Last weekend I was fortunate enough to help out at the Inaugural BareLit festival 2016. Dedicated to giving BAME writers the much needed platform and publicity so often denied to them by ‘mainstream’ publishing houses and festivals, BareLit felt inspiriting and long overdue. Creating an inclusive space and opportunity to engage with BAME writers (for longer than a five minute slot) has been requisitioned by readers and writers alike, and now that the call has finally been answered by the brilliant folk at Media Diversified, I can tell you that the result was phenomenal. I think it’s fair to say that the festival far exceeded everyone’s expectations! Atmospheric and energising, people were buzzing with excitement and a thrilled Radhika Swarup (the author of the brilliant ‘Where the Rivers Part’) approached me after her Panel gushing about the engaging questions, audience and speakers. And it was so much more than that too. BareLit created a safe and welcoming environment that POC so rarely have access to in the quotidian. For once, I was not the only brown hijabi woman in the room (as I so often am at literary events), broached with the surprised lines of ‘oh, so what brings you here?’ but just another member of the bookish crowd, geeking out to authors and subjects that matter to me. This was in sharp contrast to Radhika’s book launch which I attended the week before which although brilliant and filled with brown women took a sour note when I was congratulated by an audience member for ‘nailing the English accent’ among other things! (Post on this to follow soon!)
For me, the success of Barelit has been multifaceted; it has created a model for literary festivals that others would do well to emulate, raising lots of important issues and introducing me to some brilliant new writers. The ‘Poets In Exile’ talk was particularly insightful, chaired by Malika Booker, the panel was wonderful with brilliant, relevant poetry recited by Dean Atta and Khairani Barokka which has reignited my passion for poetry.
Malika Booker raised a crucial point about diversity extending to all measures of the literary world and likened the lack of BAME reviewers to throwing a stone in a river. If it creates no ripples it just sinks. If book reviewers of colour are not afforded a space to react to and promote such work, it can often fall through the gaps or runs the risk of being stereotyped and pigeonholed. Prime examples of this can be seen when BAME poets like Booker or Selina Nwulu who excel at their craft are referred to as ‘spoken word artists’ or when as mentioned by Naomi Frisby here, Swarup’s book is described as evoking the ‘smell of tumeric’. Blanket homogenising statements mean that the nuance and actual real and interesting content of the work of POC so often go overlooked.
Other fascinating events included ‘What does Liberation in Literature look like?’ and (Re) writing Pasts and Futures’
If you missed it, I strongly recommended you check out the full line up here, if you attended, I know you’ll be there next year and in the meantime let’s all get together, support and donate to make this vital and much needed literary festival a fixture.