On May 1st my fellow Word Factory apprentices and I joined the politically charged Writers of the World Unite! Festival as Writers In Residence. It was full of Russian revolutionary poetry, debates on identity politics and globalisation, Caribbean literature, and looked at the radical potential of graphic novels with writers from across the globe.
I ran a weekend-long Write In! as part of the #WOTWlitfest, with the aim of encouraging passersby to write about issues of injustice and social change. I asked myself, “How might storytelling by everyday people differ from political/media narratives?” and “How might such storytelling challenge indifference to injustice and promote human rights?” These questions were at the heart of the festival, as well as part of the Word Factory’s 2017 theme of Citizen: the New Story. My challenge was to incorporate the big questions of our day into little creative writing tasks. But would people want to engage?
I enticed passersby towards our Embertons Cafe Word Factory desk by offering up black boxes filled with writing stimulus labelled Characters, Desires, and Disruptions. They chose something from each box, chatted about it with Claire, Emily and I, after which they sat in silence, writing a new piece of flash fiction with us. If “hands on” stimulus wasn’t their bag, they chose a book from our Citizen Library (a brilliant list of political writings, recommended to us by the Word Factory team). I told them, for example: “Turn to page 74, line 6, and start writing!”
The results were fantastic! I don’t just mean the wonderful flash fictions people came up with. I’m talking about the fact that everyday people were sitting with strangers, chatting freely or writing quietly, whilst engaging with big topics of the day, in ways that felt accessible, fun, and creative.
We weren’t Suited Politicians, Media Moguls, or Famous Authors. We were readers, sometimes writers, everyday citizens, reclaiming narratives for ourselves, learning to take risks by trying on new ideas and characters – stepping out somehow.