I write in a range of genres, but mainly poetry and fiction. The scripting work I have done for radio so far has been facilitated by two producers – Vibeke Venema and Aasiya Lodhi of the BBC – who helped me understand the requirements of radio and spent a lot more time than they should have going over my work with me. Vibeke’s work with me paid off handsomely, with pick of the week selections from both the Guardian and the BBC.
My philosophy as a writer is that talent and desire come first; form is secondary. I am always happy to learn and take on new challenges. My work as an editor and curator is very different from my work as a writer and lecturer, but I find that the variances constantly stimulate me to look at things from endlessly new perspectives. If you have something in mind, the best thing to do would be to contact me.
I have run workshops for several schools and organisations, including the Arvon Foundation (where I have taught poetry and fiction), Spread the Word (where, as an industry expert, I have run sessions on the fine points of editing and submissions for practising authors) and English PEN. I have also led workshops in universities as far afield as the USA and the Philippines.
My talks generally centre around writing (with a particular focus on hybridity) and cultural issues. My literary foundations are West African. I read mainly work from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Gambia while growing up. The rhythm, structure and standards of realism of many of the stories I was told influence my work and – by extension – the way I read. Of course, Ghana being an ex-Western colony, I read perhaps more Western fiction than the average Western child has to read, and though I didn’t feel deep connections with a lot of the work, it left traces of itself in my psyche. In my talks I reflect these effects on the audience to emphasise the importance of reading with an awareness of one’s grounding and I explore the latent political implications of the ‘position’ from which one engages with culture.
Much of my panel work is literature-based, but I have also participated in radio panels such as BBC Radio 3’s 2005 Nightwaves programme on Myth alongside Margaret Atwood and A.S. Byatt, which focused more on the mythology and culture. I was a co-judge with Juliette Mitchell (Penguin), Peter Straus (Rogers, Coleridge & White), Caroline McCarthy (The Literary Consultancy) and Ellah Allfrey (Random House)on the panel for Spread the Word’s Novel Pitch in 2009. In my work as an editor I have contributed as a panellist at several events, including the Scottish Universities Insight Institute’s series on Cultural Policy and Independent Publishing.
I lecture in creative writing as well as editing. In creative writing, my open lectures tend to relate to my main areas of exploration as a writer – the reinterpretation of language (which I approach through voice in fiction and juxtaposition in poetry), micro-cultural conflicts (the idea that the smallest difference in constitution creates conflict such that a man at 5.00pm is in cultural conflict with himself at 5.02pm the same day), and power (how it is used, adapted, carried etc.). Other recurring themes are the ideas that, love is irreversible, family is inescapable and that capitalism and humanism are in constant opposition. I do however lecture to fit within a course structure when required.
I am the founding curator of the African Writers’ Evening in London and related events such as AWE: NY and the African Book Market at the Free Word Centre. I also curated aromapoetry and the Borders Charing Cross poetry programme for 6 years. My shorter run events include Outdooring, a platform for writers to share unreleased work, where the likes of Chris Cleave and Hisham Matar read from their first novels before they were released, and the National Theatre-commissioned Bringing the House Down, which was the best-selling spoken word showcase in the UK for two years running. I currently guest curate the poetry reading series for the Baobab Cultural Center in Rochester, New York and I will be curating a section of the Pop Up Children’s Festival in London in 2012.
My work as both writer and editor means I am always judging writing in some capacity. I have been a judge for London Arts Board and the Arvon Foundation and I was an inaugural judge for the Golden Baobab Prize (for writing for children in Africa). I am a member of the panel of judges for the 2011/2012 Commonwealth Prize.