Black History Month: Artist Inspirations

Continuing our Black History Month celebrations we asked some of the wonderful artists that we work with to tell us about the Black artists that inspire their work. 

Casey Bailey: Poet, Rapper, Educator

Gil Scott-Heron has massively inspired my work as a poet, theatre maker and writer in general.

There is a quote of his that I go back to regularly to remind myself of my purpose as a writer.

He said: “We don’t need poets to make things more complex.”

He was referencing the tendency that a lot of writers can slip into of trying to write something so clever that we alienate our audience. This is something that I always aim to avoid, so Gil Scott-Heron through his work, and through this quote, is somebody who has inspired and continues to inspire me.

Gil Heron Scott. Photo: Frans Schellekens/Redferns

Emmanuel Simon: Actor, Writer, Music Producer

There are many Black artist theatre makers that have inspired me over my time to develop work. One of them is John Agard. I learnt predominantly about his work during GCSE English in secondary school. One of his performances that really locked me in was ‘Oxford Don’, the reason being was the amusement and vibrant energy that Mr Agard possesses in his performance. Second was the fact that it somehow connected to me as a young Black person growing up in London being stereotyped that I’m not able to do certain things in certain “high class” environments simply because of my colour and culture.

John Agard. Photo: Andrew Crowley

Benedict Lombe: Writer

Chinua Achebe – Nigerian novelist and all round GOAT. His work taught me lessons I’ve taken into my storytelling practice: that there are limitless stories from the places we come from; to question the stories that others tell about your home and your people; to sit in the uncomfortable, sit in the ugly, sit in the pain and something beautiful will emerge – a truth that is all your own. And most importantly, that no one else will tell our stories with the dignity, nuance and truth they deserve – so let’s rise up and tell them our damn selves. So eternal bigs ups to the “Father of African Literature”.

Chinua Achebe. Photo: Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

Tash Simone: Writer

Audre Lorde self-identified as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Her reflections on race, gender, class and sexuality are as relevant today as they were in the 60s, 70s and 80s. She was fearless in her pursuit in identifying and examining the systems and structures that oppress us, while simultaneously empowering us to change the world through ourselves. She preached the importance of self-care for Black women. She reminded us that we cannot defeat our Oppressors using their own tools. She proclaimed that our silence will not protect us.

As a Black queer woman existing in the margins, Audre Lorde’s words are a sanctuary for me. A place where I am protected from the bitterness and bigotry of the world. A homecoming. A hug. Her poetry and essays taught me how to love, how to live, how to thrive. I see myself in her and her in I.

I return to this poem when I am feeling tired. When I am feeling scared. When I am feeling uninspired. I return to this poem when I need reminding of the fight for justice. For truth. For equity. For the future. For the present.

Audre Lorde’s work lives on in everything I create. I will live boldy, beautifully and I will always speak truth to power because, ultimately, “we were never meant to survive.”

Photo: Dagmar Schultz/Freie Universität Berlin, University Archive, Lorde estate

A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Matilda Ibini: Writer

The first book I ever read of hers was Hacker, and when my teacher told me Malorie Blackman was a Black British woman who’d written this gripping, teen thriller (AND with a female protagonist!) I was spellbound. Malorie was one of the writers that helped open my imagination beyond the limits the world was gradually imposing on my life. She helped me realise that I didn’t need permission to tell the stories I was lead to believe black people weren’t allowed to tell. Black people have always existed throughout history, so why couldn’t they exist in all genres of storytelling. She is still one of my writing heroes to this day. Her grace, wisdom and stories are boundless and I will forever stan.

Malorie Blackman. Photo: Clara Molden