Newcastle group Brown Girl Writes inspiring women of colour to put pen to paper

The writing group has been performing across Newcastle this past year. Credit: Brown Girls Write

A group in Newcastle has been set up to help give women of colour a space to nurture their creative talents and give writing a go.

Sharmin Islam created Brown Girls Write after being told that the nearest writing group for women of colour was in Manchester or London.

She said: "I think my experience of trying to find a writing community in Newcastle was difficult.

"I thought that having a writing space for women of colour was something I was looking for, it’s a community that I searched for and never found and thought I had to create a space for it.

"I wanted there to be a Geordie community of women in the north, who understand a northern identity and understand all these layers that affect us and our lives."

One of the group facilitators, and poet, Mymona Bibi has been telling ITV Tyne Tees the importance of having creative spaces.

"Free space is important for anyone, of any demographic, any background for creativity because you are never able to push your creativity or your potential if you feel you're closed, if you feel there is limitations.

"As soon as I joined Brown Girls Write, I realised that I could share parts of myself without needing to explain everything, whereas previously joining open groups that are for a big range of people, and are mostly dominated by white people, I find I have to explain aspects of my culture, my life, my upbringing even simple things like food.

"Taking that time to explain, takes aways from writing, and exploring my creativity.

"Whereas within group so much time is saved by not having to explain and we understand each other, we remove that fear of misunderstanding, that fear of being confused, or worried of people not understanding you."

Sam Hamilton attends the group sessions which happen every Wednesday night at the Newcastle Deaf Centre.

"I grew up in 1970s and 80s Britain, which was a very racist place to grow up, and so in those days people pushed their feelings down, internalised everything and I was no different.

"Now that I am more mature woman, I brought a family up, I’ve got a career, I feel that I have more space in my head to try and work out who I am and not apologise for it.

"I really wanted to be in an environment where I didn’t have to explain my background all the time cause a lot of things going in my mind is about my culture, heritage and how my identity has been affected all my life," she said.

The group champions women of colour writers in a background where UK authors are predominately white.

According to research from the UK Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS):

  • 91% of published authors identify as white, 2% are Black, 2% are Asian, 2% are from a mixed background, and 2% are lister as 'other.'

ALCS also found that women of colour authors also earned less than there respective counterparts.

"A lot of us are emerging, a lot of us are trying to build a career out of being poets, writers, script writers etc," Ms Bibi said.

"I find if you go online and find somewhere to submit there is all this rejections, applications, funding all this, kind of like fighting to become a writer – whereas here it feels like I am just a writer, and by removing that competition that exists in most of the literary world we are able to champion each other, enjoy each others writing."

Brown Girl Writes as a group have gone on to perform at events and create an anthology. Individuals from the group have also won bursaries and be published.

"We are now inserting ourselves in competitions and events because we know we can do it, and I think more than anything it has developed our confidence to be able to apply for these opportunities," Ms Islam said.

Ms Bibi added: "As a group and as individuals we really flourished. We have a few people who have been printed in various prints across the country, won bursaries and funds like that.

"Just from being in the group, and sort of helping each other as well, pointing out opportunities, helping each other out with applications has meant we have achieved a lot this year."

Brown Girls Write is run by New Writing North in collaboration with group members, and is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the North of Tyne Combined Authority.

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