“Are you using-” “Canva? Yeah I am” – Thoughts from an Intern

Commonword’s recent intern Shauna Strathmann shares thoughts and reflections on her 10-week placement supporting our events and marketing activity.

Whenever I enter a new ‘phase’ of my life, I have a habit of consuming any and all related cultural content in an effort to shift myself into that mode. It’s often massively counterintuitive, but that didn’t stop me from watching The Devil Wears Prada (2006) the week before my internship at Commonword started. Magazine publishing, Book publishing. Potay-to, Potah-to (for legal reasons, that is a joke). Experience-wise, the film was always going to be useless, but I did have a crisis over whether I have control over my own wardrobe-related decisions.

Something I learned during this 10 week internship was just how creative the publishing industry can be – one of my reservations whenever I thought about a career down this avenue was likely similar to many writers; that they might not have room amidst corporate promotion to create anything themselves, but that couldn’t be further from the case. The diversity in the forms of promotion and reporting I was doing meant I was constantly trying something new, and receiving regular feedback, so I gradually discovered what I was good at. I even found inspiration for my own writing – a report I did in February felt more like poetry or spoken word than a journalistic piece, and it led to more creative writing than I’d been capable of in months.

Visually speaking I’m meticulous – my idea of a fun Friday night is planning an entire week’s worth of outfits around a set concept or colour palette, so something I really wanted to learn and get to grips with during this placement was social media promotion. Many of the later weeks were spent brainstorming Canva layouts – perhaps the 2023 publishing equivalent to finding the right turquoise belt to match a sugary pink tulle party dress. It’s really difficult; Tw cent MT and Trebuchet MS are just so different.

I actually did get my Anne Hathaway big event moment early on for the launch of the InDivisible anthology at Manchester Poetry Library – in the lead-up I had the pleasure of reading through an advance copy and using my critical analysis to understand the pieces as best I could, then put together a running order that made sense thematically. I then used that to photograph the book for promotional images. Actually travelling up to Manchester to see everything come together on the night (and see tiny things almost fall apart, but we had military-grade glue in the form of Artistic Director Cheryl Martin and printed out running orders) was the ‘Paris’ moment. Yet (and this applies to the whole internship experience), in huge contrast to The Devil Wears Prada, I didn’t need a lengthy makeover montage to feel like I was doing the job well. I was frankly bowled over by the amount of support with anything I needed help with, and the willingness to entrust me with important tasks. I started every Wednesday with a meeting with Radhaika, who always checked to make sure I was wholly confident in what I was doing that day, and knew that whatever work I’d be doing for Commonword, be it Canva-ing workshops promo, an audio report, or data entry (I got to read everyone’s feedback on the InDivisible launch!), it would give me a better understanding of how well I could see myself doing a similar job in the future. This would be the part in the movie in which I leave the event of the year, and toss my ringing phone into a fountain, but after getting the opportunity to work with creatives who care so deeply about elevating new and unheard voices, who have welcomed and guided me, I’m clutching that metaphorical T-Mobile Sidekick with both hands; I’ll answer the moment it rings.


Internship by numbers:

Pizza slices consumed on launch night: 3

Heavy boxes carried: 1

Heavy boxes almost dropped: 1

Hours spent font switching on Canva: 3

Logins memorised: 6

Hazelnut lattes consumed on call: 5.5

Times agonised over which emoji to end a Tweet/Instagram post with: 8

Times rushed across New York for an unpublished manuscript: (thankfully) 0

Shauna Strathmann

Commonword works with Carson Wolfe for 2023 Poet in Residence programme

Commonword will be supporting poet Carson Wolfe in the delivery of creative writing sessions at Falinge Park High School as part of the 2023 Poet in Residence programme at Manchester Metropolitan University. This programme is funded by The Comino Foundation.

Carson Wolfe is a Mancunian poet. In 2021, they were an Aurora prize winner and a Button video contest winner. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming with Fourteen Poems, Rattle, and The Penn Review. You can find them on Instagram @vincentvanbutch.

Introducing Our Artistic Directors: Pete Kalu

Which art forms do you work in?
I’m a novelist, short story writer, poet and theatre maker. I also write for tv and film scripts. My fiction writing genres include crime, young adult and sci-fi as well as literary.

Which organisations/projects are you involved with outside of Commonword Cultureword?

I’m involved with the Colonial Countryside movement which looks at the colonial roots of many British stately homes. I’m also part of the black speculative fiction movement.

What projects are you currently working on/ have upcoming in 2023?

My dystopian alt-fiction novel, One Drop came out in August 2022. My speculative fiction short story Fall of the House of Penrhyn comes out in Peepal Tree’s Glimpse anthology in January 2023 and my short story, Sidewinds to Andromeda is in the Comma Press anthology, Collision, which comes out around February 2023.

What are you most excited about for 2023?

I’m half-way through writing something that surfs the hyphen between polemical memoir and auto-fiction. It’s a highly unstable piece, genre wise, and I’m loving working on it.

Please share a book and/or show recommendation
Glimpse is a bunch of weird and wonderful short stories, edited by the top-notch writer, Leone Ross.

Where can we find your work?
You can find me on Twitter @peterkalu and Instagram @petekalu. My website is peterkalu.com

Introducing Our Artistic Directors: Cheryl Martin

Commonword’s Artistic Directors put into action our basic mission – to help new and emerging writers become more successful.  What it means to be successful is open to wide interpretation:  for some of our writers, it’s meant getting an agent, getting published with a multi-book deal, getting commissioned by television streaming companies, winning awards.  And it can also mean enjoying writing, watching your writing get better and better, performing, becoming part of festivals, or just sharing with friends and family. 

To make all that happen, the Artistic Directors have to fundraise, plan our artistic programmes and try to make sure people know about everything we’re doing and our opportunities.

Cheryl Martin

Cheryl Martin stands in Moss Side Library. She has black curly hair and is wearing a black dress with boots.

Which art forms do you work in?
I write poetry and plays, and direct and perform for theatre.  Won a few awards along the way.

Which organisations/projects are you involved with outside of Commonword Cultureword?

I’m a Co-Artistic Director for Manchester’s Global Majority queer-led Black Gold Arts, which has been doing artist development in writing, directing, choreography and performance since 2014.  We had a fantastic two-day outdoor festival at The Whitworth in August 2022 which had 5,500 folks come to join us.

I freelance as a theatre director, and have worked at Contact with black Africans living with HIV [I Am Because We Are, toured 2018]; with Community Arts Northwest with mostly women asylum seekers and refugees for ten years.  I directed the launch of giant puppet Amal, A Sleeping Child, for Manchester International Festival in July 2021.
I’ve also been doing some teaching for Manchester School of Theatre’s acting course for the past two years [Manchester Metropolitan University].

What projects are you currently working on/have upcoming in 2023?
I’ll be directing a brand-new play, This Town, by performance poet Rory Aaron for Contact for March 2023.

And a play I directed in 2022 with the Royal Exchange Caribbean Elders, Dominoes + Dahlias [Plus Oware!] will still be touring.

What are you most excited about for 2023?

Commonword is going to start a Wellbeing Programme for our writers, staff and board members.  I think about how best to do it every single day.  We’re hosting our National Black Writers’ Conference in-person from Oldham and internationally online – the last one was a blast and we want to top it this time.   And writer/performer Adam Lowe, who’s basing part of his PhD on researching Commonword’s Archive which goes right back to the 1970s [Commonword Archive], will be starting new queer workshops in September.

Plus, I get to direct a brand-new play, which I love doing.

Please share a book and/or show recommendation

I love The Jasmine Throne and The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri.  We read them for Commonword’s Queer Black Book Club [they’re the first two of a trilogy].  I inhaled these books, they were so much fun – Southeast Asian-inflected fantasy, wonderful worldbuilding, lesbian protagonists who actually have really good sex, politics, magic, sibling rivalry played out across an empire – these books have it all.

Where can we find your work?
Upcoming performances:
Director, This Town, by Rory Aaron, at Contact Theatre, starting 22 March 2023 then touring to Derby.
And look out for Dominoes + Dahlias [Plus Oware!] on the Royal Exchange website.

My website is: Theatre | cherylmartin.net | Manchester
My Twitter is: @cherylalaska My Instagram is: cherylmartin7931

Commonword receives National Lottery Community funding for Migrant and Refugee Creative Writing project

We are very pleased to announce that the National Lottery Community Fund will be funding Commonword’s project ‘Through the Darkness’: a creative writing workshop series with women and non-binary people from refugee and migrant communities in Greater Manchester, launching February 2023.

Responding to the needs and interests of community members, Through the Darkness will explore identity, displacement and adaptation to a new culture through poetry, short story and play-writing, culminating in a sharing event and publication.

Thank you to all National Lottery players for supporting important community initiatives and making this project possible.