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Writers, poets swap stories at London literature festival

A panel discussing girlhood and community. (Anjola Fashawe/YJI)

LONDON – Industry creatives and authors recently attended the inaugural #Merky Books Literature Festival, organized by British rapper Stormzy.

The free two-day event was launched by the #Merky Books imprint, created in partnership with Penguin Random House and Stormzy, with the goal of fostering diverse storytelling.

During the festival, author Candice Braithwaite hosted a panel discussion on girlhood, community, and relationships with published authors.

The panel shared personal experiences and explored how Black women and girls are sexualized.

Writer Theresa Ikoko spoke about the pressure Black women face to succeed and the importance of stepping into “Black girl mediocrity” to escape unrealistic expectations.

The panel also emphasized the significance of sisterhood and friendship.

The Roundhouse, a renowned live performance venue in Camden, hosted the festival.

Another panel focused on celebrating queer voices discussed the challenges surrounding straight authors writing queer stories.

Storyteller Bolu Babalola shared her experience of censorship as a Nigerian writer and stressed the need for diversity among editors.

The festival was not limited to literature but also covered topics such as finance, identity and well-being.

Author Okechukwu Nzelu emphasized the importance of mental health for writers, “Be brutal with your writing and gentle with yourself,’’ said Nzelu, adding, “The writing isn’t human but you are.”

Author Caleb Azumah Nelson highlighted the importance of clear communication with others in the creative process and the need for writers to trust themselves and their teams.

Esteemed poet John Agard demonstrated his appreciation for language and the power it holds by reciting his own poems, including “Half-Caste,” a poem taught in British schools.

Attendees could also participate in activities such as book signings with authors, a careers drop-in clinic featuring companies like Netflix, and a ‘lit in colour’ library featuring books from diverse authors.

The festival ended with a talk by author Malorie Blackman on her autobiography Just Sayin’ and a performance by Dulcis Ensemble.

Blackman said the festival will ‘’hopefully be the light that sparks the imaginations’’ of young storytellers.

Anjola Fashawe is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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