bearing my teeth

by Maya Chowdhry

Recently I attended the Bare Lit Festival at Toynbee Studios in the East End of London. It describes itself as “a new literature festival by and for writers of colour”. #POC isn't my favourite term for us, but I decided to go along and challenge myself to find out why in 2017, when I’ve been writing professionally since 1989, we still need such a festival (I do actually know the answer to this, but for the purposes of this blog post imagine I don’t).

Before the whole programme had been announced, I bought my ticket on their crowdfunder - something that wasn’t around in the late-1980s when I attended my first Black writers festival in Sheffield (I just tried to google the exact year of this festival but the internet is not spitting it out…). So there’s reason number one for attending a #POC writer’s festival.

I attended sessions ranging from "Hope in Times of Hopelessness" to "New Print Cultures". New Print Cultures was one of my favourite panels of the festival - a discussion about the "new wave" of radical, activist and community print publications, such as Burnt Roti, Skin Deep, gal-dem and OOMK. It was a very dynamic discussion and fascinating exploration of how these publications came about and the role of the physical object in a world of digital media.

Reason number two: we need to be in print to be: archived / have a history / imprint ourselves and our culture.

I particularly wanted to attend "In Experts We Trust" - a session exploring writing about scientific topics and the role of the expert in communicating these to audiences, as I have been grappling with science topics, such as climate change and palaeontology, during the writing of Fossil. The panellists were Shirley Wang (The Wall Street Journal) Angela Saini (Inferior, 2017), Sam Wong (New Scientist) and Momtaza Mehri (Ten: Poets of the New Generation, 2017). As well as highlighting the racism and sexism that still prevails in science, the panel explored how to get the balance between being specific about your science topic or research and allowing understanding for an audience of non-scientists. Angela Saini spoke brilliantly on all these topics and more, and I’m particularly looking forward to reading her new book: Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story, (out in June 2017 from Fourth Estate in the UK and Beacon Press in the US).

Reason number three: “proponents of racial ideologies have tried to appropriate science to legitimise their ideas” (from "Racism, photography and DNA: can we right past wrongs?" NewScientist.com

There’s more about the festivals’ discussions and debate on my twitter moment and #Barelit17.

So one reason to attend #Barelit17 would be enough and there’s definitely more than three (I haven’t even got started on censorship).

My take-aways? Decolonize science, decolonize everything, and, as Rikki Beadle Blair said, "I am the gatekeeper I am the gate. I must include me, and them. Own the means of production. Make your own universe of creativity."


Maya Chowdhry, 1 May 2017

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