"So much things to say right now. We’ve got so much things to say." Bob Marley
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Praise and celebration for Out of Many Lit
The Jamaica Society Leeds is delighted to have hosted Out of Many Lit, a five-day festival celebrating some of the best Jamaican literature as well as top names in the literary world.
The festival began with the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, Olive Senior, in conversation with the UK’s Poet Laureate Simon Armitage at Howard Assembly Room for an extraordinary evening of literary excellence.
This was followed by a rare literary treat for budding creative writers wanting toexplore heritage in their work – a masterclass and brunch hosted by Olive Senior the following day.
Jamaican poet and activist Linton Kwesi Johnson was in conversation with the award-winning journalist Gary Younge as part of the festival – and received a standing ovation following his readings and insightful, witty conversation.
“I just want to thank the Jamaica Society Leeds for inviting me to participate in this long festival of celebration,” said Linton Kwesi Johnson.
“I am not a Jamaican nationalist but I am a Jamaican patriot and I am proud of my Jamaican roots.”
Journalist Gary Younge paid tribute to LKJ saying:
“In 1981 I saw Linton doing this poem Inglan is a Bitch – I grew up in Stevenage around not many Black people around the time of the uprisings in Brixton and Toxteth and elsewhere.
“I didn’t know you could do that..I didn’t know you could get up and say your truth, whatever your truth was… that you could call a place out, that you could say ‘Well, this is my reason’ and you might get a hearing for that.
“I’m considerably older now but I still remember – it gave me confidence, it gave me heart it gave me a sense of who I might be in this place.”
Out of Many Lit also saw Jamaica’s much-loved Calabash International Literary Festival bring a hint of the Treasure beach vibe to Leeds for a day-long literary takeover of Leeds Central Library with a stellar line-up of writers of Jamaican heritage, curated by Calabash co-founders Kwame Dawes and Justine Henzell. Some writers joked that they initially thought they would be going to Jamaica and not Leeds for Calabash Presents – but declared they were delighted to take part nonetheless.
Kwame is an internationally-acclaimed and Emmy Award-winning writer and was in sparkling conversation with Yvonne Brewster OBE, a revered author, director and founder of the UK’s oldest Black theatre company Talawa.
Four of the hottest UK fiction writers of Jamaica heritage shared their work at Calabash Presents in an event called Fyah: Sara Collins (Confessions of Frannie Langton), Kerry Young (Pao, Gloria) Alex Wheatle (Cane Warriors; Kemosha of the Caribbean) and Courttia Newland (A River Called Time; Small Axe)
Both Courttia and Alex spoke about the killing of unarmed Chris Kaba by police ahead of their readings.
There was also lyrical fire from poets Raymond Antrobus (All the Names Given), Roger Robinson (A Portable Paradise) and Tanya Shirley (The Merchant of Feathers).
Binta saw a moving tribute to Jean Binta Breeze from Jason Allen-Paisant, Malika Booker, Kadish Morris and Musufing Whyles.
The week also saw key heritage events, Pass It On showcasing young participants creative writing responses to conversations with first- and second-generation West Indians, and Kinship, an exciting cabaret-style evening of spoken word and music hosted by author and director Colin Grant who introduced five exceptional writers – Jason Allen-Paisant, Malika Booker, Khadijah Ibrahiim, Jacob Ross and Rommi Smith.
Festival director Susan Pitter said:
“If somebody had said to me at any time in my life that, in the space of a few days, I would be introducing the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, Olive Senior, the Poet Laureate of the UK, Simon Armitage, and be part of a festival organised by the Jamaica Society Leeds involving both young and emerging writers who are going to be the future of literature as well as some of the brightest stars in African Caribbean literature that this city has to offer and is proud of, and will also welcome some of the best writers that are out there with Calabash Presents, if someone would have said that I would have said ‘A lie yu ah tell’.
“Add to that if they had also said that I would be introducing a writer at the top of his game, who is applauded by the whole of the media sector, Gary Younge, I would have said again ‘A lie yu ah tell’.
“If you said to me I would be part of the same stage and the programme as an absolute icon of literature, of activism who stood up during the 70s and the 80s when I knew nothing of the world, who stood up for people like me, like us, who spoke for the voiceless and who stood firm in his conviction; if somebody said to me that I’d be on the same stage as Linton Kwesi Johnson I’d say something that you couldn’t repeat and it wouldn’t be ‘A lie yu ah tell’.
Out of Many Lit was part of the ongoing Out of Many Festival, organised by the Jamaica Society Leeds.
The festival began in May and runs until February 2023, and is being held to celebrate Jamaica’s 60 years of independence and the impact Jamaican culture and heritage has had on the UK and the world.