Tuesday, 6 December 2011

LA Experience!

Los Angeles (LA) is often billed as the “Creative Capital of the World”, due to the fact that one in every six of its residents works in a creative industry. So, it was with much excitement that I arrived in LA on Thanksgiving (24th November) and spent 10 days there checking out whether this fact was accurate. It is!

The performing arts play a major role in LA's cultural identity and I felt that almost immediately – well the 2nd night actually, when I went along with my friend Mekada Graham, to Santa Monica beach, a very cool place where we came across a few talented street performing artists. First up was Naia Kete http://www.naiakete.com/ who sang and played guitar with two other musicians – fabulous! Then something completely different in the name of street violin performed by Josh Vietti http://www.joshvietti.com/ who is on his way to becoming the world's premier Pop violinist. Josh brings the two worlds of classical music and pop together in an original manner that has not been done before. He crosses genres, ethnicities and age – brilliant!

Next it was the California African-American Museum (CAAM) http://www.caamuseum.org/ Walking through the doors at CAAM and into the galleries, the impact of history, beauty and discovery can take your breath away. It began with Women: Game Changers, the giant banners celebrating 70 women of colour and achievement, their names and greatness undervalued, lesser known and here celebrated. In the Gallery of Discovery, we honoured the nameless, faceless ones who made it possible for African Americans to grow in power and beauty. Miguel Covarrubias was enchanted by the sights, sounds and colours of African American people. He captured that throughout his career.

In Places of Validation, Art and Progression, history and art kept unfolding as we looked deeper into what the world was like for Black artists, collectors, galleries and other institutions between 1940-1980. Just walking through, standing, looking and soaking up history, ancestry, I was left with a great insight into just what these people had done. It felt triumphant.

A thoroughly wonderful historic experience was a visit to The Getty Villa, which is dedicated to the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria and modeled after the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house in Herculaneum buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Because most of the Villa dei Papiri remains excavated, many of the Getty Villa's architectural details are based on elements drawn from other ancient Roman homes in the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae.

Over 1,200 works of art from the J. Paul Getty Museum's permanent collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities are on view at the Getty Villa. The galleries, organised by theme, include Gods and Goddesses, Dionysos and the Theatre and Stories of the Trojan War, among others. I particularly enjoyed the gardens; the Outer Peristyle, Inner Peristyle, Herb Garden, and East Garden, which are planted with species from the Mediterranean region.

On 29th November, my friend Mekada had arranged for me to do a talk at the California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) http://www.csudh.edu/  where she is an Associate Professor. I shared a summary of my freelance work in the field of literary arts over the last 15 years, which included studying, writing, editing, community development/activist work, guest appearances on mainstream radio, book productions and readings, hosting monthly Shangwe Poetry events at the Poetry CafĂ© and much more.

CSUDH is located in a 346-acre campus and educates the most ethnically and racially-diverse student body in the US. Hispanic people comprise 40% of the student body, and African-American people 31%. White people represent 18% while 6% are Asian or Pacific Islander people and 0.6% are American Indian. CSUDH serves one of the poorest areas of LA County.

One totally unexpected and pleasant surprise was discovering that one of my favourite icons of the 70s was appearing at Hammer Museum http://www.hammer.ucla.edu/ on 1st December – what a great start to the month! The legendary Angela Davis and author Robin Levi participated in Hammer Conversations debating recent work, which has focused on incarceration and the criminalisation of communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. Angela Davis' most recent books are Abolition Democracy:Beyond Prisons, Torture, and Empire and Are Prisons Obsolete? A book signing followed the conversation, where I made several attempts to take some pictures.

Then it was a quick look at Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, a comprehensive exhibition, which examines the vital legacy of the city's African American visual artists, who – through their work and their connections with other artists from a variety of ethnic backgrounds – made up an important part of the creative community. Including 140 works by 35 artists, many of whom are not well known to the public, Now Dig This! expands the art historical record, placing the work of these African American practitioners within the context of the movements, trends, and ideas that fuelled the arts in Los Angeles during this period. Many of these artists also responded to the civil rights and Black Power movement, and their work reflects the changing sense of what constituted African American identity and American culture.

Photos in ascending order:
Naia Kete;
Naia Kete and her band;
Josh Vietti;
Nicole Moore at California African American Museum;
Nicole Moore at the Getty Villa;
Angela Davis at her book signing at Hammer Museum.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Digital Way

On 8th November, I attended The Digital Way, a Spread the Word's Writers' Autumn Programme event in association with Foyles at Charing Cross Road, London.  This was a discussion on digital opportunities for writers. 

The Panel consisted of:

Charles Beckett
Relationship Manager - Digital and Creative Economy, Arts Council London.
Charles helps organisations and writers take advantage of digital technology.  He has worked with a number of publishers and writers on their digital projects and commissioned a report from the Institute for the Future of the Book on Digital Possibilities for Literature in 2008.

Dan Franklin
Digital Editor, Random House.
Dan is responsible for direct-to-digital commissioning, cross-group digital publishing initiatives and consultant to the publishing divisions on various digital projects.  He was previously digital editor at Canongate Books.

Danuta Kean
Publishing Analyst and Cultural Commentator.
Danuta's work appears in national media, including the Financial Times, Independent on Sunday and Daily Mail.  She is currently Books Editor for Mslexia magazine and Deputy Director of The Creative Enterprise Cenntre at Brunel University where she teaches the Creative Writing MA.

I soon learned that there have never been so many opportunities for writers to reach readers.  E-books, apps, social media, podcasts and self-publishing have enabled writers frustrated by traditional publishing to find a market for their work that is alive with creative opportunities.  Along with these opportunities are the challenges as many more writers are using innovative ways to create and produce their work making this just as competitive as the more traditional publishing methods.  It is therefore important that you judge the best route for yourself.

Content is important; a strong voice is essential and targeting communities is one way of getting your voice heard.  Using social media, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc, can ensure you engage with your audience in ways that can open up all kinds of opportunities.  Blogs can also help as you can post a sample of your work and request comments/feedback.  Readers then become much more valuable to you as you interact with them in your specialist field.

As for self publishing, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that publishers are interested in new writers particularly those who have a successful writing platform already, so it is worth getting in touch with them.

To find out more about Spread the Words' Autumn Programme visit:
http://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/

Thursday, 13 October 2011

National Poetry Day

On 6th October, National Poetry Day, I joined in a celebratory afternoon of free events presented by The Poetry Society and Southbank Centre, held in The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall. This year the theme was 'Games' and featured readings by leading UK poets. Joining them were some rising stars of poetry from the Foyle Young Poets and SLAMbassadors UK. Comperes: Joelle Taylor and Yemisi Blake took us through the following line up, which included:

Critically acclaimed poet and former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen who read alongside Times literary star Laura Dockrill and 'Fire Poet' Philip Wells.

Imtiaz Dharker and Glyn Maxwell, judges of this year's Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award, read their own work with previous winners Helen Mort and Richard O'Brien. We also heard exciting young performance poets Naga MC and Catherine Labiran, previous winners of SLAMbassadors UK. Then it was eyes down for Poetry Bingo with Sally Crabtree.

Bringing the games to a close was award-winning poet Jackie Kay together with Southbank Centre Artists in Residence Simon Armitage and Lemn Sissay, and National Poetry Day Poet in Residence Jo Shapcott. They were joined by National Poetry Day's Jo Bell and Eric Gregory Award-winner Ahren Warner, who launched the latest edition of Poetry Review.

This has to be one of my favourite events of the year as I felt privileged to be in the presence of such artistic excellence, such a wonderful blend of talented individuals. Jackie Kay, who I was particularly looking forward to seeing, was all I expected her to be, especially having recently read her brilliant autobiographical book, Red Dust Road (2010). She is not only a well-acclaimed and talented poet/writer, she's very witty and made us all roar with laughter. I felt inspired for some days after the event, the fond memories of this day will be everlasting.

Photo: Jackie Kay

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Great Debaters


On 22nd September, I had the unique opportunity to watch a screening of The Great Debaters at Kensington Library Theatre, presented by Black History Walks http://www.blackhistorywalks.co.uk/  and Images of Black Women Film Festival http://www.imagesofblackwomen.com/ The Great Debaters is a 2007 American biopic period drama film directed by and starring two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey and her production company, Harpo Productions.

The film co-stars Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise, Nate Parker, Denzel Whitaker and more.  The screenplay was written by Robert Eisele.  This remarkable film is based on a true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College, Texas.  In 1935, he inspired students to form the school's first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

I enjoyed the film alot and found it refreshing to see black characters in positive roles.  But more than that, it was inspirational and educational as I'd never heard of The Great Debaters before. The fact that this film has never been picked by any UK distributor saddens me but doesn't surprise me.  I've often questionned why is it that some of the best black films are being blocked from reaching our TV screens; it feels like a conspiracy to me.  I've witnessed this for far too long.  When I spent 3 months in Jamaica from September - December 2007, I was amazed and pleasantly surprised at just how many excellent black (American) films were screened along with other live concerts, e.g. Justin Timberlake (which was outstanding by the way). 

Thankfully, there is now an outlet for seeing films such as these and I look forward to being inspired further at future screenings.

For more about The Great Debaters:

www.thegreatdebatersmovie.com/site.html

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Respect the 'Fro


On 27th August I attended Respect the 'Fro, an event dedicated to the Afro held downstairs at Cottons - Rhum Shack in Islington, London, a lovely venue with a Caribbean Restaurant upstairs.  It was all about the kinks and curls and respecting the Afro.  This was a great opportunity to meet and greet natural beauties who showcased and displayed today's styles and tomorrow's headliners.  I was there to promote my latest anthology, Hair Power - Skin Revolution.

It was great to meet likeminded women, particularly Sonia of Evelyn Products, based in Cardiff, whose Fro Her range is formulated to naturally alleviate many common hair ailments.  Created by experienced cosmetic chemists, their range only contains ingredients which work with the hair's natural moisture balance and pH balance.  For more visit:  http://www.evelynproducts.com/

My favourite was Belinda's presentation on her journey to natural hair, referencing the film Malcolm X - the scene when Malcolm X (played by Denzel Washington) has his hair straightened.  Malcolm X has said that this action of wanting hair like a white man, was the first step towards self-degradation.  Belinda continued her powerful and inspirational talk by sharing some of the mistakes she made at the beginning of her natural hair journey, e.g. cutting her hair, dyeing her hair and using 'natural' relaxers. "There is no such thing," said Belinda. 

Belinda emphasised the need to do your own research using the Internet, or books.  In fact, Belinda has started to create her own products and is working on launching her hair care range next year.

Belinda's Hair Advice and Tips:

  • Take photos of your hair journey
  • Admire other Naturals BUT LOVE YOUR HAIR!
  • Not every product or hair tool is for you.
  • Find your own regimen, e.g. of washing/treating your hair
  • Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise (particularly the ends)
  • Use protective styling; protect the ends so that your're  not touching your hair everyday
For more visit Belinda's Blog:
http://www.4nappiness4eva.blogspot.com/

Her final words were
:

YOUR HAIR IS YOUR CROWN,
WEAR IT LIKE A QUEEN

Photos - Top: Belinda delivering her presentation;
Bottom: Nicole and Belinda.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Poetry, What's the Point?

On 26th August, I had the privilege of being in the presence of one of the UK's poetry greats, Benjamin Zephaniah, Poet-in-Residence at Keats House, Hampstead, London at an event called Poetry, What's the Point? This was one of a series of monthly events being held. The last time I saw Benjamin live was on 10th July 2009, at his exclusive show at the Southbank Centre, as part of the London Literature Festival 2009, where he read from new work and older favourites.

I arrived early and had the rare opportunity of talking to Benjamin who said, “The evening is an experiment, a kind of intimate talk amongst friends.” I selected Poetry, What's the Point particularly because of my love of poetry and this 'experiment', turned out to be much more than that. The bonus for all of us delighted folk in the audience was that it was a great platform to share what poetry means to us, starting with Benjamin telling us how using poetry to express his anger - particularly in the late seventies and early eighties when the police 'suss' laws meant that any excuse was used to arrest anyone who looked 'suspicious' - transformed negative feelings into something creative and powerful.  “Poetry was also a way of surviving through the National Front's and skinhead's presence on our streets” Benjamin said.

I shared how I write poetry that is mostly personal, with some that has political context depending on the theme and that I found the process revealing and sometimes cathartic as I worked out issues during the artistic process of writing in this way.  One thing was evident, that if you write poetry, make it so that it moves from the page to the stage at some point. Yes, consider performing; this is something Benjamin feels strongly about and even though he has books published, this wasn't always the case, especially in the early days of his writing career. Not everyone has reading books as a priority in their lives, what with all the fierce distractions of the Internet, computer games, etc, but people from all walks of life will gain such a lot from hearing poetry, in the same way it feels good to hear lyrics of a song rather than read them in a book. Of course, there's room for both but writing for the page with your reader being an individual audience is different from writing for the stage when you reach a much wider landscape. It's good to have a go at both, making those appropriate changes so that your poetry is as accessible as it can be.

This wonderfully interactive event gave everyone a golden opportunity to soak up the front-room style atmosphere and feel right at home. I left feeling refreshed, inspired and uplifted and urge anyone interested in poetry and any other form of creative writing to pay Benjamin Zephaniah a visit at his next event.

To find out more visit:
http://www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk/918/Benjamin-Zephaniah---Events.html
http://www.benjaminzephaniah.com/

Photo: Top – Benjamin Zephaniah & Nicole Moore (courtesy of Georgiana Jackson-Callen, Poet)

Sunday, 27 March 2011

My Nappy ROOTS

On 26th March I was invited to participate in a panel discussion after the screening of My Nappy Roots, A Journey Through Black Hair-itage, shown at the Rio Cinema in Hackney, East London. The event was organised by Sylviane Rano, Co-founder and festival Director of Images of Black Women Film Festival http://www.imagesofblackwomen.com/

My Nappy ROOTS tells its story largely through the voices of people who were, and are, instrumental in the changes that have influenced the cultural images, aesthetics and behaviour of Black Americans. Filmmakers Regina Kimbell and Jay Bluemke assemble a world-class line-up of celebrities such as Vivica A. Fox, Patti LaBelle, Ella Joyce and Malcolm-Jamal Warner to name but a few.

I found it particularly interesting watching the history of how the black hair industry, which includes the massive market for products such as 'human' hair and the hundreds of hair sheens and relaxer creams that saturate the high street shops, has developed and how those fast-selling products have slipped out of the control of the black folks who created them into the hands of anyone and everyone who seizes a business opportunity. There is no colour bar when it comes to making money!

The post-screening discussion panel included Margot Rodway-Brown, of Adornment, a natural hair care business and explored how black women adjust their self-images to the world they live in faced with the dominant messages they are bombarded with from the media and beauty industry.

I talked about my work as an Independent Publisher of Shangwe Press and my motivation behind the publication of my latest anthology of poems and personal essays, Hair Power Skin Revolution. Members of the audience shared their concerns about the sometimes lack of care at the receiving end of a hairdressing visit and I emphasised how important and essential it is that we as consumers take control of our hair and question hairdressers about the products they use, as there is often ignorance as to how risky these products may be and how one size doesn't fit all when it comes to the wide and varied textures of our hair.

There then followed a networking opportunity at the Open the gate cultural cafe a few hundred yards distance from the Rio Cinema, which is definitely a comfortable place to relax and chill. http://www.openthegate.org.uk/

Photo left to right: Nicole Moore, Margot Rodway-Brown & Sylviane Rano at Open the Gate cultural cafe

Friday, 11 March 2011

Hair Celebration




On 10th March I was invited to speak at Hair Celebration, an International Women's Day event inspired by my anthology Hair Power Skin Revolution. Over forty people attended the event, which was hosted and supported by John Egbo, Arc Artistic Director and his team and was held at the Art Arc in North London.

The event started with me reading a short extract from Hair Power Skin Revolution's Introduction, so as to give a little history and context of my ideas before the book was conceived. I spoke about the Black History Month project I initiated in October 2008, which involved establishing a Hair Stories Blog of short pieces during that month and how that evolved into widening the scope of the project and independently publishing an anthology of poems and personal essays (with the support of a Grants for the Arts Award).

Three of the anthology's contributors read their hair stories: Colette Machado read Naturally Relaxed, Patsy Antoine read Growing Roots and Brenda White read Hair to Stay. I read my poem called My Hair. Interwoven with the readings was a lively discussion with a wonderfully dynamic and talented audience and although us women outnumbered the men, the men's voices were welcomed and expressed and felt like a breath of fresh air. John Egbo's hosting skills created a well balanced atmosphere and ensured the event's celebration and humour stayed throughout some occasional intense discussion and was much appreciated by us all.

Leeto Thale, a talented male poet from the audience, shared his poetic perspective on black women and hair and his improvised and inspiring performance was well received judging by the cheering and loud applause. The event also featured "Miss Nappy-Head" sculptures by Jackie Mwanza.

Many thanks must go to John Egbo who supported the event and provided wine and light refreshments and to the contributors Colette Machado, Patsy Antoine and Brenda White who read their hair stories.

Arc is a centre dedicated to the appreciation of the arts, with a specialist interest and knowledge of promoting modern and contemporary African and Diaspora Art. For more information visit:


Photos courtesy of Chris (Arc Team) in ascending order L-R:

Nicole Moore, Brenda White (seated) Leeto Thale (standing)
Brenda White, Nicole Moore & Patsy Antoine
Colette Machado & Audience Members - John Egbo far right

Monday, 24 January 2011

New African Woman - Book Review

It's always a good thing to have your book reviewed so when Belinda Otas contacted me for an interview about Hair Power Skin Revolution, I eagerly accepted. The review has now been published in The New African Woman Magazine, Issue 8, (out now).

The New African Woman Magazine is such a refreshing read, full of inspirational articles and fashion that I can relate to. On page 58 Hair Revolution - has a special focus on why a lot of Black women are going back to their natural "roots" with an ever-growing number ditching the chemical relaxer and "human" hair weaves. (Hallelujah!)

The New African Woman Magazine was awarded 'Magazine of the Year' at the second annual Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts (BEFFTA) Awards, announced at the awards ceremony held last October.

To read the book review, (pages 96-98) please click on the following link:
http://headley.co.uk/headturner/NAWwinter2010

Friday, 21 January 2011

100: WORDS


Introducing Rowena Keaveny, a visual artist living in Ireland, inviting you to take part in an on-line project she recently started called 100:WORDS.

It examines and celebrates loss, love, life and the passing of time and asks people to describe the life they have experienced using 100 words or less.

You can see the project at:
http://www.lifein100wordsorless.wordpress.com/ or on facebook 100words. So far Rowena has received submissions from the USA, Canada, Finland, Italy, France, Australia, and the U.K. She is hoping that there will be a publication and short film to accompany the project but this will be determined by the amount and type of submissions received.

Please feel free to pass the details on to anyone you feel maybe interested in the project.