What? Litro’s Literary Weekender – a series of events ranging from panel discussions to parties, celebrating black literature
When? 25 – 28th May
Where? Various Locations, including the Picadilly and Tottenham Court Road Waterstones
How much? Some events are free, talks are £5, the RAP Party is £10, and a full weekend pass is £20
There seemed something subtly symbolic about the fact that this event was taking place in the monumental Waterstones in Piccadilly. It was our first time visiting the massive, six floor building, which stands as a grandiose if slightly overwhelming testament to the vast capital that London generates and to the pursuit of knowledge signified by books. It felt as though we were reclaiming our space and affirming our belonging within this city that isn’t always welcoming of people of colour, and also within a publishing industry in which our demographics are wildly underrepresented – indeed, statistics bleakly show that only a small proportion of the books published in the UK each year across the various genres are authored by black and ethnic minority talent.
The Litro Literary Weekender crucially seeks to fill this void in representation, directing well deserved attention towards the multitude of work by black authors and cultural producers. Apart from publishing a free magazine exploring the ever expanding literary landscape, the team at Litro also program an annual series of events featuring mammoth, seminal figures such as Yinka Shonibare (MBE), as well as newer talent such as Zoe Adjonyoh and Inua Ellams, the respective minds behind Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen and The Barbershop Chronicles. The events include exceedingly interesting panel discussions about topics such as Art and Identity, exploring the different forms of visual art and how these might be harnessed for social commentary, to reflect the times, and to grapple with difficult realities. Also included are more jovial yet nevertheless enlightening events like Inua Ellams’ RAP Party.
The former event which was held in the Picadilly Waterstones saw artist Yinka Shonibare sit with broadcaster and author Ekow Eshun, philosophising about art and reflecting on their respective practices thus far. The audience listened intently and intervened interactively, pondering questions such as how biography influences artistry, how philosophical and sociological theory such as marxism and post-structuralism might inform artistic output, and whether all art is necessarily political. To this latter point, while Shonibare readily acknowledged that art often serves to critique, subvert and shift narratives, and also divulged some of the political standpoints within his own, he also expressed his appreciation of “art for art’s sake”. He pointed out that he does not consider himself to be a “teacher” but that he simply creates to share, and engage, and enjoy. With affirmations such “no one can be better than you at being black”, and “your blackness is your most valuable currency”, and “the whole of black history is about looking good”, the event ended up being a therapeutic celebration of blackness in all its diversity.
Similarly, Inua Ellams’ RAP Party took place in the Waterstones on Tottenham Court Road. Upon entry, visitors are welcomed by the sound of classic hip-hop songs such as Kanye West’s ‘Spaceship’ and Common’s ‘The Light’ coming from downstairs. As visitors descend down the stairs, they pass the vinyl records erected on the wall, which serve to conjure a perfect aesthetic for the event. The concept behind the event is simple, yet extremely effective: poets and rappers perform a few of their own creations to an audience, before nominating rap songs for the DJ to play thereafter. Before the DJ spins their chosen records, the artist speaks to the audience for a few minutes about why they personally relate to the songs that they’ve chosen and the place that these songs have in their biographies. The intensely intimate connection that individuals can have with music was illuminated here. The standout performance of the evening was given by the Young People’s Poet Laureate for London, Caleb Femi, who performed moving pieces about simultaneously “Godless” and “Satanless” “young boy[s] from the South”, before speaking about the centrality of Giggs to the adolescence of young southerners, and nominating “Whipping Excursion” as one of the songs the DJ would play on his behalf.
The Litro Literary Weekender is one of the few events that shines the spotlight on black literature in Britain, and it manages to do so with style and excellence. There will be an event on the schedule that will suit everyone from the most academic, or conservative, to the fun loving and light hearted – and everyone in between.