The second week of the Festival continued today with a Magical Realism writing workshop with Penny Pepper, hosted by the Together! Pop-Up Poetry Club. One of the pleasures of running an ongoing artistic programme is the opportunities it provides to develop relationships with mid-career artists, and to experience different aspects of their work. Last year Penny Pepper led an erotic writing workshop as part of our summer programme, and performed her autobiographical one-woman show Lost in Spaces at the Old Town Hall during the Together! 2015 Disability History Month Festival. Since then Penny has become a regular columnist for the Guardian newspaper, and her print autobiography, First in the World Somewhere, will be published by Unbound in 2017.
As a topic, magical realism was new to the Pop-Up Poetry Club, which as with all of the Together! Clubs brings together mid-career and emerging disabled artists from across impairment groups, along with any other disabled person who wants to attend, and their companions. However, Penny is a highly experienced workshop leader, as well as someone who has spent decades studying her craft. Under her direction we were soon all writing busily, with a much clearer understanding of the genre and a list of books to enjoy later. We began with choosing a bird to include in our work, and discussed the myths and archetypes associated with each. As a Gosling, my choice was obvious, and I was soon discovering the strengths inherent in the imagery; particularly guardianship and creating wealth (the golden egg). Click here to read my ‘flash fiction’ story.
Disabled writers still face significant barriers in establishing a career, whether this is in poetry, fiction, non-fiction or journalism. Penny told us of her personal experiences over lunch, finding that all too often networking events and writing workshops are held in venues that are inaccessible to everyone requiring step-free access and an accessible toilet. Meanwhile awareness of other forms of access requirements is minimal, whether this is for people with hearing or visual impairments, mental health difficulties, learning difficulties or long-term health conditions.
Another barrier is the failure to pay writers properly, particularly disabled writers, when the expenses of producing work and travelling to promote it can be much higher than for non-disabled writers. And of course the continuing cuts to disabled people’s incomes, and to services such as TaxiCard, also create barriers. The majority of UK households containing a disabled person have no domestic internet access, so the wealth of resources for writers and writing communities online remain beyond the reach of most disabled people. In fact, many Together! artists have no computer of their own either. What is both real and magical, though, is the amount of talent they and other disabled artists possess.
The Together! Pop-Up Poetry Club meets on Wednesday mornings from 10.30am-12 noon at Vicarage Lane Community Centre (see below for full details). Participants will be reading their work at the End of Festival Party on 16 December at Vicarage Lane.
Many thanks to Penny Pepper; my PA Shirley Skinner; Margaret Spence, Kim Stevens and Vicarage Lane Community Centre for the hot lunch; Jasmine and Alison from Together! 2012; and Active Newham Volunteers.
Next: Homegrown & Live