Many emerging writers of colour in Wales don’t feel free to publicly share their work. What effect can events designed to platform their work have?
An open mic event took place last Thursday in Cardiff aimed to give a platform to previously unheard minority perspectives in writing.
The “Where I’m Coming From” monthly open mic night is aimed to allow BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) writers to exhibit their artwork in a safe environment.
“The aim is to normalize platforming BAME writers alongside non-BAME writers,” said organizer Durre Shahwar. “Some book festivals do a pretty good job but sometimes festivals don’t do that. Sometimes BAME writers are just given, like, one slot, as opposed to equal slots.”
March’s session was hosted by Cardiff Central library and held on National Poetry Day. It began with featured artists Sadia Pineda Hameed and Radha Patel reading out a selection of their work, followed by an array of volunteers.
“It’s really special having a space like this, because I actually know other writers of colour, friends who’ve performed or read, who’ve said they wouldn’t actually perform anywhere else because they wouldn’t feel that it’s safe,” said Radha Patel, community developer and aspiring filmmaker. “I guess I wouldn’t feel comfortable either performing at other open mics because they just don’t feel as safe as this space.”
According to Shahwar, some women of colour have felt that most of the open mic events in Wales didn’t quite cater to them for various reasons, whether due to time, venue, or simply a lack of other BAME people present.
“The last event that I was at, somebody actually said something quite offensive and they handled the situation so well. They opened the space up for people to respond to that and people to talk about it and for that issue to kind of be fixed. That’s what it really means to create a safe space,” said Patel.
“It’s a good place to try out new work. You get that immediate feedback from the audience whether something works or not,” said Grug Nuse, a PHD literature student and aspiring writer who was one of the volunteers.
“I think [opens mics like this] are important because if as an emerging writer you don’t have a space where you can perform a work, you don’t have that encouragement to take it further. And sometimes the platform is predominantly given to people who are already established,” said Shahwar.
“I just think it’s’ so important because it’s not just about not being white. Also they create a space for different types of writers,” said Patel. “It’s diverse not just in terms of ethnicity, but in age, writing style.”
The poems performed ranged from pieces critical of colonisation, about unrequited love, and a description of the outside of the library as seen by a seagull.
“People mistake the fact that BAME stories can be as universal as any other stories,” said Shahwar.