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Black Writers Network's Ioney Smallhorne Talks New Anthology When We Speak

7 July 18 interview: Aly Stoneman
illustrations: Alex Vine

When We Speak: An Anthology of Black Writing in Nottingham is a new collection showcasing the work of nine poets from the city’s Black Writers Network. The pamphlet, edited by Panya Banjoko and published by New Art Exchange in association with Nottingham Black Archive, “challenges how blackness is seen or is expected to be seen” and aims to raise awareness of the continuing rich literary tradition of the African Caribbean community in Nottingham. We caught up with one of the poets included in the book: writer, filmmaker, and educator Ioney Smallhorne

Tell us about your poem, Bully
I was inspired to write this poem while I was the spoken-word educator in a Nottingham City school. It started life as a two-page rant about inequalities in schools, how education needs to foster strategies to promote wellbeing for students and staff, and how schools need more diverse teaching staff. I was cussing the curriculum, the architecture and decor, Gove and even Thatcher. But essentially I wanted to be a voice for the young student who, at that time of having a teacher abuse his power, was voiceless. I stripped back the rant and set the story free.

What are you aiming to communicate with this work?
Fundamentally, that bullying only breeds more bullies. Communicating with a young person using aggression, intimidation and threats is not teaching that young person to communicate positively or to have a positive outlook on life.

How does it feel to be included in When We Speak?
It always feels fantastic to have work published, for your writing to be recognised. This pamphlet feels more than that, given that it’s an anthology connected to Nottingham from writers of colour. That hasn’t been done in twenty-odd years since the Chronicle of Minority Arts’ (CHROMA) anthology, The Writers Club Book One.

I implore people to read diversely, to read an author who is not of their class or race or nationality.

What’s next?
I’m in the early stages of writing a one-woman show, combining spoken word, pole acrobatics and film to intertwine the narratives of my personal experience of domestic abuse, the myth of Io and the history of misogynoir: misogyny directed specifically at black women. I’ve also had a few poems selected for an anthology to be published by Peepal Tree Press later this year.

Who do you think people should be reading and listening to at the moment?
I implore people to read diversely. Reading widely really helps to shape and open up your perception on people, current affairs and general life. Recently, I’ve been reading Bell Hooks’ Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, while a book I regularly return to is Women Who Run With The Wolves: Contacting the Power. Fiction-wise, I’d recommend Kei Miller’s Augustown and The Last Warner Woman. I encourage people to listen to their own inner dreams; to the stories of the oppressed, to young people and to the birds singing in the morning. I hope people will attend Nottingham Black Archive’s annual event, Read A Black Author In Public on Thursday 20 October in Market Square, where we will also be sharing work from the anthology.

When We Speak can be purchased from Five Leaves Bookshop, the Natty shop in West End Arcade, and by contacting [email protected]

Ioney is currently running a GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds to attend an Arvon writing retreat.

Nottingham Black Archive website 

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