By Charlotte Stevenson
As York St. John marks Black History Month, Charlotte Stevenson discusses her first encounter with the poetry of Langston Hughes.
By Charlotte Stevenson
As York St. John marks Black History Month, Charlotte Stevenson discusses the Frederick Douglass event led by English Literature Subject Director, Anne-Marie Evans.
By Ellie-Anderson Ingham
I am currently trying to think of a word to encapsulate the sheer brilliance of the annual Black History Month talk which I attended yesterday. The ethos, which brought together provocative talks and inspiring speakers, was heart-warming. You could have heard a pin drop.
The English Literature and Creative Writing departments offer more than you may realise. There are secret perks hidden in the nooks and crannies of the offices – including a bookshelf full of freebies! There are places you can get your work published you might not of thought of, so in this blog post I aim to enlighten and surprise – have a read to find out what’s available to you!
Point Zero – A blog that this may appear on. Run by Tutor Adam Stock, the English Lit blog is a space for students to blog about their interests. You’ll find most of my posts revolve around sex with robots. Nothing is off-limits! http://blog.yorksj.ac.uk/englishlit/
Extra Lectures – Interested in a lecture but you’re not in the module? Email a tutor! Most tutors are more than happy to let you sit in on a lecture!
LGBT history month – LGBT History Month offers tonnes of events, 50 during February this year – to be exact, and a lot of them revolve around reading. From reading groups to pub poetry readings, don’t be afraid to tag along and talk gay writing! https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/events-calendar/events/lgbt-history-month-/
The Literary Festival – York holds an amazing Literary Festival. Including the likes of Sue Perkins and Mark Gatiss, the upcoming Literary festival has a whole host of events enabling networking, learning and open mic readings. https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/events-calendar/events/festivals/event-title-28032-en.html?timestamp=1490783160&ref=ecal&
Beyond The Walls – If you came to an open days, you may well have been handed a copy of the Beyond The Walls anthology. Run by students for students, the anthology is taking submissions until the 25th of February. Entry is free! https://www.facebook.com/BeyondtheWalls2017/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf
Student Showcase – An opportunity for students to give readings of their work to a wider, public audience! Currently taking submissions until the 28th of February, entry is free. https://www.facebook.com/YSJshowcase17/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf
Writing Workshops – Although not specifically for English Lit and Creative Writing students, keep an eye out around Holgate for leaflets on extra-curricular seminars on essential academic writing skills! An upcoming timetable of which can be found here: https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/media/content-assets/student-services/documents/Workshops-16-17-sem-2-programme-v2.pdf
Black History Month – Black History Month is developed mainly by the English Literature team. Frequently involving projects developed by students, and visiting authors, the month is inspiring and enriching – don’t miss it this October!
Writer in Residence – Royal Literary Fellow Mark Illis has been writing novels, short stories, TV and Radio dramas for around 30 years. He’s done it all, and can help you with developing your writing. If you head to a meeting, you’ll get 45 minutes of literary goodness. Check it out here: https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/student-services/learning-support/study-development/writer-in-residence/
Programme Representatives – Your elected Programme Reps are there to help – I’m one of them! Currently working with the SU to provide a book selling system in university, we are willing to voice any opinions you have about your course – let us know what you’d like to see, and stand for rep if you’d love to help with feedback collection and course development.
The University Website – The university website hosts a tonne of resources. Indexed here are the key writing materials: https://www.facebook.com/BeyondtheWalls2017/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf
And more! – Check your emails frequently and flag up opportunities as they roll in. Thanks to the email system here at YSJ, I’m currently involved in a scriptwriting project for a suicide prevention short and will soon be heading on a trip to London to learn about literature and bees! There really is no limit to what you can achieve when you embrace the huge volume of opportunities to hand. If you want something, don’t be afraid to enquire with careers services or your tutors!
From Black Panther to Luke Cage, the Comics Reading Group – held at YSJ in the last week of Black History Month – discussed the history and ideas about black characters in Marvel Comics. The initial presentation was an account of the history of black characters in marvel comics as well as some interesting readings of memos and letters specifically about diversity within marvel. While the group talked the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed; the room was full of fans which kept it from seeming like too much of an academic event. Discussion flowed easily after the riveting ice breaker – what superpower would you have? – And led into everyone’s feelings, fears, and even some furies concerning the subject.
It was refreshing to see that everyone had an opinion, as opposed to the awkward silences usually found amongst a group of strangers put on the spot. No matter what experiences of comic books or what racial background people had everyone was talking freely, sharing thoughts and ideas with relative ease. Because of this easiness a great many interesting points came up about the history of comic books and diversity.
Though comic books may not always be considered the highest forms of literature amongst academics, the general populace finds them riveting and (possibly due to the Hollywood obsession with the Marvel Cinematic Universe) inescapable. And it is through the comics and films that Black Panther has come into the public eye and won his popularity. However, this wasn’t always the case.
The history of black characters in any form has been a long and complicated one and it was no different for Marvel Comics. Black Panther first appeared in The Fantastic Four, introduced not as a hero, but as an ambiguous character who could be made into a villain if he was not received well by the fans. Though Black Panther wasn’t the first black super hero to get his own series; Luke Cage of Jessica Jones fame was the lucky first, unfortunately this representation was no better. The jive-talking detective was often seen badgering people for his payment after saving them, and eventually lost popularity before returning with the promise of “no more jive talk.”
Diversity in these comics didn’t just fail black men however, it failed women of all races quite drastically too. And much like the representation of black characters, the way women are depicted is still very much a work in progress. Titles such as Night Nurse and My Love painted women in submissive, sexualised roles that haven’t changed all that drastically considering recent controversy over Black Widow toys being left out of Avengers sales, and Wonder Woman’s poor depiction in Batman vs Superman.
There have been massive strides made in both racial and gender equality in comics however, as the reading group did start to discuss towards the end of the session. Black Panther has swept back into the lime light with a new comic series (written by a black artist!!) and even his own film, with the weight of his entire culture on his shoulders as the King of Wakanda. Whilst Jessica Jones portrays women as strong, confident, in spite of abusive relationships, whilst showing an interracial relationship between her and Luke Cage (who thankfully no longer takes payment for his super hero services).
Overall the reading group was a wonderful success. Conversation flowed from comics, to film, to history, to the Black Lives Matter movement, and back to comics again. The event was an excellent example of how Black History Month is still relevant and how far we have come as a society, but also how much further we still have to go. The one small issue was the event was that everyone wanted to keep talking, and took to Twitter to continue talking! Hopefully these discussions can be revisited in future events just like this one.
by Amy McCarthy
Live jazz music fills the air and guests are chattering, armed with a glass of wine. York St. John University has transformed its Arts Foyer into a guided history of 1930s Harlem, New York.
Last year a group of second year English Literature students on the ‘Literature at Work’ module created resources based on the Harlem Renaissance and now their work is on display for staff, students, and members of the public to see. The exhibition includes film, models, photography, and slide shows. To promote Black History Month, the students have the opportunity to talk about their work and express their enthusiasm for the cultural movement.
Although the students created their works of art separately, together the pieces complement each other to display the rich culture of Harlem. One of the works on display is a York/New York trail, where famous Harlem Renaissance landmarks are matched up to locations in York. The brochure is displayed on one of the walls and is accompanied by a short film in which the creators follow the trail they made around York.
Below the York/New York trail is a 3D model of key landmarks from the Harlem Renaissance. Accompanying each building on the miniature version of Harlem is a plaque listing the pop cultural references relating to the locations used.
Visitors also cannot help but admire the beautiful collages occupying some of the boards at the exhibition. These wonderfully creative pieces combine vintage styling with a contemporary artistic edge to inform the audience about key areas of culture. One golden frame discusses music of the Harlem Renaissance while a few smaller frames look at the works of the great literary mind Langston Hughes.
At the exhibition launch, the crowded room was testament to how student work is valued. The launch night was a huge success, bringing members of the university and the public together. Attendees left feeling better educated about the Harlem Renaissance, and hopefully inspired to pick up some literature from the era.
The ‘York/New York’ Exhibition will be displayed in the Arts Foyer at York St. John University until the end of October.
by George Alexander Moss
Currently enchanting audiences as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre, Noma Dumezweni has enjoyed a varied career on stage and screen including roles in everything from TV favourites Shameless and Doctor Who to Royal Shakespeare Company productions. To mark the opening of Black History Month, Dumezweni came to York St John to discuss her lead role in A Human Being Died That Night at the Hampstead Theatre.
Dumezweni began the sell-out event by quite literally drawing in the audience, asking them to gather their chairs closer to where she and YSJ English Literature Lecturer Julie Raby, who mediated the discussion, sat. The move seemed natural for the discussion of a play that demanded enormous personal investment from audiences and actors alike. The play is based on a book-length report by psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela of her interviews in prison with the head of Apartheid South Africa’s state-sanctioned death squads, Eugene De Kock. Dumezweni played the lead role of Gobodo-Madikizela herself. The play reminds theatre goers that, beneath immoral action, killers are mere people – not always the ‘other’. Dumezweni describes the play as being about the meaning of forgiveness, explaining that De Kock, “was able to apologise to three women whose husbands he had killed. They forgave him, because they felt his remorse.” It may seem initially difficult if not impossible to attribute remorse to such a monster. But in the face of murderous atrocities and sharp racial divides, empathy enabled a more complete truth to emerge, placing a fundamental human attribute into a time of enormous strife.
[He] “was able to apologise to three women whose husbands he had killed. They forgave him, because they felt his remorse”
-Noma Dumezweni, on State-sanctioned murderer Eugene De Kock.
To convey this, A Human Being Died That Night was original and immersive in its theatrics from the get go; even the Hampstead Theatre’s bar, and its patrons, were part of the performance. On arrival, audience members were lectured on forgiveness by Dumezweni in character as Gobodo-Madikizela. For Dumezweni, this intervention was part of the production’s wider sense of “freedom of things staging wise. You come in relaxed, and its listen to the story, oh no let’s move you, oh shit I have to move all my bags again, oh now everything has gone really quiet. And now you have to be really referential to the space you’re walking in. You are now a witness to something you didn’t know was coming.” Such unpredictability garners attention and marks memories. No doubt this understanding could have inspired Dumezweni’s chair moving tactics. She adds that in the theatre, “there’s a cage, there’s a cell. You’ve just walked into darkness, and Matthew [Marsh]’s sitting in a silver cell, and he’s dressed in bright orange. You the audience, have to go past him before you can get to your seat.” The audience are suddenly no longer bystanders in the proceedings – but part of the production.
Few actors are granted the opportunity to meet those they are playing, but Noma Dumezweni is one of them. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing to meet Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, and Dumezweni’s rationalisation for potentially being denied this opportunity was that “someone is playing you, that you have never met, and using your words. I would be terrified, she must be so nervous, because I was nervous with meeting her. But she did turn up, and I was able to ask her: were you scared? And she went: yeah.”
The cast of A Human Being Died That Night had many such remarkable experiences during the course of the production. This included meeting De Kock himself in Victoria Prison. Dumezweni recalls this as being “an extraordinary thing, when you see somebody you’re supposed to hate. But I think the play helped me go along with this as well to a certain extent. I met a human being, who has taken absolute responsibility for everything he has done in his life […] He realised he was part of a system […] I got to meet him, extraordinary, and I can say gosh, I was able to forgive him. When we talk to people, it becomes a different thing.”
“I met a human being, who has taken absolute responsibility for everything he has done in his life”
-Dumezweni, on meeting “Prime Evil” Eugene de Kock in prison.
Ultimately, A Human Being Died That Night counts on the humanity of the audience to engage on an intimate level with characters that are based on real people. Even in the aftermath of the apartheid, one of humanity’s darkest times, human beings will always have the capacity to understand, empathise and even to forgive.
edited by Ollie Driver
October 2016 sees a month long celebration and remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated across the world as has been a feature of the UK calendar since 1987.
At York St John we will be participating in Black History Month with a series of events taking place on campus. This will include a month long exhibition in the Arts Foyer and three evening events celebrating art, literature and cultural history.
As part of our programme we are running a creative writing competition with the winner to be announced at a special evening with the poet Jack Mapanje on 27th October. We are looking for submissions of no more than 500 words that explore any aspect of black history. We are happy to accept work in prose or verse and encourage you to draw on your educational experiences and beyond.
If you are interested in submitting work then please email it as an MS Word document to Fraser Mann (firstname.lastname@example.org) by midnight on 15th October.
The competition is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students currently studying at York St John.
Black History Month 2016
The School of Humanities, Religion and Philosophy will be celebrating Black History Month this year with an exhibition of student work and a programme of exciting events.
3rd October 3pm – 4pm Quad South Hall
Interview with Noma Dumezweni
Noma is an internationally recognised actress. She has undertaken several Shakespeare roles including Paulina in the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), The Winters Tale and more recently Alice and Mistress Quickly, as well as working alongside Jude Law in Henry V.
Amongst numerous stage roles, Noma recently directed, I See You at the Royal Court and appeared in the award winning A Human Being Died That Night which toured to the Hampstead Theatre, the Market Theatre Johannesburg and Brooklyn Academy of music in New York. Both plays explore reconciliation and South Africa after Apartheid.
Currently, Noma is cast as Hermione in the sell-out Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in the West End.
This event will be a discussion about Noma’s roles including in A Human being Dies that Night, I See You, and for the RSC in the west end, a production of Henry V with Jude Law
Event starts at 3.00pm, all guests to be seated in Quad South Hall for a prompt start.
This event is FREE but booking is required. Please visit the YSJ online shop to reserve a space.
5th October – 27th October Arts Foyer
York/New York Exhibition
Earlier this year, English Literature students from the ‘Literature at Work’ module were tasked with developing and creating materials that could be used as part of York St John’s Black History Month 2016 exhibition.
Students have created, developed and curated a range of materials which allow us to celebrate the culture of Harlem, New York, right here on our ‘Old’ York campus. The materials include film, collage, photography and 3D models. Each work is an original and unique take on the cultural history of the Harlem Renaissance. Please come and explore the work and learn a little more about this exciting moment in black cultural history.
5th October 5pm – 8pm Arts Foyer
York/New York Exhibition Launch Evening
The exhibition will be officially launched with an evening of discussion and live music. The students responsible for the art work and curation of the exhibition will be on hand to talk you through their work and the cultural value they place on the Harlem Renaissance and Black History Month as cultural experiences. The evening will be sound tracked by a four piece jazz band playing wonderful music from the likes of Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. Come and enjoy a glass of wine with us and celebrate this evocative and enriching cultural moment.
This event is FREE but booking is required. Please visit the YSJ online shop to book your tickets.
26 October, 5.30pm -7pm De Grey 016
Black History Month: Comics Reading Group with Dr Adam Smith
Black Panther and Power Man: Marvel Heroes of the Civil Rights Era
Meet T’Challa and Luke Cage, better known in their heyday as Marvel superheroes Black Panther and Power Man. Among the first African-American superheroes to appear in mainstream American comic books each character’s origins are bound up in both the Civil Rights Movement and the popularity of Blaxploitation cinema in the 1960s and 70s. Now, thanks to Netflix and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, both characters are enjoying global popularity for the first time. As part of YSJ Black History Month we invite you to join us for an informal discussion of some of these characters’ most celebrated comic-book appearances.
Email Adam Smith (email@example.com ) for a reading list.
This event is FREE but booking is required please visit the YSJ online shop to secure book a place.
27th October 6.30pm – 8pm Arts Foyer
An Evening with Jack Mapanje
To mark the end of York St John’s Black History Month events, human rights activist and award-winning poet Jack Mapanje will be reading from his latest poetry collection Greetings From Grandpa. Jack will also be discussing his memoir And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night, and reflecting on his time as a political prisoner in Malawi. There will be an opportunity to ask Jack questions about his work, and he will also be signing copies of his poetry. In addition, the winner of the YSJ Black History Month Creative Writing Competition will be announced, and there will be a chance to hear the winning entry.
This event is FREE but booking is required. Please visit the YSJ online shop to book your tickets.
Every October, Black History Month is celebrated all over the UK, and has been for the past thirty-five years. This is an opportunity for us all to acknowledge and celebrate diversity, and learn more about our shared histories and cultures. At York St John this year, academics working in Literature, History, American and Education and Theology have come together to launch the official YSJ Black History Month Twitter account. If you’re not already following is on Twitter, please do so!
The Twitter account is a celebration of black histories and cultures, and aims to highlight black achievement and accomplishment. If you follow the account, you’ll see a range of topics to explore. One of the most popular elements has been the playlist collated by lecturer in Literature (and resident DJ) Dr Fraser Mann. From ground-breaking pieces by Goldie and Massive Attack to classics from Soul II Soul and Neneh Cherry, there is a fantastic selection of music to (re)discover.
Students have been getting involved with the project as well, tweeting their favourite lines from poetry (work by Langston Hughes and Claude McKay has been particularly popular) and offering some reflections on learning about black literary history and the Harlem Renaissance. History students have noted how their study of William Cuffay and black Chartism also has a wider resonance with Black History Month.
It’s been great to see this project grow over the past few weeks as more and more followers choose to get involved with the Twitter account. We hope this continues to grow. Black History Month is hugely important for everyone. It allows to focus on a positive present and future whilst acknowledging some of the horrors of the past. We hope that @YSJBHM continues to allow our YSJ community to reflect on this and to raise awareness about these important issues.
If you have any queries about Black History Month, please contact Dr Anne-Marie Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org)