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Friday, June 18, 2021

Breaking Ground: Black British Writers Tour makes its way to Mondavi tonight

British writer Bernadine Evaristo, one of the authors featured in the Breaking Ground tour. (KRISTIANSTAD BOKFESTIVAL 2015 / FLICKR)
British writer Bernadine Evaristo, one of the authors featured in the Breaking Ground tour. (KRISTIANSTAD BOKFESTIVAL 2015 / FLICKR)

Tour includes a diverse collection of work by black writers from around the U.K.

On Tuesday, May 3, the Mondavi Center will host an event for the Breaking Ground: Black British Writers U.S. Tour. The tour showcases a variety of written work from 10 talented black writers from around the United Kingdom. The project is part of the British foundation Speaking Volumes, LLC, which supports and hosts live literature productions.

At a pre-event hosted by the UC Davis African American Studies (AAS) program, Speaking Volumes director Sharmilla Beezmohun spoke about the featured writers and where previous tours have been.

“We brought them to the U.S. last November and spent time on the East Coast, and now we’re on this side of the states,” Beezmohun said.

The success that the tour found last year allowed the group to come back to the United States, this time touring in New York, New Jersey and California.

Beezmohun said that the male writers in the group took part in a creative writing workshop for the inmates at the California State Prison in Sacramento.

At the AAS event, two writers on the tour, Bernardine Evaristo and Jay Bernard, spoke about their life experiences and read from some of their work.

Evaristo was born in London to a British mother and a Nigerian father. Her experience growing up in London in the 1960’s and 70’s when there was a lack of representation for mixed-race people is part of what has inspired her career. After starting a theatre troupe called Black Women Co., Evaristo pursued fiction.

“I needed to find that personal entitlement to be a writer and get what I wanted from my writing career,” Evaristo said.

The book she read from, Lara, is a work of fiction that is inspired by her family history, and goes back to detail over seven generations of her family.

Along with being a part of Breaking Ground, Evaristo also started the Brunel African Poetry prize, which is open to writers all around the world and has a grand prize of £3,000.

Evaristo said programs like Breaking Ground aim to mentor black British writers and open them up to poetry networks and the British poetry scene in order to increase the amount of work published by black writers.

“These schemes are really important, really interesting and necessary,” Evaristo said.

Bernard spoke about coming from a working-class family in London and spending time in her childhood finding books she could relate to her experiences. Bernard has pursued degrees in technology and the humanities, and has found it useful to combine the two disciplines.

“I wanted to take an arts-oriented approach to technology,” Bernard said.

On her identity as a writer, Bernard said she identifies as both a queer writer and a black writer, along with the intersections that those identities create.

“I try to think more about my identity in terms of what I do,” Bernard said, referring to her poetry and feminist technological projects, like the online forum Black Feminist Server Workshop.

The Davis leg of the Breaking Ground tour, which will include nine of the 10 writers in the group, is tonight at the Mondavi Center at 8 p.m. Tickets for the event can be found here.

Written by: Melissa Dittrich – arts@theaggie.org

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