These are the words of Jade Amoli-Jackson, writer and long-standing volunteer with the Refugee Council - and member of their writing group, 'Write to Life'. Jade uses poetry and prose as a way of working through the pain of what happened to her and her family in northern Uganda over a decade ago. http://birdsontheblog.co.uk/review-of-moving-a-country-by-jade-amoli-jackson-refugeeweek/
On December 1st, I met Jade at the Free Word Centre in London at a writers' event, 'Africa 39'. Writers from Nigeria and Somalia read from their work and debated the extent to which they enjoyed artistic independence and how much they felt positioned as representatives of their own culture if not a whole continent. For a powerful reminder of the importance of children seeing themselves represented in their own reading and writing, listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on TED:
Tope Folarin has lived in the USA for most of his life. He spoke about 'negotiating his identity' under cultural pressure from school and home. First as the only black face in his Utah school, and then in adolescence under his father's fixed expectations that he could be a doctor, a lawyer ... or a failure. Tope went to college to study law, but it wasn't until he had the confidence to define himself as a writer that he felt he could resolve his identity crisis. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/09/caine-prize-tope-folarin-african-writing
Nadifa Mohamed, on the other hand, felt that dislocation is what it means to be a writer. She spoke of the various compromises involved in being published in English and the awkwardness of returning to your own country as a published author. When she found herself uprooted to Tower Hamlets at the age of 4, she clung to her Somali identity but later, as a published writer, at her homecoming in Hafeiza, the city of her birth, she experienced something more complex - 'nostalgia and rejection in the same room', a disconcerting mixture of celebration and distrust. Her writing deals with a sense of rootlessness - a sense of always being in transit, her 21st century existence echoing her own grandmother's nomadic life in the 1940s. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/black-mamba-boy-by-nadifa-mohamed-1867909.html
Listening to these writers made me stop and think again, not only about the importance of all children seeing themselves as writers - especially with their teachers writing alongside them, but also about the question posed by Graham Mort at the NAWE (National Association for Writers in Education http://www.nawe.co.uk/) which I attended in November: How benign are the environments in UK schools and colleges in 2014 for the growth of independent writers?
NWP teachers of writing, in the face of many contesting demands, are refreshing their classrooms - making them more benign - with the restorative power of what they have discovered from writing together. Join a writing group to find out more.
NWP outreach director