Today on Ujima: Literary Festivals & Kadija Sesay

Well, that was a busy day. I knew I was going to be on air for at least an hour, but when I arrived at the Ujima studios Paulette informed me that her planned guest had cancelled, but we had two new people, and could I talk to them please. Well, this is live radio, folks, you just roll with the punches. And I think it went very well.

I started off the show with a shout out to my friend Bea Hitchman whose lovely book, Petit Mort, has been picked up for serialization on Radio 4. It will be broadcast in 10 episodes, the first of which will air on Monday 28th October. What’s more they have got Honor Blackman to play the role of the older incarnation of Bea’s heroine. Honor Blackman. Bea is having a fangasm about this, and I can’t say I blame her. I would too.

My first guest on the show was Matthew Austin from an organization called In The City Series, a Lottery-funded project which is doing some very interesting things in Bristol. In particular in November they will be running a Human Library. What’s that? Well, they get a whole load of people to be books, put them in a venue, and then other people can come along, check a person out for 15 minutes, and talk to them. The idea is to generate awareness of the vast array of different cultures and lifestyles in the city by allowing people to interact with other sorts of folk that they may not have encountered before. I may volunteer, but I’m way too busy and I’m going to offer it around the Bristol trans community first.

Talking of varied backgrounds, my second guest was Baljinder Bhopal who lives in Bristol, is fairly obviously of Indian ancestry, but was born in Glasgow and has a wonderful Scottish accent. This sort of thing gives me hope for multiculturalism. She’s a great poet (here’s the book she read from), and she’s also an immigration lawyer who helps local people through the Avon & Bristol Law Centre.

Later on in the show we had a bit of a rant about the Racist Van, and the new outrage of Racist Texts. The UK Border Agency is very clearly not fit for purpose. If we had even a vaguely competent government then heads would roll. As it is, I suspect our leaders are quite happy with what the UKBA is doing.

With me throughout the show was my main guest for the day, Kadija Sesay. She had traveled up from London for the day, so we shamefully made full use of her. If you are Googling her you should also look up Kadija George, which is her legal name. Sesay is her mother’s maiden name, which she has adopted for use as a writer. Kadija describes herself as a Literary Activist, and as soon as I started researching her online I knew I had found a kindred spirit. She is the founder of Sable, a literary magazine for writers of color, and a co-director of Inscribe, an imprint of Peepal Tree Press. One of the projects she’s currently involved in is organizing a literary festival in The Gambia. I think she works harder than I do.

There’s more about Kadija in the second half of the show, but in the meantime you can listen to the first hour here.

For London folks (this means YOU, Stephanie), on October 24th Kadija will be taking part is a discussion at the C.L.R. James Library in Dalston Square, London, on the state of Black British Publishing. Like most other artistic endeavors these days, things are not good for people trying to publish writers of color. Kadija and I spent a bit of time talking about ways of financing diversity in publishing, and I introduced her to the Clarkesworld model of fiction magazines.

The second hour begins with the Lighter Look at Life segment, which I ended up having to present. We chatted a bit about entertainment, about how hard comedy is, about how British comedy is so often based on cruelty towards people who are seen as “other” in some way, and about how comedians from within immigrant communities can tell jokes about those communities without it becoming racist. Along the way I said a bad word, we all praised Eddie Izzard, and I recommended Nikesh Shukla who is a very funny writer and whose first book takes a wry look at Indian communities in West London.

After that I had 15 minutes off while Paulette did a stint on the microphone. I’m afraid I missed the feature she did entirely because I was doing preparation for the final half hour in which we had Mike Manson from the Bristol Festival of Literature in to preview some of the sessions. Being Ujima, we focused initially on those events featuring writers of color, but we also found time to bring in many other items including the use of the wonderful Redcliffe Caves and, of course, the science fiction event, The Kraken Rises. So I got to plug that, and BristolCon. I name checked so many people I can’t remember them all.

There is also an SF-themed event on Saturday evening in which Nikesh talks to Toby Litt about post-apocalyptic literature. I’ve got other stuff on during the day (see last week’s show for details) but I’m booked in to see Nikesh and Toby and am looking forward to it. If you are in town for The Kraken Rises then you should come along.

Mention of science fiction reminds me that Kadija is working on a speculative fiction issue of Sable, which she will co-edit with Nnedi Okorafor. I am very much looking forward to seeing that. We also talked a lot about Afrofururism, and in November I’ll be doing a whole hour on that. That is going to be fun. They’ve promised me I can play music.

Oh, and I was delighted to discover that one of Sable‘s most popular issues to date was the LGBTQ one (shout out here to Adam Lowe), Kadija says they are going to do another one. So if you are a writer of color, and identify somewhere in the QUILTBAG, you should check them out.

I think that’s most of what we covered, but I spent so much time chatting enthusiastically to Kadija, some of it off-air, that I am bound to have forgotten something. You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

Whoops, yeah, I forgot Kadija’s book. This one. And the discussion of the sorry state of the Nubian nation. And Pan-Africanism. It was a busy two hours.