My initiation to this year’s Manchester Literature festival, in the beautiful committee room of Central library.
Dorethea Smartt read from her new poetry collection Ship Shape, billed as a poet who dismantles cultural myths and ‘the kinda black woman the world ain’t seen yet’. I liked the fact that she was Brixton market’s first poet in residence.
Taken out of context, I was confused to the background of her poetry as the setting is Lancaster, but she explains how Samboo an African slave was brought over by a sea captain as a present for his wife. Samboo died within a few days of his arrival and is presumed to be buried at Sunderland point. Smartt imagines Samboo’s journey and paints a picture of migration in past and present terms. I was left feeling there is so much I do not know.
Then there was Cynthia.
Cynthia McLeod a Dutch writer from Suriname, is the author of The free Negress Elisabeth. Cynthia put 12 years into researching Surinamese history, and paints a wonderful picture of life there. I want her to come home with me and tell me bed time stories, though I don’t say this to her.
Cynthia spoke about all the different cultures in Suriname that live together in harmony, and how every religion celebrates each feast. The Surinamese Muslims, she says have the most lavish Christmas decorations, I giggle as she laughs at herself. Her tone was beautiful and I fell in love with her there and then.
Her first novel ‘How expensive was the sugar?’ sold out in Suriname within a matter of weeks, and in 1987 she became the most famous Surinamese writer.
As for me I had no idea that Suriname even existed, and Cynthia’s telling of her home country was beautiful. The story of Elisabeth sounds compelling to read with the underlying drive for a free negress with so much wealth trying to gain acceptance of Dutch colonial society by marrying a white man.
This was a great start to the festival and all for zero pence.