Writer of the Month
Panya Banjoko is a spoken word artist and writer. Her work has been described as ‘…poetry with hip-hop energy fused with a hymnal element…’ Sable Magazine
Her first published work was Brain Drain, published in IC3- An Anthology of New Black writing In Britain, by Penguin, (2000). She has since written two early year’s publications, The Princess and the Potter’s Pot, (2008) and Hari at the Castle (2010). She has had a number of poems/reviews published in magazines and anthologies and has been artist in residence at the International School, Stuttgart Germany, as well as Poet in Residence for the National Trusts 100 verses at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire (2009 and 2010) and Poet Coach for Shake the dust (2012).
Writing East Midlands chatted to Panya about her writing:
Let’s start right at the beginning. How did you first get into creative writing?
I don’t think I could pinpoint the exact moment I started writing. I do remember as a child writing plays for my younger siblings to perform, often against their will okay always against their will! I come from a Caribbean background rich in oral storytelling and had the pleasure of listening to grand uncles and grand aunts tell of their exploits and journeys from the Caribbean. I suppose it was inevitable that I would start off my writing career telling stories to children in school. The storytelling then developed into poetry writing and then performing my work once I felt confident enough that it was good enough to share with the public. I didn’t come from a background rich in literature in fact the only book I remember at home was the bible. I did however use to read my older brothers Dandy, Beano and Topper comics and that’s what got me reading.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw my inspiration from a range of sources, current affairs, the media, personal experiences and encounters and sometimes a simple word can trigger a range of thoughts that I will then develop into a poem.
We’ve heard you’re interested in writing chick lit. What is it about this genre that grabs your attention?
I love reading romantic comedy as much as I love chocolate and that’s an awful lot! I like the escapism and as corny as it might seem, I like the happy endings of true love overcoming all. My all-time favourite is Marian Keyes I think she is absolutely brilliant at capturing characters and their accents and nuances. I have been working on a novel for a while now and I am determined that this is the path I want to go down in terms of my writing career, unfortunately unlike Keyes I can’t spend all day in bed writing and drinking cups of tea brought to me by my husband, primarily because I don’t have a husband and I need to work! At the moment I struggle with finding the time to devote to my novel but it’s never far from my mind and I believe if I just keep chipping away at it one day I will complete it.
You are one of the founders of the Nottingham Black Archive. How did the Archive come about? And can you tell us a bit about what it is?
I have worked with museums for over 20 years as a freelancer delivering sessions in school and to community groups. In 2007 the bicentenary of the act to abolish slavery was commemorated and it was at this point that I felt Nottingham was ready, and almost certainly needed, an archive that celebrated black history, heritage and culture. Sadly during the bicentenary it became apparent that there was not one central place where people could go to find out about black history. I had also at this point in my life just completed an MA in museum studies and felt that I was suitably equipped with 20 years’ experience and a newly gained academic qualification to set up Nottingham’s first black archive. The archive was set up at the end of 2009 and since then we have gone from strength to strength recently acquiring an HLF grant to work on a project about World War II Ex-service personnel and their families.
You’ve also been a coach in this year’s very successful Shake the Dust project (www.shakethedust.co.uk). Tell us about the project and did it inspire your writing at all?
Shake the Dust was one of the best projects I had the pleasure of working on this year. Shake the Dust was about empowering young people through the power of spoken word. I worked with an education centre for young mums. It was truly an inspirational project.
Often society stigmatises young mums without looking closely at how or why these young girls become pregnant in the first place. Shake the Dust enabled these young women to have a voice and to celebrate how brave they are for taking the stance that they have, to go ahead with having their babies, despite sometimes pressure to do the opposite. They wrote some truly thought provoking poetry.
Shake also enabled the young mums to see that becoming a mum doesn’t mean the end of their life but that they can use the experience to do something positive for their children. I was able to share my experiences of being a young mum with them and share how I was able to transform my life achieving three degrees to date, being a published writer and a whole host of other achievements including ensuring that my three daughters went on to achieve academically, I was the proudest mum at my daughters graduations. I think it’s sad that society writes these young women off. I’ll always maintain that the thing that gave my life focus was having children.
What’s your involvement with The Mouthy Poets? Do you find it helps your own creativity to be part of a poetry collective?
I am a co-director for mouthy poets and a facilitator. Through Mouthy I have had the privilege of meeting some very talented young people and learning from them, as well as, sharing my knowledge and experience with them too. I do believe being part of the group helps my creativity, it challenges me to scrutinise my work more and of course as a facilitator you need to be up on what’s happening on the writing scene, as well as, willing to take creative risks and experiment with the writing process.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you plan meticulously or let the words flow?
My writing process combines both elements of letting the words flow if that’s how they decide to come to me on a particular day, however if I am commissioned to write something like my children’s stories – The Princess And The Potters Pot or Hari At The Castle – then it’s careful planning to ensure I encompass all the elements in the brief I am given.
According to your blog, when you’re not writing you’re knitting. What is it you like about knitting? Is it a form of relaxation?
My favourite pastime other than eating chocolate and being with my two granddaughters is knitting and occasionally a spot of crocheting too. It is definitely a form of relaxation. I’ve been doing it for such a long time, since I was 13 years old, and so I can knit/crochet without really thinking about it which leaves my brain free to wonder and roam. Many of my best ideas for poems or creative activities have come from knitting and the bonus is that at the end of it I have created something, although never usually for myself.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I think one of the things some writers get hung up on is ‘who is better than who’ rather than celebrating their own individual style. I think the minute you start comparing yourself to others you’re on a slippery slope. Wasn’t it Max Ehrmann that said ‘If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.’
I think the other advice I would give to young people is to develop a thick skin because in this profession rejection is always a factor. Don’t take criticism personally but use it as a stimulus to work harder and achieve greater things.
2012 has been a very busy year for me but it’s not time to stop yet! I am currently working in education at the moment embarking upon my fourth degree as part of this I shall be doing research into boys and their writing, with the aim of inspiring primary school boys to write.
Alongside this I am collaborating with a French artist in Paris which is very interesting, we have already produced a track that will rock the French market once released, continue to watch this space.
And of course I shall be facilitating Mouthy sessions, performing as usual and taking Nottingham Black Archive to the next level as well as keeping my ears open for other interesting projects such as shake the dust.
Visit Panya’s website at www.panyabanjoko.com