All posts by bekahtamsin

Who is Keisha Thompson a.k.a. SheBeKeke?

Alex talks to Keisha Thompson about what inspires her writing, what Young Identity hopes to achieve and the Manchester literature scene in general

Have you heard SheBeKeke? With an already more-than-impressive portfolio, Keisha Thompson is a valuable member of Manchester’s poetry circuit. As well as being a key member of Inna Voice, another creative group within Young Identity, she recently released her own EP, Abecedarian, and has been published in numerous anthologies.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing Keisha perform a number of times. At each performance, I’ve been struck by how she manages to bring new character and life to the poems (even the ones I’ve heard before), whilst at the same time retaining something undeniably “Keisha-y”. This combination of constant reinvention and a strong creative signature is something she shares with a lot of her fellow Young Identity talent: they all excel in showing one piece in many different lights whilst still putting a personal stamp on their work.

And this personal touch is present throughout the whole creative process: Keisha’s work, for the most part, is based on her own experiences of the world, her family and responses to the political/social landscape around us. Discussing inspiration, she brought up the powerful connection between her identity and her family heritage. In ‘Fickle’, a piece on her EP, Thompson examines her relationship with her father, and how it in turn facilitates her understanding of her own heritage.

Being British with a Jamaican father and Guyanese mother, the identification process is not simple: she does not feel as though any of these three identities/nationalities is wholly her. When she was younger, she never felt particularly British because her household held a lot of Guyanese traditions – but when she was five and visited Guyana, she was no longer so sure she felt so Guyanese. Describing it as a “weird one”, she concluded that she is always somewhere in the middle of being Guyanese, British and Jamaican – though all three identities certainly inspire her.

“Once I’ve processed it, I can write about it”

And Keisha’s own heritage isn’t the only thing from across the world that gets her writing. In terms of the social and political inspirations for her work, tragedies like those that took place in Ferguson last summer, when unarmed black teenager Mike Brown was murdered by white cop Darren Wilson, are important creative sources. But with heavy issues like racism and violence, getting pen to paper can take longer. “I get angry about these things but it takes me a while to process it; I need to process it. Once I’ve processed it, I can write about it,” explained Keisha. Indeed for many writers, taking a step back from material is necessary in order to walk the difficult ground between raw, blunt emotions and tailoring language to suit a creative purpose.

Relating to the Mike Brown case, as well as countless other crimes against people of colour, we discussed Keisha’s views on the need for – and lack of – white voices in race debates. Thompson argued that white voices are necessary when violence happens, because racism is not just ‘a black issue’ – “all races need to acknowledge that racism exists and move forward with that.” Here referencing social theorist Dr Joy DeGruy,  she highlighted the key differences between American and English politics: Keisha sees it that voices from all corners of American society can contribute to discussions about the rights and experiences of those from minority groups, even with only a basic understanding of the issues at hand. But in England, she argued, there is a hostility towards approaching an issue if you are not a member of the group being discussed. This was something I could definitely relate to: in my experience, England is more focused on drawing the lines round “who can say what about what” than on actually getting problems heard and discussed.

“They aren’t just playing with words, they also want to be the voice behind them”

Talk turned to focus on poetry as a vehicle for political speech in general. Is spoken word/rap/poetry more powerful than conventional speech when it comes to communicating ideas to people? Again, the differences between the US and the UK came up. “In America, it is way more powerful than here. When I go to places in New York they aren’t just playing with words, they also want to be the voice behind them” said the performer, noting that in Britain it is much easier to go to an event and not stumble across any political ideas. For various reasons, she felt that the spoken word scene in America was a lot more lively – but she takes inspiration from the fact that it is beginning to stand on its own as a viable platform for creative expression separate from the written/literary scene.

Young Identity, the group of young writers based out of Contact Theatre, are a group changing the narrative on what spoken word is, and can do, here in the UK. As we’ve seen from their constantly growing body of work, which brilliantly fuses the political, the everyday and the creative, they aim to change the game of Manchester’s poetry scene by trying to get people talking about current topics, focusing on politics and thinking actively about their own lives. As evidences this, Keisha noted that in the last One Mic Stand “everyone was doing politics and everyone was brilliant; the quality was outstanding”. Having gone to a previous One Mic Stand, Young Identity’s regular poetry slam, I can vouch for this. At the night I performed at, thoughts on equal rights, sexism and abuse were interwoven boldly and seamlessly with powerful, emotive language, bringing the room alive with the honesty of the work.

As with many Young Identity members, Keisha also works with Inna Voice. Helpfully, she explained the difference between the two groups: “When it first started, Young Identity was the writing group, and then as we started to slam we had Inna Voice. Not everyone was willing or ready to perform from Young Identity so it was easy to make Inna Voice the focus of performance”. Since then, Inna Voice has progressed and it is now its own company, a selective group that are hoping to put on a show next year.

Finally, who would Keisha recommend checking out? In Manchester, Ben Miller, Elmi Ali and Shirley May (one of the driving forces behind Young Identity’s One Mic Stand) are some of her must-sees, as well as Isaiah Hull, the phenomenal winner of June 2014’s One Mic Stand, and Yusra Warsama. Outside of Manchester, Keisha Thompson said she was reading Malika Booker’s Pepper Seed at the moment and could not recommend her enough, as well as loving the works of Warsan Shire and Tanya Shirley. If you want some great inspirational material definitely check out these artists, especially Booker’s latest release (which I am already delving into and loving!).

Going forward from Abecedarian, what can we expect from this talented artist in the future? “Abecedarian means learning your alphabet and it seemed fitting for the title of my first release because I was just trying it out,” explained Thompson. “But now I am ready to focus in on a theme and be more specific with something I can develop”. Performance-wise, she’s also bringing her live show I Wish I Had A Moustache to Manchester’s Contact Theatre this year and it is not something you want to miss out on! Whatever Thompson does in the future, it is going to be entertaining, fun and most of all, inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing where her talent can, and will, take her.

 

Follow Keisha Thompson on Twitter and on Facebook

Give her bandcamp a follow and download Abecedarian, her EP (you decide the price!): https://bandcamp.com/shebekeke

Check out Young Identity for more information about One Mic Stand: http://www.youngidentity.org/

Watch a performance here

 

-A.Webb

Advertisements

Comma Press Writing Competition: Redefine The Spy Genre

Edward Snowden, CCTV cameras, the partner that checks your phone… what is modern-day spying? Comma Press seeks short stories redefining the spy genre

Espionage: The practice of spying or of using spies

The next Comma Press New Writers Anthology will present a new kind of challenge to emerging and previously unpublished writers. We want you to write a short story which centres on espionage. This is your chance to breathe new, contemporary life in to a genre which has is increasingly blighted by clichés and stereotypes. Comma Press have spearheaded a new wave of genre writing in the short story form; from updating the grand old tradition of the horror story with The Uncanny to putting the science back in to science fiction by partnering writers with scientists in Beta-LifeLitmus and Bio PunkNow, in partnership with Creative Industries Trafford and ACE, we think it’s time to tackle the spy story with fresh new writers.

Let’s start with what we DON’T want: We have a rough set of guidelines for submissions and general pitfalls here. But for this project in particular, we want writers to avoid the many and well worn clichés of the genre. The era of the Cold War thriller is long gone, of course, but it isn’t just a case of re-pinning the badge of enemy or ‘other’ onto the presumed ‘bogeymen’ of the day (as defined by the media – terrorists, extremists, etc). We want stories that are more intelligent than that, more politically savvy. We are of course living in the age of Google (owning all our data), WikiLeaks (exposing government wrong-doing) and PRISM (allowing one government to spy on another), not to mention bizarre politics-culture crossovers like the North Korea/Sony debacle… the watchers and the watched no long fall into neatly partitioned groups.

What we DO want: Tension, suspense, compelling mysteries, and a redefinition of what modern spying actually is! Espionage can, of course, take many forms and we hope for a broad swathe of spying-types; from the political to the domestic, corporate to state-sponsored, private interest-led to cellular fanaticism. But remember: always avoid the clichés and well-worn tropes; if it’s been done before, ditch it. We want to meet characters we wouldn’t normally meet in a spy story, to find ourselves in settings the genre has barely visited before, and to be compelled from the first word to the last. Comma is also perennially concerned with structure: for this project we want writers to play with the different shapes a spy story can take, and to find new ones. Plot is everything in the thriller genre, so even when nothing seems to be happening, in the background, everything has to be…

Deadline: 1 July 2015

For more info and how to apply

The Haworth Prize for Young Landscape/Cityscape Artists

New £4,000 prize for a northern English landscape or cityscape by a young artist from the North of England.

The NEAC seeks submissions of northern English landscape or cityscape by young artists living in the North of England.

The shortlisted works will be exhibited alongside the New English Art Club Annual Exhibition at Mall Galleries.

The Haworth Prize is sponsored by The Haworth Charitable Trust

Who can submit?

Artists aged 35 or under, who are resident in the North of England in the following areas: Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham, Tyne and Wear, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire

What to submit?

Paintings, drawings or prints that depict the landscape or the towns of the North of England.

DEADLINE: Friday 13 March 2015

For more info and how to submit

Graphic Designer wanted!

Double D Creative

Position: Graphic Designer
Location: Lymm, North West
Salary: c. £25,000 (dependent on experience)
Contract: Permanent

This is an exciting opportunity for anyone looking for a fresh challenge. The role will involve working on a variety of projects for a great mix of clients from major brands to independents.

You will be expected to tackle advertising, branding and POS briefs as well as reports/brochure work and, anything else that is thrown your way, with well thought-out concepts and an exceptional eye for detail.

As part of a small team you must be a team player, enthusiastic, organised and come with a ‘can do’ approach.

Your daily role will require you to manage your time effectively across a number of projects and deal directly with clients and suppliers so good communication skills are essential.

Outstanding (Mac based) skills in the Adobe Creative Suite; Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign are essential. Knowledge of latest web technologies including HTML5 and CSS3 and an appreciation for UI, UX and general usability would be useful but not a must.

What we’re looking for:

  • Minimum of four years industry experience
  • Experience of dealing directly with clients and suppliers
  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Ability to work on a number of projects at any one time
  • Good understanding of the print process
  • Confident, yet personable with good communication skills
  • Ability to operate creatively as well as within client brand guidelines

For more info and to apply

A BOTCH JOB ASSESSMENT AND THE CASE FOR FREE EDUCATION

Manchester University’s Education Officer explains why a free education system can – and must – work

Three years ago, I got my results for a multiple-choice test in Anthropology on a study-abroad semester in Amsterdam. Going through the answers, I was frustrated to find that I disagreed with the lecturer’s marking and vexed that my opinion could be so easily discredited. Broadly speaking, anthropology is about putting forward a perspective that considers many different and complex understandings of the world; not really about making a choice between A and B. I visited the lecturer a week later in his office and after a pretty fierce debate, he agreed there was a case to be made for many of my answers and increased my grade by 10%.

I always think back to this experience as one which motivated me to campaign for free education because – aside from the fact that I was able to informally argue my way up an entire degree classification, which speaks volumes about the feeble case for an ‘objective’ understanding of society – it is symbolic of many problems with our current education system.

1. If knowledge is for sale, then it is a product for consumption

One way of understanding how it ever became acceptable to assess anthropology by multiple choice – forcing us to learn a particular view of the world rather than encouraging us to create/understand our own – is to look at the way in which the privatisation of education has allowed a particular kind of economic value – individual, rather than social, investment – to determine how learning is managed and delivered. (Another, is to watch this wicked video about how age-old ideas from the industrial revolution still haunt the education system today.)

Since the government transferred the responsibility to pay for higher education from society onto individuals, universities have relied on the income generated by student fees to continue to function. As such, education is now bought and sold as a service by customers and universities compete with each other to sell that service and satisfy those customers; more students, more money.

In part, this leaves the quality and purpose of education as social good of secondary importance to its function as individual investment for those who can afford to pay to have their skills legitimised for employment into big business. Education becomes a customer service, a reserve of the privileged, with which students are more or less satisfied. In the case of my experience in Amsterdam, the need for students to pass exams and therefore demonstrate their eligibility to employers was more important than facilitating a discussion about how anthropology can transform society and empower people to do what they really want to do. To be who they really want to be.

This is problematic, of course, in a capitalist economy where the value of knowledge is determined by a person’s worth to the money machine, rather than as a critical, creative or practical resource for improving society. At this point, knowledge becomes a fixed object for consumption by individuals, rather than a collective tool for liberation.

2. Economic efficiency rather than social democracy: whose knowledge counts?

The decision to use multiple choice exams to assess anthropology was probably driven by the university’s need to cut costs since the withdrawal of government funding: multiple choice assessments require less time to mark. This decision reflects the motivation at the heart of our marketised education system: concentrate on achieving economic efficiency, rather than on encouraging creative and critical enquiry fit for positive social change.

The outcome?

Multiple choice assessment only allows for one narrative – your answer is either right or wrong. And this means that only a particular perspective is validated. But whose answer is right?

The fact that there is a huge dearth of women and black professors in Europe – at the University of Manchester only 22% of professors are women and 8% BME – should expose the ‘danger of a single story,’ (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). This lack of diversity in the workforce is all too often reflected in a university’s curriculum/course material, where non-middle-class/white/straight/male/able perspectives are frequently overlooked.

This may mean – as it did for me in Amsterdam – that the legitimacy of certain identities and the needs of alternative learning styles are systematically disregarded.

We need a more democratic education system, one that accurately reflects the diversity of the nation’s population, where persons from all backgrounds are proportionally represented in all areas of university life – from the student population to the professorship. To get to that point, universities need to take immediate action. Under-represented groups need time and space to disagree with dominant perspectives – as well as encouragement to do so. This may mean that different forms of assessment, with more fluid and democratic means of determining what constitutes a ‘right’ answer are needed; an approach which cannot be realised alongside the further withdrawal of government funding from education.

3. Free and liberated education

It was my experience in Amsterdam that lead me to realise just how much it matters who teaches what. Society and the structures of oppression on which it is founded are (re)produced through the formal education system, so who decides what constitutes legitimate knowledge is fundamental to social change. If we are to build a society where education is liberating and accessible, it must be (a) fully funded by society through taxation in order that it (b) can be democratically managed and (c) delivered by a number of alternative education projects that provide a diverse range of teaching and learning methods that reflect the needs of and legitimise the skills of all people.

Education shouldn’t be about learning to tick the right boxes, it should be about gaining the skills and confidence to draw your own.

Harriet is Education Officer at Manchester University and leads the Free Education Campaign. This blog post was originally printed at freeeducationmcr.wordpress.com. Join us 20th March at Fuel for a fundraiser for the campaign! Watch this space for more details…