Poetry And, the much-loved public events series at King’s chaired by Professor of Poetry Ruth Padel, is teaming up with the Obsidian Foundation – a new foundation for Black poets – for a free online event on 13th May, presented by Obsidian’s founder Nick Makoha and featuring Ariana Benson, Zakia Carpenter-Hall, and Saddiq Dzukogi. Event details here. Below is an introduction to the Obsidian Foundation.
The Obsidian Foundation was founded in 2020 by award-winning poet Nick Makoha to create a new poetry development programme. The programme supports Black poets from the UK through multiple attendances at the Retreat, until they graduate as Alumni.
Dr Nathalie Teitler, Director of The Complete Works Poetry, in her research found that 20% of poetry published by major presses in the UK currently was written by Black or Asian poets, compared to 1% in 2005. Despite this, the London Review of Books has not reviewed any Black poets within the last 10 years. The Foundation will align with organisations nationally and internationally to challenge this status-quo and elevate Black poets.
The Retreat is a long-term, sustainable programme based on the successful model of Cave Canemin in the USA. The Foundation will provide Black poets, who often face several barriers of access to literary resources and professional development, with an opportunity to network with agents, influencers, and publishers.
The first retreat of courses, seminars, events and mentorships will be held virtually and includes sessions with acclaimed poets Roger Robinson (T. S. Eliot Award 2019), Raymond Antrobus (Ted Hughes Award 2019), Malika Booker (winner of the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2020 for ‘The Little Miracles’), Patricia Smith (Pulitzer Prize finalist 2018) and Terrence Hayes (MacArthur Foundation Fellow).
The Foundation team has been selected to provide the poets with a holistic experience and includes poet Theresa Lola (2018 Brunel African Poetry Prize winner and former Young People’s Laureate for London) and producer, writer and founder of Black Ticket Project, Tobi Kyeremateng.
Nick Makoha, Obsidian Foundation’s founder, said: “I had been wanting to start this project after graduating from Cave Canem feeling my duty as an alumnus to ‘pass it on’. The killing of George Floyd and the BLM movement was the trigger I needed to make it happen. Our mission is to create a safe space for Black poets in the UK and beyond to write with complete freedom but without the burden of identity. Through this exceptional opportunity, we provide Black poets with lifelong networks, development, and a space to excel. Statistical data has revealed that there is an extreme deficit in diverse voices within the UK poetry scene. Our intention is to radically challenge this by giving poets a leg up and opening doors that have been closed for too long. Our distinguished faculty are looking forward to welcoming and working with the very first cohort of poets this autumn.”
Bernardine Evaristo, Booker Prize winner, said: “Obsidian Foundation is an important new initiative creating a space where poets can develop their skills in a black-led community where they feel accepted, are encouraged to write out of their cultural specificities and where they don’t have to explain their cultural backgrounds. I hope it flourishes and becomes embedded as part of Britain’s ongoing literature provision.”
Roger Robinson, T. S. Eliot winner and Retreat tutor, said: “Obsidian Foundation workshops are exactly the kind of workshops that were instrumental to me as I was seeking my way as a poet moving from beginner to immediate. Afro Style School with Kwane Dawes and Bernardine Evaristo was instrumental to my creative journey twenty five years ago. I’m delighted to be involved as a tutor with Obsidian Foundation as a tutor for black writers today and I hope they get equally as much from it.”
Toi Derricotte, founder of Cave Canem in the USA, said: “I have come from a time where black stories were not valued in literature. Part of my role as an artist was to change that story. That is why Cornelius Eady and I started Cave Canem so that no black life has to be denied the dignity of becoming literature. I fully support Obsidian Foundation carrying on the legacy of Cave Canem Poets for communities of black writers in the UK.”
The application process has been created to be accessible, requiring three poems and 300 words describing why the Retreat would support the applicant’s work. The Retreat is open to Black African, Caribbean, Afro-Latinx and African-American heritage, including those of mixed-Black heritage poets living in the UK. Applications can be made through the Obsidian Foundation: www.obsidianfoundation.co.uk.
About Nick Makoha, Founder
Nick Makoha is one of ten writers of The Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry. He won the 2015 Brunel International Poetry Prize and the 2016 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for his pamphlet Resurrection. His debut collection Kingdom of Gravity was shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection and nominated by The Guardian as one of the best books of 2017. As a former NESTA mentor, he is an ongoing advocate of young people wishing to work in the Arts and Media. nickmakoha.com
About Obsidian Foundation
The Obsidian Foundation has been established to create a community of Black creative poets and provide a place for them to express themselves with freedom. A one-week retreat will be held annually for Black African, Caribbean, Afro-Latinx and African-American heritage, including those of mixed-Black heritage poets who want to advance their writing practice. Poets are selected by application and the retreat will be led by five acclaimed Black tutors. Participant poets have 5 years to attend 3 Obsidian retreats, after which they become Obsidian Foundation alumni.
Obsidian Foundation Retreat is Funded by Arts Council, England and King’s College London. It is supported in kind by The Poetry Society, Poetry London, Magma Poetry Magazine, Granta, The Arvon Foundation and Wasafiri Magazine. www.obsidianfoundation.co.uk.