Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
Art is anything you want to call art in my view and even when it’s not called art, it may look to you like an exquisite piece of art, like an earring, gold twinkling on an older woman’s ear in the tribal fields of India I saw last year when I was working there. To her that is part of her daily dress probably. To me it was stunning set against the lush green rice fields she was walking through when I spotted her.
My art is poetry, drama, the food I grow and cook, a lot of my poetry becomes part of art exhibitions, last year as I mentioned above I was in India, where I worked with rice farmers, listening to their stories and turning them into poems.
I also write a lot of scripts, I write for film, TV, radio and theatre. Last year I adapted a very famous cook book, ‘New Book of Middle Eastern Food’, by its equally famous author Claudia Roden for a radio drama series for BBC. That was a lot of fun and interesting as to how to go about finding stories for the drama in a cook book. Luckily for me, Claudia’s book is full of amazing Middle Eastern stories, poetry and anecdotes. I have been commissioned by the BBC to adapt Madhur Jaffery’s first cook book, ‘An Invitation To India Cooking’ for a drama series recently, which I am really looking forward to writing.
I am also finishing a collection of food poetry which has not just my own recipes posing as poems but also of the people I work with running workshops about food, it has poems and stories about food from growing it and cooking it, to eating it and starting all over again.
You’re going to be a panellist at Black Writers Conference 2018 this coming October and you’ll be discussing your journey as a writer among other things. What has been the main highlight of your journey thus far?
That’s a hard question to answer, each commission, booking, invite, every step is always exciting, and each new commission is a highlight. It is great to look back to when I was starting out and realising how long I have been working as a writer and being so lucky to have been able to do that. It’s all one great big highlight, being able to do what I want, which is to be creative and write.
You’re a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and recently led a segment of Manchester Writing School’s Creative Writing Summer School focusing on food poetry. What do you enjoy most about working as an academic? How did your interest in food poetry develop?
Being part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Writing School has been like coming home to my writing family. I am supported, encouraged. I am surrounded by amazing, talented, and inspiring colleagues. I love being part of Manchester Met Writing school, I am learning how being academic can support and enhance your work as a creative person and am fascinated by this, watch this space, who knows which way this will take me, I’m sure it’ll be full of great learning and discoveries.
My interest in food poetry began when I was chosen to be a poet in residence by The Lowry for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, I chose food as the theme, a hook to hang what I would write about the Commonwealth because I believe food, in its widest context, is what took Britain out into the world building itself an empire and food in the same sense is what attracted people of the Commonwealth countries to come to UK.
I also love eating, cooking, growing, anything to do with food and I love writing too, so it was a natural coming together of my two passions.
You’re going to be performing at the New Mills Festival’s Spoken Word Cabaret evening. As a seasoned performer, what advice would you give to writers who are just starting out in performing/reading their work?
Practice, practice, practice, reading, performing your work, get yourself out there. Chanel your nerves to make your performance sparkle. Share with the audience if you are shaking, petrified, they will relate to that and enjoy it. When you enjoy performing, the audiences enjoy it with you.
You’ve written a number of radio plays that have been aired by the BBC. What inspired you to get into writing for radio? What advice would you give to writers who are trying to transition into writing for radio from another genre e.g. fiction or poetry?
I have listened to radio drama since I was a child, I never imagined I would one day actually be writing the scripts for the channel I used to listen to. When I finished my MA in script writing, I was introduced to a BBC radio drama producer, Pam Fraser Solomon, who liked my writing and it was her who helped me secure my first radio drama commission.
If you want to write something, like radio drama, you need to listen to it, read the scripts, get to know who the producers are and why you like their work. Take any opportunity you can get to learn more about it through workshops, courses. Check out BBC Writers Room, they run some great programmes for writers and have an excellent script library.
You’ve been a writer with Commonword for many years and your work has been published in a number of our books. What have you enjoyed most about your time with us and how has it helped you grow as a writer?
I doubt if I would have been a writer if it wasn’t for Commonword and the support and encouragement I have had over the years from all the wonderful people who have worked and work there. Commonword is consistently there for writers like me – Black, British, different. Without an organisation like them, writers like me, especially in the early years would have found surviving and keeping going very hard. I am one of the biggest fans of Commonword.
If you could offer a piece of advice to your younger self about being in the arts industry, what would it be?
Put money in your pension.
Where can we find your work?
What does the future hold for you in your writing career?
More of what I’ve been doing – writing scripts, poems about food and people, multimedia projects, radio, TV, film scripts, dramas and publications.
Sum up your experience thus far in one word
Catch Anjum at this year’s Black Writers Conference on Saturday 13 October. Tickets available at www.culturewordconference.org