CC Archives Blog: Dipping a toe into the archive

Commonword was part of my life before I even knew that it existed.  In the early 2000s, I started to explore Manchester’s spoken word scene without realising that many of the poets and writers that I had seen perform were part of Commonword at some stage or another.

Dike Omeje c. 2006
Michelle Green c. 2006

Almost two decades later, and I find myself working on its archive.  I’ve been cataloguing the items, going through old recordings, trying to work out who’s who. I’ve been in touch with some of the writers involved in the 1980s and 1990s to try to piece together the history of the organisation.

Commonword came out of the adult literacy movement in the late 1970s and was part of the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers. It is one of only a handful of Fed organisations set up around that time that still exists due of its ability to adapt, change and continue meeting the needs of marginalised writers.

Writing by working class people about working class life, writing without pretention. Writing by school children. Writing by women who have experienced domestic violence. Then there are the Black writers. So many of them. Not all from London either. Their number put notions of multiculturalism and inclusivity to shame. Makes you wonder why a lot of arts organisations find it so hard to commission and meet their diversity quotas.

Some things really haven’t changed. In the box of photos, in a torn envelope, there is a reel-to-reel tape called Get Out More. It was put together by Northern Gay Writers, a group that came out of Commonword before the first Gay Pride took place in Manchester. It’s from 1987.  I don’t know what’s on it yet, but there is something comforting and familiar about a bunch of queers getting together to make a recording. Things like this were a staple listening in my twenties. Some of those people are doing the same thing now. I’m hoping it will be shambolic.  I can’t wait to find out.

Some things have changed. Gay people can get married and we have more Black and Asian people in the media, and more women in public life. But most of them white. And a lot of those fundamental problems are still there. These archives are a measure of progress not just within publishing but in society as a whole. I’m hoping to look at some of these in future blog posts.

As part of the archive project, we’re holding a series of reminiscence sessions for writers who were part of Commonword in the 1980s and 1990s which will take place in Spring 2019.

Watch this space for venues, dates and times.


For more information about the Commonword Community Archives Project, email


In her debut book, Keisha Thompson presents a series of new poems alongside the script for her award-winning play,


Language affords us the capacity to describe our world(s), our experiences, our perspectives and thoughts. Keke Thompson’s Lunar is the kind of work that offers proof of poetry’s omnivorous appetite, the joy of its myriad tongues, and what’s possible when those tongues meet. Lunar is a body of work in which maths is simultaneously a lens, thematic driver and method, where Venn diagrams and the game of noughts and crosses are engaged as poetic forms, where poems are graphed and graphs become poems, where common parlance is extended through mathematical symbols. And yet, it is so much more. It is a dazzling exploration of language and meaning, variable assignments and translation, both tender and unforgiving in its interrogation of heritage, culture, contemporary politics, the patterns we establish and break, and a daughter’s relationship with her father. This is bold and brilliant work.

Jacob Sam-La Rose


This lyrical endeavour and beautiful adventure examines a complex familial relationship that is long distance , spoken through half open letter boxes and journeys effortlessly across space and time, then back again. Reading this book will help you understand what a father and daughter wish to teach and need to know about each other.

Louise Wallwein MBE Poet and Playwright.

Commonword announces renewed NPO status 2018-2022

Commonword announces the wonderful news that its bid to receive funding under the Arts Council of England’s National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) programme has been successful. We, at Commonword, thank Arts Council England for continuing to support our work.

Julia Davis, Commonword’s Chair says: “”We are delighted with this news which will underpin our continued commitment to new writers. We look forward to developing our creative programme of workshops, digital innovation, conferences and cross sector partnerships.”

Commonword’s Chief Executive, Pete Kalu states: “This represents a ringing endorsement of our diversity and innovation focused approach to literature development and specifically our five strand plan to help more new writers become successful over the coming years.”


Those five strands are:

  1. Black Digital + Creative Texts:

Commonword will foster BAME writers pioneering innovative e-based fiction such as twitter platfomed fiction; flash fiction multimedia stories involving sound, visuals and text; games which have text as a central element; geo-interactive stories – utilising smart phone geo-positioning technologies to tell stories specific to black places.  The programme will include Digital Creative Labs, Workshops, Showcasings, Masterclasses and visiting artists.

  1. Advanced Black Fiction Focus

We have become one of the UK’s leading movers, shakers and change-makers in the field of Diversity and Children and Young Adult (CYA) Fiction.  We intend to maintain that progress while  leading  again in supplementary areas including in black crime fiction and black scifi fiction where there is a growing movement of black writers and critics.  Our programme will include workshops, seminars, conferences, and masterclasses.

  1. Spoken Word

Responding to demand, particularly from new and refugee writers to help them develop live, text centred, performance we have grown a strong presence in developing monologue and performed poetry, particularly via our Women In The Spotlight programme. The work often forms the starting point for the writers to experiment with other more two dimensional text based forms such as the short story and longer fiction. We will intensify and broaden the scope of our work in this area.

  1. Biennial Black Writers Conference

We have brought people together and caused major shifts in the creative writing fields via our much lauded Black writers conference.  Outputs have ranged from quarter million pound AHRC funded research projects (Mediating Marginalities: Lancaster University) to new publishing houses (HopeRoad) to radical change in the mainstream publishing industry (Diversity Writing For Children agenda went mainstream). The Conferences will continue to push game-changing voices, technologies and critical analyses of literature and the literature industry.

  1. Biennial Festival of Firsts

We will provide place and time for new writers including young writers, to learn their craft, showcase their work and grow to success. We will provide workshops and performance opportunities for new writers throughout the year including via our Superheroes of Slam format so spoken word artists can network, learn from one another and showcase their work. These initiatives will be brought together and supplemented via our biennial Festival of Firsts. This Festival will celebrate innovation of art form as well as new writers and will include immersive novel readings, Who Wrote What (4 new writers read 4 scripts. But who wrote which script?), the showcasing of digital creatives, Audio Booth & Peep Show events and sign language stories.


We look forward to joining with all our partners, collaborators, sponsors and participants in making this programme happen. Given the backing also of other North based literature organisations by Arts Council England, the North looks set to have a thriving literature scene for the next five years.


More about the Arts Council England’s NPO decisions can be found here.




SHORTLIST: Diversity Writing for Children Prize 2016

Shortlisted entries for the 2016 Commonword Diversity Writing for Children Prize are:

Star Burn by Magda Knight

The Ghosts and Jamal by Bridget Blankley

Jed Zed Black by Roopa Farooki

The Monster Orphanage by Rohan Agalwatta

A Very Modern Covern by Manon Olegasagarem

To read the entries, click on the titles.

The winner will be declared on the 11th of October at Chapter One Bookshop. Details to follow

For more details, please go to

Diversity Writing for Children Prize 2016: Writing for Children Masterclass

Organised by Commonword, this panel discussion is for those aspiring to write for the children’s fiction industry. Topics covered will include: how to find an agent, what publishers seek from writers in this genre, the challenges of writing diverse characters, the difficulties BAME authors face getting published within the children’s book industry and possible solutions.

Alexandra Antscherl – Penguin Random House, Executive Editor
Melvin Burgess – Award-Winning Author
Catherine Pellegrino – Marjacq Scripts Ltd, Literary Agent
Rosemarie Hudson – HopeRoad Publishing

This masterclass is part of the 4th Commonword Diversity Writing for Children Prize