New professional development programme addresses “historic lack of representation” to create a diverse writing culture that “flies the flag for Wales’ varied communities”
Literature Wales, the national company for the development of literature, launches its first ever professional development programme for writers of colour today, Tuesday 27 April 2021. Developed to improve representation within the sector, Representing Wales: Developing Writers of Colour is an important step in Literature Wales’ efforts to transform the country’s literary culture into one that is truly reflective of Wales’ diverse communities and to establish a pipeline of diverse Welsh talent that will be recognised across the UK and beyond.
The 12-month pilot programme, funded by the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Wales, will provide development opportunities for those looking to write professionally across literature, playwriting and screenwriting. It has been designed in consultation with communities, writers and consultants from Literature Wales’ extensive networks to address existing barriers within the sector. It will initially support 12 writers in developing their work through financial assistance and mentoring, as well as by demystifying the writing profession and providing networking opportunities and masterclasses with established writers and commissioners.
The launch of the programme comes in the wake of major reform to the Welsh Curriculum, following the acceptance by the Welsh Government of all recommendations from a landmark report by Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, addressing racial inequality in the Welsh education system and setting out ways to improve the teaching of themes and experiences relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. It also follows the Arts Council of Wales’ recent appointment of an Agent for Change, a new role created to identify and call out barriers that prevent fairness and inclusion, lead a process of cultural change within the Arts Council itself and work to influence the transformation of opportunities across the wider cultural sector.
The first cohort of writers were selected by a panel of five industry representatives, chaired by author and academic Sandeep Parmar and including: President of the National Eisteddfod Court, Ashok Ahir; poet, performer and novelist, Patience Agbabi; writer, artist and editor, Sadia Pineda Hameed, and literary agent Natalie Jerome.
Lleucu Siencyn, Chief Executive, Literature Wales, says:
“For too long the teaching and advancement of our literary culture, in both languages, has been homogeneous and not truly reflective of the range of voices and experiences within Wales. Amazing individuals and grass-roots organisations in Wales have worked extremely hard to ensure real progress in recent years, but we must do more to platform and promote the exciting diverse talent we have so we can be proud of a vibrant writing culture that flies the flag for Wales’ varied communities. We are very fortunate to have a rich variety of writers in Wales, telling our own stories in our own languages. The historic lack of representation is changing. This important new programme will shine a light on exceptional, diverse voices representing the best of modern Welsh culture, and each one has the potential to transform our culture for the next generation.”
Sandeep Parmar, Chair of the assessment panel and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool, says:
“This programme is a much-needed intervention aimed at opening out national and regional literature to new, and newly-vital voices. Myself and fellow panellists were overcome by the vision of these writers – the ways they point us forward to another fuller canon. Their success proves that Wales harbours immensely talented writers of colour who are more than worthy of support and indeed deserve celebration. The complexities of their work, of their handling of Welsh language, culture, landscape, heritage, and all of the diversity of Wales is hugely inspiring.”
Phil George, Chair, Arts Council of Wales, said:
“If we are serious about seeing a fairer and more equal Wales then we have to do more than pay lip service to improving cultural diversity. It is vitally important to open up opportunities for talent to develop and programmes such as this one give under-represented writers a platform to express and develop their creativity and to present readers with poetry and prose that will stimulate, challenge and entertain.”
Applicants to the scheme were asked to share an example of their best creative writing and were assessed based on the quality and potential of the writing submitted, the originality and freshness of ideas and voice demonstrated in the work, and the suitability of the programme for the career stage of individual applicants.
Aged between 21 and 61 and based in Wales, the first cohort of writers are at various stages of their careers and include: teacher Marvin Thompson, who recently took first place in The Poetry Society’s 2020 National Poetry Competition and is looking to deepen his understanding of Caribbean poetics in a Welsh context; BAFTA Children’s TV award-winning performer Emily Burnett, who is looking to move into scriptwriting, and Carl Connikie, a former Intelligence Analyst for Gwent Police who is keen to pursue a move into documentary writing, inspired by his photography-based interview series about the Windrush Generation in Newport. The writers are committed to producing at least one piece of content, or story, which can be shared publicly to communicate their experience of the programme. They will use the year to work towards three ambitions that are bespoke to them. Some aim to complete works in progress for publications, some wish to gain a deeper understanding of the literary and publishing industries and others hope the programme will develop their confidence to see themselves as the writers of tomorrow.
Representation and equality are key strategic priorities for Literature Wales, which has invested in writers of colour, at all career stages, to deliver targeted and authentic change. This pilot programme will build on the success of other schemes including: Platforming Under-represented Writers: A funding scheme that offered the right support at the right time to empower and nurture new voices to create a culture of risk-taking and artist innovation; and The Rising Stars Wales Awards: an initiative to identify talented children’s poets from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds based in Wales. Alex Wharton, the winner of the 2020 Award, received a publishing deal as a result of the award becoming the first ever poet of colour in Wales to publish a poetry anthology for children.
To deliver the programme, Literature Wales is collaborating with organisations and individuals from across the arts and literature sector in Wales and the UK, including Creative Access, Lucent Dreaming, Ledbury Critics Programme, Black History Wales, Poetry Wales, S4C, Race Council Cymru, Lumin Press and Speaking Volumes. Further partners will be announced and included as the programme develops throughout the year.