Poetry from the heart created by young migrants

Kate Clanchy at Small Wonder Festival in Charleston
Kate Clanchy at Small Wonder Festival in Charleston

The creativity of young migrants is just one of the highlights of this year’s Small Wonder Festival at Charleston from September 28 – 30.

For nine years award-winning novelist and poet Kate Clanchy has been writer-in-residence at Oxford Spires Academy – the chosen school of Oxford’s many migrants, both for asylum-seeking families and those who work in the city.

The residency was initiated and supported for six years by the charity First Story, which places acclaimed writers in secondary schools serving low-income areas across the country.

Just how moving and at times heartbreaking the poetry written by her students is can be seen in a new collection, published by Picador and edited by Kate. England – Poems From A School, documents both the pain of leaving their homeland and the exhilaration of building a new England.

The poems range from the raw and direct to funny and lyrical. Eighteen year old Shukria Rezaei’s chilling study of the Taliban compares their version of the Quran with the Quran of Prophet Mohammad and in another poem she writes of homesickness for her mud house and “the fresh smell of clay on the floor.”

Kate will be reading from the book at Charleston’s Small Wonder festival on Friday September 28 at 5.45pm. This event – To Make A Homeland – will celebrate the voices of immigration as an inextricable part of Britain’s national identity.

Joining her on the platform will be Colin Grant, author and historian of Caribbean Studies; award-winning poet Daljit Nagra, whose new collection British Museum explores national identity and Asima Qayyum, one of Kate’s young mentees. Asima came to Britain from Pakistan when she was three.

Celebrating its 15th year, the festival dedicated to the short story returns to the newly renovated Hay Barn at Charleston. As always the programme explores a multitude of themes, from contemporary politics to the nature of identity, from dissent to protest, from feminism to Donald Trump’s America. As always Small Wonder will bring exciting new writing to audiences and an opportunity for embryo writers to take to the stage, with the popular Slam and courtyard readings, plus workshops with Liz Allard, Alison Macleod and Benjamin Markovits.

Highlights on Saturday include Mothers and Madames - tales of transformation, rootlessness and abandonment with prizewinning author Sarah Hall and The Guardian’s Chris Power, and Man Booker prizewinner Ben Okri will read from his compilation of poetry from around the world Poetry for the Many and will discuss the importance of poetry as protest and a means of seeking the truth. (Saturday).

Dame Antonia Byatt is the recipient of this year’s Charleston-Bede’s Award for a lifetime’s excellence in short fiction. The award will be presented on Sunday September 30 during an event chaired by Alison MacLeod, Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester. By Carole Buchan.

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