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Review

Girl, Woman, Other: investigating the absence of black British literature

Amidst the current resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, triggered by the tragic death of George Floyd, social media has been flooded with posts sharing links to websites, podcasts and books, encouraging people to educate themselves and spread awareness. I felt Bernardine Evaristo’s novel, ‘Girl, Woman, Other,’ is particularly poignant during this time. Her novel, which recounts the experiences of 12 black British women, won the 2019 Booker Prize alongside second time winner, Margaret Attwood. This made Evaristo the first black woman to win the award since its start in 1969. The decision to split the winners went against the rules, however, the judges felt unable to choose between them. Evaristo’s success was particularly significant as she was a much less highly acclaimed author than Attwood, highlighting her true talent. However, her success was discredited by a BBC broadcaster, who referred to the success of Margaret Attwood and “another author.” Evaristo responded in a tweet saying, “how quickly and casually they have removed my name from history – the first black woman to win it.” Despite the BBC later claiming this was an innocent omission, it clearly draws upon the absence of black British writers within literature, who seem to be easily forgotten.

In fact, there is a general lack of writers of ethnic minorities within British literature, resulting in a need for new voices. Generally, publishers do not intentionally refuse to publish novels written by minorities, however, subconsciously, their race plays a large part in their absence. Assumptions are often made as to the type of novel they will write and often publishers struggle with marketing. The problem with this omission from the literary world, however, has profound effects on individuals. Although literature is often used as a form of escapism, it also offers a commentary and representation of society as we see it. However, the domination of white middle class writers results in a single story being published, often focusing on white middle class characters, who many can identify with. This is damaging as it only offers a narrow perspective, leaving ethnic minorities unable to see themselves within these works, rendering them feeling like the ‘other’ within society. Evaristo highlights the absence of African literature and history within Britain meant her Nigerian father was left lacking in a sense of self. Growing up during the 1960s/70s there was a clear absence of black British writing, which only began to change during the 1990s. This forced her to search further afield, until she found she related most to African-American writers, underlining the difficulties for Evaristo to identify with British literature, which offered limited perspectives.

Despite the growth in black British literature, this label creates problems in itself. Some writers find it pushes them into a corner, restricting their imagination, whilst causing people to assume their story is about them. As well as this, there is often the assumption that a singular story represents the entire collective black British female experience, which is far from the truth. Evaristo, however, embraces this label, believing she should be defined by her experiences, which are based on her gender and race, whilst pointing to her differences within society. She believes we have a duty to share what mainstream history fails to represent and discover our roots, which have a profound effect on our identity. Her aim for the novel was to feature a broad range of black British female characters, exploring race, gender identity, sexuality, and immigration, highlighting the diversity within this label and the contrasting experiences they encounter.

Each character dominates a chapter, offering the reader a new perspective by the end of it. Evaristo successfully makes stark contrasts between each character, using a distinct style and tone, which made me feel as if I knew the characters personally, to explore their varied experiences. The fact these characters lives are intertwined, however, shows their overarching desire for support and community, as despite their differences, they are bound together by their shared struggle. Although I was unable to identify with the characters experiences myself, Evaristo’s style produced a deep level of empathy and compassion in me for each story, and I found myself becoming more and more emotionally involved as each chapter progressed. Evaristo purposely did not sugar coat any of the stories, aiming to create realistic, complex and flawed characters, encouraging the reader to form their own moral judgements. This made for a refreshing and eye-opening read, which cleverly exposed the prejudices and challenges facing black British women, whilst commenting on the uncomfortable truths of British society.

It seems fitting that Evaristo’s forward-thinking and unconventional novel, which subverts expectations of herself as a writer, uses a similarly unconventional form, which she defines as “fusion fiction.” The use of lowercase writing, absence of full stops and long sentences created a level of experimentation and fluidity, enabling her to gain access inside the psyche of each character and switch between the past and the present, which she seeks to redefine. Initially, it took me a while to get used to this writing style, which I had never encountered before, however, as I progressed it made for a seamless transition from story to story.

Overall, this was a very captivating read, which stuck with me long after I had finished it. I could not recommend it enough as well as encourage others to research further into Evaristo’s own experiences. I found her novel granted me new perspectives, encouraging me to question the nature of our society. Evaristo’s ability to present a revision of the single story which seems to dominate our shelves is incredibly important for progress. In literary terms, it allows minorities to identify themselves within novels, instead of being marginalised, whilst opening up others to lives other than their own. This is vital on a larger scale for altering society’s mindset and behaviours, and we should be encouraging new writers to use their voices.

 

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Review

Nasty Cherry Concert Review

Since beginning university I have been dying to attend a small gig as the intimacy and close proximity to the artists make for an enchanting atmosphere. After my friend told me she had bought tickets to see the band, Nasty Cherry, at the Birmingham O2 Arena, I jumped at the chance and bought a ticket myself, even though I had only listened to a couple of their songs. I soon discovered that the band was set up as a social experiment by Charli XCX, bringing together four women from both London and the US, who had never met before, and put them into a house in Los Angeles. The Netflix documentary, I’m with the Band: Nasty Cherry, follows their time in the LA house and how Charli uses her musical knowledge and expertise to see if she was able to form and mentor an established band. The results were successful as the band were able to write many songs during their time in the house. Although being assembled by Charli, the band pride themselves on the fact that it was ultimately down to them to make it work, relying on their originality and authenticity.

In the days leading up to the concert, I was listening to Nasty Cherry playlists on loop, however, I still did not really know what to expect. On arrival at the venue, I was surprised at just how small the room was and how few people there were. The group of five of us were so close to the band when they appeared on stage and despite the small crowd, the atmosphere was electric. I was pleasantly surprised by the two support acts as I am usually unimpressed by them and left frustrated, impatiently awaiting the main act to appear. The second support act, Noisy, created an infectious level of energy within the small room as the lead singer stage dived into the crowd before creating a mosh pit.

These acts successfully warmed us all up for the entrance of Nasty Cherry themselves, who captivated us all as soon as they entered the stage. It was clear from the outset the group had a very strong bond through their interactions and playful teasing, despite the short space of time they’d known each other. They had everyone singing and jumping along to their catchy debut song, ‘Win,’ as they played up to the bold sass of the song itself. Due to the small number of songs they have released, they sang an array of new, original songs, giving the concert a fresh and exciting touch. The lead singer, Gabriette, exuded sexiness and confidence, playing up to the crowd and leaving us wanting more. Her strong singing voice left me unable to believe she had not been a singer before Charli invited her to join the band.

My friends night was made after the drummer, Debbie, threw her drumstick into the crowd after their final song, and she managed to catch it (although it did take some desperate scrambling on the floor!) Then, just when we thought the night couldn’t get any better the band members joined the crowd off stage to sign autographs after their set. They were just as likeable as they were on stage and seemed genuinely excited to meet their fans. Debbie is also part of the band, Kitten, who the friends I was with happen to love. After telling her this, she made sure to film them declaring their love for the band and they even made it onto the official Kitten Instagram page.

Nasty Cherry’s quirky, bold style, reminiscent of the 80s with their punk-rock clothing and daring hair styles gave the band a fresh, edgy look, unlike many artists I’ve seen. It was refreshing to watch such a confident and fiery girl band owning the stage and being unequivocally themselves. They left you wishing you were part of the band yourself. Overall, it was a very memorable night, confirming my love of small concerts, and I am so thankful my friend introduced me to Nasty Cherry in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Lifestyle

What I’m Grateful For During Quarantine

We are now a few weeks into quarantine, which has completely upturned our ‘normal’ way of life. With wearing facemasks becoming the norm, being confined to the house due to strict social distancing rules all the while hearing the devastating effects of Coronavirus on the news, it is a strange and disturbing time. However, even in the midst of a global pandemic, there are still many things to be grateful for. I have compiled a list of five things I am grateful for, which I encourage others to do in order to stay positive.

1. Friends and Family
Being stuck in quarantine has made me extremely grateful for my friends and family. I am in a household with my parents and younger brother and fortunately the largest argument we have had so far is over which movie to watch on TV. As a university student, I spend much of my time away from home and my busy schedule means I often find myself neglecting those closest to me.  I’ve enjoyed the extra time I’ve been spending with my family, enabling us to reconnect as we support each other during these unprecedented times. Daily walks together give us plenty of time to catch up with each other and check in, whilst movie nights and board games are now a daily pastime to keep us all entertained.

Many of us are separated from close friends and family who are not in our household, and this is what I am personally finding the hardest. Although, quarantine is proving that distance really does make the heart grow fonder. I am so grateful for the friendships I have made during my first year at university, and it is hard being separated from them when we had so much still planned for our final term and beyond. Many of my friends from home I had already not seen for weeks, and I have not seen my childhood bestfriend for three months, which is the longest we have ever been separated.  However, this distance makes me realise just how important these people are to me and I know I will appreciate our reunion even more. I was fortunate enough to spend my 19th Birthday in quarantine and having assumed it would go semi-forgotten about this year, I was surprised to receive flowers, cards and cake, with some of my friends delivering these to my doorstep. These small gestures showed me just how lucky I am to have such valuable friends around me who still wanted to make my birthday special despite the circumstances.

2. Technology
Quarantine has made me grateful for the technology available to us in the modern day. Despite this distance from friends and family, there are so many ways to communicate online that they never seem too far away. The app, zoom, has become increasingly popular for conference meetings, online education, and just for a friendly catch-up. Recently, a group of friends and I had an online quiz night and despite my shameful loss in the quiz, it was a really fun idea. The online challenges circulating social media are providing light entertainment and a distraction during these tough times. From downing pints of beer to running a 5k in aid of the NHS (you can probably guess which I found easier) the online community is really getting together to support each other in as many ways as they can. The app, Tik Tok, which has gone viral provides another source of much needed entertainment. Despite lacking any sort of rhythm, I’m able to laugh at my failed attempts at learning the dance to ‘Supalonely,’ which I have already been ridiculed for by friends and family. This light-hearted trend has been able to keep many of us occupied and in good humour. The increasing availability of free home workouts and yoga sessions online have been helping me keep sane despite being confined to the house, which is so important for both our physical and mental health. Although the news can be a source of anxiety and it is not recommended to be looked at too much at the moment, the instant access to updates online regarding coronavirus helps us stay informed and updated on the everchanging situation, which has not always been the case during past pandemics.

3. Time
The unknown length of time which spreads out before us has slowed life down for everyone, giving us lots of spare time to engage ourselves with hobbies and activities we enjoy, as well as giving ourselves some much deserved me-time. Despite being an English Literature student, due to the demands of university life and the set reading lists, I have little time for reading for pleasure and have relished the opportunity to regain my love of reading. Baking has been another favourite pastime of mine recently, resulting in a constant supply of brownies, and I have also challenged myself to learn the guitar, now being able to play one song! These may not appeal to everyone, but whether it’s binge watching your favourite series on Netflix or partaking in yoga, these things are often neglected during our hectic lives. Quarantine offers us the chance to do some of the things we love most or even try something new which we have never got round to.

4. Nature
I am very lucky in that I have a relatively large garden and live in close proximity to an array of walking routes surrounded by fields and nature, which gives me comfort during quarantine. My mum and I ensure we go on a daily walk and I find the fresh air clears my head and makes me feel tranquil as well as boosting my energy, as otherwise I would be going stir crazy by now. It makes me realise how fortunate I am to have access to this on my doorstep. I have loved being able to sunbathe in my garden as well as have BBQ’s due to the sunny weather we’ve been having, which I find instantly lifts my mood and I would definitely be finding quarantine a lot harder without it. Despite the chaos in the world, nature continues to be a source of comfort and joy.

5. Removal of everyday pressures
Being confined to the house, stripped of all commitments and everyday pressures has actually made me feel a lot more relaxed. With social gatherings being prohibited and unessential shops being shut down, these is no chance of FOMO as everyone will similarly be lounging around their houses. Not being at university, although I do miss it very much, means my life feels a lot less hectic and less stressful. I’m no longer functioning on little sleep, hangovers and more plans than I can stick to and am enjoying the slower pace of quarantine lifestyle. Despite being someone who loves their fashion and getting ready for a night out, there’s no longer the need to stress over appearance as we’re only going out for exercise or to the supermarket. I haven’t worn makeup for weeks and my daily outfits consist of a different pair of trackies and sweaters most days, which has actually been quite freeing, making me a lot more comfortable with my natural appearance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am more than ready for quarantine to be over and once again experience the joys of ‘normal’ life, however, the time to reflect has shown me I still have many things to be grateful for and enabled me to gain appreciation for the smaller things in life. Within our fast-paced, demanding modern world, quarantine might be able to teach us all a lesson and change our way of life even once it is over.

Categories
Lifestyle

My First Environmental March

Millennials seem to have become central to the battle with environmental issues, taking it upon themselves to be the driving force for change. We have been brought up within an increasingly worrying environmental situation as conditions continue to worsen from the extinction of animal species to the ongoing problem of global warming. Characterised by more liberal and outspoken views, the formation of environmental organisations, protests and use of social media to broaden support and instantly share their views, has resulted in an increasingly mainstream culture. It seems logical as the future of millennials rests upon their ability to ensure sustainability and environmental progress, as they try and make the planet a better place for both them and their future children. Although as individuals we will not exist on this planet forever, the environment remains a constant in the lives of the human species and we have a duty to protect and sustain it for others.

I felt this post was particularly relevant during our current situation as many observations have been made about the positive environmental impact coronavirus is having all over the world. From clearer waters in Venice to observations regarding the environment have been made throughout the current lockdown during coronavirus, as travel restrictions have greatly reduced the volume of transport and the closure of large businesses and factories have led to a drop in carbon emissions.

Although this happened on a rather accelerated and dramatic scale, it has shown that vast improvements can be achieved in a short space of time. Undoubtedly, these measures are not sustainable in the long term, as it is impossible to expect these changes to be kept post-lockdown after large businesses re-open and people return to work, once again relying on transport. However, it would be heartbreaking to think that any progress made during lockdown would go to waste if life turned completely back to ‘normal.’ Adaptions would need to be made, but I think if we can take away anything from this strange and troublesome period of time, it’s that we need to take environmental matters seriously, and by working together we can achieve great things.

A friend of mine is a strong environmental activist and is part of ‘Extinction Rebellion’ at our university. I had never actually heard of this organisation before she told me about it and am aware it has attracted a lot of bad publicity and criticism, being labelled a radical group. I also have to strongly disagree with their actions in the past, where their protesting was anything but peaceful, disrupting the lives of many ordinary commuters and workers in London to promote change and gain publicity. This is definitely not the way to induce change as it is something which we all need to come together to fight against, rather than negatively impact and punish others. However, I decided to support my friend during an environmental protest organised by Extinction Rebellion at our University in February to gain an insight into the core beliefs of the organisation.

Strangely, I felt rather nervous as it was my first protest and I did not really know what to expect. Although there was security observing the protest to ensure nothing got out of hand. I am not the most confident of people at the best of times and the fact we had to chant made me want to cover my face with my hands. However, after the initial self consciousness faded, it did feel empowering, with everyone unified in their drive for change. Although I am aware that merely shouting out demands and views is not going to actually make any change, far from it in fact. But, it is an effective way to gain publicity and support for the cause.

Feeling fairly ignorant to the group and their beliefs, it was inspiring to hear the key speakers passionate speeches about their desire to bring about change and also just how necessary this change is due to the increasingly dire situation. One speaker highlighted the poor decision making and actions of the organisation in the past, highlighting that she doesn’t care about her direct association with the group itself, but purely focuses her attention on the need for change towards protecting and saving our environment. After the speeches, the leader of Extinction Rebellion led a march around the University campus, with everyone holding up homemade signs and banners using reused carboard and fabric. Onlookers seemed initially shocked at the large group of marchers chanting from the top of their lungs and were soon taking photos.

One problem I did have however, was the contempt and rather aggressive language used towards those they felt were to blame for the injustices. Understandably, there is great resentment for the Chancellor of our university, who does not appear to put the students first and has often ineffectively dealt with issues. Thus, as a fellow student I appreciate the built up resentment and anger towards those at the top. However, just as merely preaching beliefs, shouting and blaming others is also not going to help. The environment is home to everyone and therefore it is up to everyone to come together and work out the best strategy to achieve successful results. A speaker from the Labour party gave an insightful speech, highlighting that despite the distrust and contempt against those at the top, in this case the government, when it comes to environmental issues, it is up to use to gain entrance into these key positions of power in order to enforce change from above. Therefore, instead of holding them to account for these problems in society, it is up to us to gain authority to influence their decisions.

I don’t know if I will participate in another march anytime soon, but I think it is so important for our voices to be heard and seemingly small scale marches like these are a way of sparking renewed discussion and awareness for the cause. The fact that the protest was even able to take place on university grounds, supported by the authorities, granting the students a chance to voice their views, shows how considerations into the necessity for action due to the environmental crisis are being taken into account, if only a little.