Locked down with my beliefs: taking stock
31 / 07 / 20
12 / 07 / 19
Photo: Tian Khee Siong
Maryam, intern alum (2017)
#BecauseWeveRead (BWR) is an international radical reading club, founded by Hoda Katebi. Last June, I started as the London host of the book club with my friend, Alliyah Riaz. Every two months, a book is announced followed by discussions online. In addition to online discussions, different cities around the world host in-person book clubs to discuss the book together. I started the London book club with Alliyah while finishing my Masters in Postcolonial and Global Literature. All the themes that I was studying centred around colonialism; #BecauseWeveRead was the perfect way to continue a form of studying in a more relaxed environment. We could speak about colonialism, race, gender, religion, culture without the power structures that occupy a university classroom; and the “objectivity” that shuts down any conversation of how these topics make us feel. Books we’ve read include Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, Edward Said’s Covering Islam, Arundhati Roy’s The End of Imagination and more.
The London book club is hosted at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, and it’s a chance for members of the community and friends to discuss, learn, critique, and be vulnerable in a space where our voices aren’t policed. Instead of having these discussions in universities, we were able to have them in community spaces and while it’s about learning; it also gives people room to vent, to be angry, to be sad, and to bond with other people over shared knowing and feeling.
In addition to the book clubs, I’ve been lucky enough to partner with festivals to produce events for the local community. The most recent being with the Newham Word Festival in March. #BecauseWeveRead: Conversations and Collaboration saw seven different collectives tell their stories about why they started their work and what they hoped for the future. Groups included Makrooh, The Yoniverse Poetry Collective, Literary Natives, South Asian Sisters’ Speak, The Black Verse, Poetry and Shaah and daikon* zine. It was a special event and bringing these founders together led to great conversations around responsibility to our communities, representation, the work it takes to be vulnerable, identity, taking care of our selves in order to serve the community and more. The honesty in the room was palpable and appreciated by the people who attended. As the person behind the event, it was important for me to meet all these people who I admire and support to hear their stories. As always, it was nerve-wracking to be the host, but also comforting to know that many of the people I was speaking with had also been through the same experience.
It was funded by the Newham Word Festival which was also a really nice opportunity for me to be a part of. Newham is my home borough and I was also part of the team producing the festival which gave me the chance to be both a producer and facilitator.
Whilst finishing my MA, as traditionally follows, I was thinking about jobs and what in the world I was going to do next. Luckily, through holding events at Faith & Belief Forum and Rich Mix, I knew I wanted to do more producing. My interest in colonialism and decolonisation along with the desire to continue producing made BWR the perfect space to work in. What started as just a local book club and a small part of the international reading club has, I suppose, morphed into different strands. The book club, events (which couldn’t happen without the encouragement and support around me) and we’re also working on a project where #BecauseWeveRead (London) will be taken to local schools.
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