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Words of Colour – interview with Nick Makoha

Nick Makoha took a professional detour from being a biochemist to become a writer, educationalist and charismatic performance poet. With experience of performing in different countries, he explains why engaging young people’s creativity is at the heart of his vocation.

March/April 2008

Nick Makoha

Writing is not what I do, it is who I am. It has taken my full life experience to understand that. Poetry is often falsely viewed as the province of privileged folk and as a pursuit for the extremely gifted. But I realise poetry comes from the people and needs to be given back to the people.

For the past year-and-a-half I have been running the writing collective Malika’s Kitchen. This is a literary movement of writers committed to craft, and expanding notions of being British. The collective took an Arvon Foundation course led by Kwame Dawes and Leone Ross, with Bernadine Evaristo as a special guest. These three professional writers expanded our vision of writing. A lot of what we learned found its way into our anthology ‘A Storm Between Fingers’. It was launched last year at Foyles bookstore in London.

The collective was formed at writer and poet Malika Booker’s house. In August 2001 she prepared food and invited a group of new and developing writers and poets to her home. That night they spoke, wrote, ate and saw a new way to strengthen craft and community. Since then we have met every Friday for the past six years. ‘A Storm Between Fingers’ is the fruit of those many years of writing and discussion.

Recently I toured with the British Council to the Czech Republic and Chicago where my chapbook (‘The Lost Collection of The Invisible Man’) was well received among students and audience members at shows. Over 100 copies were sold by hand. Many of the themes I explore as a writer focus on aspects of childhood such as family, kinship and fatherhood.

It is autobiographical in nature and delivers the internal workings of a man when stripped of machismo. It builds on the idea that the most beautiful things about the human condition exist in what we do not know about ourselves.

Earlier in my career I worked with an excellent director – Dawn Reid – at the Theatre Royal Stratford East on a show ‘SPEECHIFY – Four Men on Family’, part of Spokefest, a two-week festival of Spoken Word performances and workshops culminating in a UK Slam Championship.

Off the back of that success Renaissance One have approached me to write a show. Theatre Royal Stratford East have invited me to test out my ideas at Spokelab. I am really enjoying the process. It is early days, but I will keep you posted. Without giving too much away all I can say is that the way they set up the space reminds me of the Stanislavski style.

Their holistic approach brings out an integrity to the work I am developing. There is a great sense of fun and play each time we meet. Some of my new work will be published in the journal Trespass. Some photographs of my international travels are up on Flickr. The Chicago photos are from Jacob Sam-La Rose and the Prague Photos where taken by Jason Larkin.

Read: Some of Nick’s poetry

Biography

Originally trained to be scientist, this former biochemist changed direction to become a writer, performer and educationalist. Nick runs the Youth Poetry Network which serves as a bridge for young people between their induction as writers in teen slams and the contemporary world of literature. Nick designed it to ‘give a charismatic approach to workshop facilitation’. He has collaborated with Creative Partnerships, Nesta, the British Council, Apples & Snakes, Jubilee Books, Barbican Education and Spread the Word to run creative workshops. As a facilitator, he actively encourages cultural diversity which allows him to be an ongoing advocate and mentor of young people wishing to work in the arts. His core focus is to develop and support a culture of poetry and performance within schools.

via Words of Colour – A new community enterprise established to nurture, train and advise the next generation of writers and journalists particularly from black and minority ethnic communities and marginalised groups..