Friday, 7 December 2012

My Song - A Memoir...

I felt compelled to buy My Song - A Memoir of Art, Race & Defiance by Harry Belafonte after watching him discussing the book on one of the Hay Festival sessions on SKY Arts in June this year.  In November, I made a note in my journal:

'I'm not giving up on this book, although it's tedious start did almost bring me to an all time halt as I took time - leaving it to 'brew.'  So far the story is full of interest re: the 60's - Civil Rights' Movement - his musical/film career and how he weaved politics into his world.

What is it I don't like?  When Belafonte brings in the future at random, which doesn't add, it distracts (me the reader!)  It's unnecessary detail, untimely, thrown in, a spanner in the works as it stops the narrative flow, causing much irritation.  I wish his Editor (Michael Schnayerson) had picked this up; I would've!'

Am I being harsh?  Maybe, but I'm being honest.

I'm not sure this book fits well as a memoir, more of an autobiography, since it is the story of Belafonte's life spanning from his birth to his seventies. It is an account of his life and his career as an international singer and actor.  It's also a story of his journey on the front lines of his political activism.

It took me sometime to read as I dipped in and out and I did find certain sections hard work, but on the whole I gained a behind-the-scenes portrait of Belafonte's life and the many fascinating cultural and political figures he befriended along the way.  The list is long and includes Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, Fidel Castro, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.

My Song shows how powerful a determined human being can be.  And for that reason alone, it is worth the read.


Harry Belafonte grew up in Harlem and Jamaica.  His 1956 album Calypso made him the first artist in history to sell more than one million LPs.  From the early days of his career, he broke down barriers wherever he encountered them.  His activism widened to a passionate involvement with the civil rights movement.

Follow@harrybelafonte on Twitter

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Tribute to the Stars

Introducing Deanna Jackson, age 14, who has always written poetry since she was about eight years old. However, it wasn't until her first year at Secondary School aged 11, that she began to commit to it. Deanna wrote poetry to express her feelings, not just about starting a new school, but life as a whole, and how she felt about it. Writing poetry became a natural thing to do, particularly when she was upset. If Deanna felt that she couldn't speak to anyone, then she wrote poetry which gave her a voice. Now, she mostly writes poetry for the enjoyment. However, it will always be her support mechanism whenever needed.

I met Deanna on 11th August 2012, when she attended a Creative Writing Workshop that I led at Wellingborough African-Caribbean Association's Fun Activity Day. I was impressed by the way Deanna very quickly wrote and delivered a new poem, fresh off the press during the session. At the end of the workshop, Deanna handed me two of her poems. So it is with much pleasure that I post them here:

Tribute to the Stars
So many stars have died so young
There lives we’ll never forget
When they started taking drugs
they didn’t consider the effects
Whitney Houston topped the charts
but the drugs sent her singing downhill
she always looked so exhausted on stage
but she struggled on still
Amy Winehouse lived her life
through many ups and downs
she was so pale and weak
and in her sorrows she did drown
Michael Jackson, we will remember
as the legend of music he was
His painkillers made him feel so great
and his death was such a loss
So let this be a warning to you
before it is too late
for these stars thought that drugs would help
and they had a much worse fate
When I was young, life was simple
Just like a roundabout
there never really was any change
so there were no reasons to have any doubt
When I was young, I had no priorities
I had no list of things I wanted to do
other people didn’t matter as much
I had a more self-centred view
When I was young, I could laugh at things
that I didn’t even understand
Things just seemed like so much fun
I didn’t think life needed to be planned
When I was young, things were different
I didn’t know what was yet to come
I never realised how bad you could feel
And how it felt when you wanted to run
When I was young, I didn’t want to grow up
And when I did, I wanted everything to rewind
But now, I’ve finally grown to realise
Age also gives you a stronger mind

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Mslexia Call for Submissions: Memoir (and other things...)

Mslexia Magazine are currently seeking short (up to 2,200 words) narrative non-fiction submissions in the form of memoir for the New Writing section of the March 2013 issue of Mslexia.  Cast your mind years back to your childhood, or just a few hours back to last night - or to any destination in between - and send in a slice of your life.  Up to two submissions can be submitted.
Deadline: 10 December 2012.

There's no entry fee and Mslexia pay for all the pieces they publish.  Submissions are judged by a high-profile guest judge who introduces and comments on each piece in her selection - an invaluable addition to any author's CV.

MONOLOGUE: 'the hairdresser'
Especially for writers of script (but anyone is welcome to submit) send up to 200 words on any topic in a single character's voice. Mslexia are looking for monologues in the voice of a hairdresser.
Deadline: 14 January 2013

If writing a full length memoir excerpt doesn't appeal, why not try your hand at something smaller but no less perfectly formed.  Fans of new media are invited to submit A Week of Tweets about their writing and/or life - or to apply for a three-month 'residency' on the Mslexia Blog.  
Deadline: 14 January 2013

For detailed submission guidelines, please visit:

Finally if you'd like to advertise your writing group or promote your latest book, writing class, or blog, Mslexia have just launched a new Noticeboard section in the magazine, which will allow you to reach 27,000+ readers.  Prices start from just £20.  Contact Victoria on 0191 233 3860 or email:

That's it for now - it's over to you!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Blog Action Day - Toni Morrison; A Writer's Influence

The theme for this year's Blog Action Day is The Power of We and because it embraces community, equality and freedom, I knew I wanted to focus on writing within a 'community' and this is something Shangwe is all about.  So it gives me great pleasure in celebrating and honouring Toni Morrison today.

Identify one writer whose work has been in some way influential to the development of my own creative writing process, it has to be Toni Morrison. Why? If there's one writer who I want to watch and learn from it's Toni Morrison. To start with I'm already hooked ever since I started reading her works some 17 years ago and I have collected all of her novels and have even delivered a Shangwe writing workshop in 2004 on Beloved her master-work thus far, published in 1987.

I need to state that Morrison was expected to excel, even though she had to contend with the racial prejudice that accompanied growing up in an educational system that ignored the contributions of non-whites. Morrison entered Howard University in Washington, D.C., changed her first name from Chloe to Toni, and began studying under strong African-American spokesmen, including poet Sterling Brown and philosopher and critic Alain Locke, a Rhodes scholar who edited The New Negro. She graduated with a B.A. in 1953 and completed a master's degree in English at Cornell two years later, with a concentration in the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.

The Bluest Eye is where I want to focus, it being her first published novel, and one that I've re-read over the last few weeks, with fresh eyes. The novel focuses on Pecola Breedlove, a lonely, young black girl living in Ohio in the late 1940s. Through Pecola, Morrison exposes the power and cruelty of white, middle-class American definitions of beauty. Pecola is driven mad by her consuming obsession for white skin and blonde hair – and not just blue eyes, but the bluest ones. A victim of popular white culture and its pervasive advertising, Pecola believes that people would value her more if she weren't black. If she were white, blonde, and very blue-eyed, she would be loved. Pecola is abused by almost everyone in the novel so I urge you to read the book for yourself as my focus here is with the way that Pecola, a little black girl in the 1940s, still resides in a few black girls and women around the globe now, in our modern 21st century.

Moving on now as this blog post is meant to be a celebratory one! I have to say that Toni Morrison's works have not only educated and enlightened me, they have made a difference to my own creative writing choices. It is a subtle writing process that I'm talking about and when I reflect back on the compiling of Brown Eyes, my first anthology of black and mixed-race women's writing, it is here where Toni Morrison's influence lies. Of course I cannot say that it was only Morrison's influences that led me to taking the plunge into what was then an unknown business, i.e. putting a book together, etc. There were many influences that come to mind, many black female writers from Africa, the US, the Caribbean and the UK, whose works impressed upon my writing choices.

However, what made Morrison particularly influential was that her writing choices of works made no apology for an all-black cast, for exploring and exposing those taboo subjects of racial and sexual tensions within a historical context and from an African-American female perspective. Not only did this provide me, a Black-British/mixed-race woman living in London, with a wonderful literary landscape in which to delve - for Morrison's works have such depth, even a re-read is a 'new' experience - it gave me the authority, the guts to write exactly what I wanted, from a black female perspective with confidence and a vision that this is the work I am meant to do!

My third anthology Hair Power Skin Revolution through the genre of poetry and personal essays, explores and captures where black and mixed-race women are with their perspectives on hair and skin – and again we see similarities to Pecola Breedlove in that women are still coming to terms with and battling those Euro-centric perceptions of 'white' beauty, of straightened versus 'natural' hair, of why over the last 10 years, skin lightening creams are selling more now than ever before! There is obviously a huge difference now to the 1940's in that we do have the freedom to reject those wider notions of what 'beauty' is. I've long ago stopped buying those glossy women's magazines, since they aren't talking to, let alone representative, of me and many women I know.

Much good writing is multi-layered and complex. It is precisely this diversity and complexity, which makes literature rewarding and exhilarating. What I love and admire most about Morrison is that she is a spellbinding weaver of stories, which mix both the historical real and the magical, supernatural and the imaginative in people's lives. More importantly, as a key African-American female writer, Morrison has rewritten and revitalised a history, which largely ignored African-Americans and women in particular.

A Nobel prize winner and major voice in Black writing, Morrison said she set out to write the novels which she wanted to read, but couldn't find – novels about the joys and pains of everyday life for African-American people, at different points in history. Morrison's work is energetic and lively; it is beautifully, lyrically and dramatically written, and engages the reader in compelling issues about equality, and racial and sexual politics. It is also immensely entertaining, tragic, ironic, amusing, and enriched with fascinating details of people's lives. Her stories are gripping, emotional, drawn from both a literary and an oral tradition; they appeal to a wide and international readership. Not an 'easy' read but Morrison always rewards the reader by way of her language devices and choices. It's well worth the 'work'.

That I get so much value as a writer/reader when I engage with Morrison's works is putting it mildly. Despite the thousands of miles that separate me from Morrison physically, I feel connected to her works on so many different and wider levels. I embrace the similarities and the differences and share my ideas and perspectives learned along the way.

So while I continue to keep an eye on Toni Morrison and her literature, I feel particularly safe, secure and free to continue exploring my own creative writing on issues of race, relationships, identity, gender and community, thereby airing my voice(s) and simultaneously discovering new insights into the art of creativity.


Friday, 21 September 2012

In Conversation with Paula David

Paula David has performed her poetry all over London, held rehearsed readings for three of her plays and is currently completing a teenage fantasy novel.  She loves to create and endeavours to continue.

I first met Paula David at one of my Shangwe Poetry events in the Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden, London, where Paula did an open mic spot. I soon realised how talented Paula was and so she was featured in a future Shange event. I particularly liked that Paula's creativity extended to singing and found out that Paula was far more comfortable singing lyrics than reciting poetry - that was then. Recently, Paula attended an Arvon Writing Retreat and so I was eager to find out more about how that went...

Nicole Moore (NM): How did your interest in singing and then writing start and what is your favourite writing genre?

Paula David (PD): I joined my first band at fifteen and sang in many bands for several years.

I’ve always written poetry and songs so when I began to gig less, because of motherhood, poetry naturally took over the song writing. Once my daughters were older I began to perform some of my poetry, it just seemed natural to me for there to be some singing included.

NM: Where do you see your artistic talents progressing, e.g. singing or performing poetry?

PD: I have written three plays, several short stories and I am now writing my second novel. I perform poetry and also gig as a singer. I enjoy it all and will continue to divide my time in this way until it no longer works/makes sense or is enjoyable.

NM: What influences your writing of songs and poems?

PD: Life, relationships, people I meet, my children, experiences.

NM: You studied an MA Creative & Professional Writing at Brunel, please share with us the academic and artistic experience.

PD: I found the research elements very enjoyable but putting essays together, I have to admit, was tedious. I learnt a huge amount about writing technique and my writing moved forward in leaps and bounds.

There was a module on writing in the community. I discovered wellbeing through creative writing, self discovery through writing, and the range of community projects possible. These types of creative writing were a revelation to me and I’m still exploring the possibilities and will be for some time.

NM: Paula, tell us about your experience as a Writer in Residence in Leytonstone East London?

PD: This was an amazing experience. I worked with a diverse group of local writers to produce an anthology of poems and stories on the theme of identity. There were three events attached to the project and the anthology was launched 9th Sept. The experience has taught me so much and I’m now looking for funding to repeat the project.

NM: Earlier this year, you organised a writers' retreat - a long weekend in a quiet cottage - how did that project materialise?

PD: I have experienced two Arvon retreats which were inspiring, informative and very enjoyable. Both retreats gave me direction within my writing and helped me set new goals. Arvon retreats are very expensive and I wanted to repeat parts of the experience on a smaller budget. I gathered a group of five writers and we spent three days, doing writing exercises in the mornings, working on our own pieces, in the afternoon, and sharing our work after dinner. It was a great experience and I’m planning to repeat it in November 2012.

NM: What has been your moment of the year?

PD: I have had a great writing year. I’ve been published in three anthologies, experienced being writer in residence and started a new novel. I think I have more than one moment this year. Can I choose all three?

NM: Paula, please share any writing/singing tips?

  • Try to write something every day, no matter how short.
  • The editing and shaping of your writing is the crucial stage, take your time.
  • Try to occasionally approach your writing from different angles e.g use music to inspire, visit art exhibitions for ideas etc.
  • Read widely

Thursday, 30 August 2012

On Becoming an Editor

“There's no way a person becomes an editor. One simply decides that one is, and sets about doing it.” (courtesy of

Umm, if I'd known this when I set about seeking contributions for my first anthology Brown Eyes, I may have been heard screaming, that can't be right – but there's some truth in those words.

I can't speak for other editors out there; my reality has to be different. Why? Because it wasn't until my publisher Jeremy Thompson (of Troubadour) sent me the Brown Eyes front cover proof, which stated my name in fairly large print followed by 'Editor'. At first, I was a bit taken aback having perceived myself as a writer first and foremost and an anthology creator at best (yeah, I was driving in fog!).

So I immediately got on the phone and called Jeremy for clarity – the conversation went something like this:

“Hi Jeremy, how are you?”
“Hi Nicole, I'm fine, you?”
“Yes, I'm good, look Jeremy, the book cover's great but it says I'm the Editor.”
“Well, you are the Editor, Nicole, as in you've commissioned the work and had overall responsibility along with the control of book design and so on and so forth.”

It didn't take longer than a few seconds for the penny to drop and for my somewhat slightly embarrassed self to say, “Of course Jeremy, I just hadn't quite seen it but, you’re right!”

Not wanting to continue driving in fog by this new revelatory discovery, I still needed more clarification (yeah I know!) so I browsed the Internet and lo and behold, I found this to be absolutely spot on. Jeremy was of course 100% correct and I felt reassured when I saw before me a list of an Editor's Role:
  • Developing a clear vision for the book
  • Appointing contributors and editing and approving their contributions
  • Liaising with Publishers re: publishing and/or marketing contracts
  • Deciding on book title, what text to use, book cover design, book size, number of copies printed and book leaflets, etc.
  • Checking the book proofs and preparing the index
  • Keeping the project on schedule and to length
  • Assisting in the marketing of the book

Yet behind the scenes of the Editor Role, I have to add it helps a lot if you also love (or at least like a lot) language, words in any form, i.e. books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. I've definitely got a passion and that's why I've often got my head in a book – yeah it helps if you read extensively. Funnily enough, in the 80's I used to teach typing at an Adult Education Institute and would spot an error a mile away, much to the dismay of my students. This in-built word radar approach helps a lot when you're proofreading.

My route to Editor-hood was through the freelance writer one, although that's not essential of course, but I'm glad that's how I stumbled into editing. There is definitely an art to editing, except you're much more business-like about it, ensuring there's an acceptable structure and that the end product is worthy of a space on the book shelves. Adopting a schizophrenic-like approach that embraces creativity and business can help, as you really need to wear both these hats simultaneously, but it's a different artistic process this editing lark, especially when editing creative works like poems and personal writing as was the case for me. Guidelines need to be followed, criteria developed and strongly adhered to particularly as two of my books were funded by the Arts Council England, and so you learn on the job. By my third book though, I had enough experience to confidently enjoy the whole artistic and business-like process as I knew so much more this time around.

I'd really like to hear from any Editors or would be Editors out there, so please do feel free to make a comment or ask me a question. I'll do my best to answer your queries!

For more on becoming an editor – check out:

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

In Conversation with Adelaide Damoah

Adelaide Damoah is a British artist and writer of Ghanaian descent whose work combines African and Western influences while highlighting social issues. Adelaide's d├ębut exhibition entitled Black Brits, (2006) was featured on BBC News, Channel 5 News and other regional and local media outlets in the UK. Adelaide has had four solo shows to date in the UK including Supermodels, Black Lipstick, and a domestic violence exhibition for a registered charity, the National Centre for Domestic Violence. Adelaide is currently working on a series of Art Success interviews, which are published via a popular arts and culture magazine in the UK called Lime, her own blog and an art blog called Contemporary and Modern Art. Adelaide will be publishing 100 of her Art Success series interviews in a book in 2013.

Nicole Moore (NM): In your biography, at your website: you state, 'I paint because I have always had an inherent need to express myself creatively.' Could you elaborate?

Adelaide (AD): I was always a dreamy child. I would sit in my room and stare out of the window wistfully. I fantasised about strange creatures and other worldly things and I would do my best to draw them. I drew all over my note books and even my bedroom wall, much to my parents chagrin. In secondary school, I took GCSE art. It was then that I learned about the artist Frida Kahlo and how she expressed herself, her life experiences, emotions, dreams and fantasies, through her work. I became fascinated with her after seeing an exhibition of her work in London. This was in the 90's. One of our projects was called “Myself.” We were told to look at the work of Frida Kahlo and absorb how she expressed “herself” through her work. How she documented “herstory.” I ended up producing a painting of myself, a self-portrait. The face was smiling slightly, but her forehead was opened up and there was a crying eye inside. From that point on I was hooked! Expressing my teen angst in that way soothed my soul. After that, every relationship became punctuated with some piece of artwork; physical pain was expressed through my work. Emotional pain, joy, pleasure...everything I could express, I expressed in strange fantasy like drawings, from childhood, all the way through university and into my working life as an adult. It is the way I have always been and the way I always will be. It is just who I am.

NM: When did you start painting?

AD: I used acrylics and water colours from secondary school onwards as a hobby. I started to use oils in around 2000. I bought an oil painting instruction book and taught myself out of boredom and sheer pain during a time when I was not very well.

NM: What influences your art?

AD: Everything and nothing. I am someone who believes that art is a visual representation of the spirit of the times. Zeitgeist. Social issues, current events, the goings on in my own little world, my emotional state, a pretty or handsome face, love, sex, relationships, nature, a colour, a song, beauty other artists or simply just the need to create. It is difficult to explain... Other artists influence me a lot. Especially since I have been doing the Art Success interview series.

NM: In your video Adelaide Damoah the Painter, you say that 'art came from a point of pain'. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

AD: I kind of eluded to it earlier. In the year 2000, I was diagnosed with a debilitating chronic illness called endometriosis. It has since progressed and I now also have adenomyosis. The short version is that it is a painful condition which affects the womb of some women. I have had lots of medical procedures and hormone treatments. After my initial diagnosis, I was off sick for roughly five months. I had gotten used to using art as a crutch for emotional issues anyway. This was like a continuation. The illness freed me to an extent. It gave me more time to express myself in the way that I wanted to. In a way which took me to another place in my head and made me feel so much better about the rest of the world. That is what I meant by that statement. Essentially, my work took on a new life and I was able to take it more seriously because of the pain of my condition. If it were not for endo, I would not have been an artist.

NM: Your first exhibition was called Black Brits, what inspired you to choose this theme?

AD: In 2005, I met a business man who convinced me that I was ready to have an exhibition. At the time, I only had quite small scale works which were very personal to me. I have always had an interest in social issues and race is a subject which is particularly close to my heart. I knew that I wanted to make large works and I knew that I wanted the work to be reflective of something real. One night, after a heavy night with some of my best friends, we sat and talked. I had made a number of paintings for them already, so they knew my work and I had known them since I was a teen, so they knew me. We got to discussing race and how we felt as black British young people. We moved on to how certain iconic people were elevated beyond their race while us ordinary folk sometimes felt that it was an impenetrable barrier to a lot of things,not that that stopped us of course. We mulled over what Princess Diana would look like if she were born black and if she would ever have been a princess in the UK if she were. It is obvious what the answer is to that one...anyway, that is how the idea was born. A deep conversation between intoxicated friends!

NM: What made you choose the theme of Supermodels in your next Exhibition?

AD: I was really very interested in social issues and capturing the spirit of the times. The issue in 2006 which caught the imaginations of so many people around the world for some reason was the size zero debate. The whole thing was sparked off because a model by the name of Anna Carolina Reston died from anorexia-related complications. Apparently, many people were telling her that she needed to lose weight in order to make it as a model in the fashion industry. I am sure it was more complicated than that, but ultimately, she developed anorexia nervosa and it killed her. Discussions about how the media and fashion models impacted the mental health and self-esteem of young people were raging via all media outlets. It was a subject which could not be ignored and that got my creative juices flowing and Supermodels was born. After much discussion with close friends, especially my best friend, I started making the work.

NM: How difficult has it been to establish yourself as an artist in such a tough and competitive market?

AD: Firstly, I am no where near being established. I have been in the game for just six years. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn and I relish the challenge. Yes, it has been challenging to say the least. Apart from one, I have organised and funded all of my solo shows myself with the help of close friends and family who really believe in me. To get to this point, I have had knockbacks and issues, but that is what it is all about; the journey, enjoying the journey and attacking the challenges because that is what these things that others call obstacles are. They are little challenges. I would not use the word difficult. I would say to date, I have faced a number of challenges and I am still facing different challenges all the time. I get nervous, I get doubts, but deep down, there is a will and a stubborn drive that will not let me quit. This is it for me. This is my life. Art is my husband.

NM: How did it feel to see your art work merged with the article I wrote, Exploring Black Sexuality, published in Trespass Magazine in 2008?

AD: I was deeply flattered! Flattered because the piece itself was insightful and intriguing and much of what was written expressed my own thoughts and feelings about my own sexuality as a black woman. Specifically, as a black woman who was born and bred in the UK where confusing messages regarding my looks and hence my sexuality were sometimes sent and painfully received. I felt that my Black Lipstick paintings which illustrated the piece went well with it. Also, much like the article itself, Black Lipstick was about much more than its title.

NM: Adelaide, please share any tips for those aspiring painters out there?

  • Learn. Every day, learn your craft. Practice every single day. Go to university if you can. Never ever stop learning.
  • Understand that it will take time and sacrifice. Patience, diligence, tenacity. You must have all of these qualities in order to progress as an artist or as any kind of freelance or self-employed person. Know that the formula for success is 10,000 hours of practice, or 10 years before you will start to see some “success.” Art stars rarely get launched overnight or straight out of university. For most people, it takes serious work. You must have the passion for your art if you are to last. It must be like food for you otherwise you may as well get a nine-to-five job.
  • Be prepared. There is no such thing as luck. 'Luck is where preparation meets opportunity'. That is one of my favourite sayings, alongside 'Procrastination is a thief of time!' So work all the time. Keep producing work and learning everything you can about the art world and the business of art.
  • Be social. Network. This can mean going to art events if you can afford to. Socialise online. Social media is your friend. I have sold work and had well-attended exhibitions all because of social media. If not for social media, I would not be able to afford to pay for publicists and advertising to promote my shows.
  • Be friends with other artists. No one understands what you are going through more than other artists! Having a support system of artist practitioners is so important for morale. In addition, hang around with artists who are better than you! Learn from them. Do not be threatened. Everyone has their own unique journey and you can always learn from the next person. By hanging around with those who are more skilled than you, unwittingly, you stretch yourself and challenge yourself to be better. Asking questions helps form relationships and most artists are happy to help or give advice when asked nicely. Aside from this, artists often recommend each other to their respective galleries and galleries listen to their artists.
Contemporary and Modern Art Blog: