Aspiring young creatives gathered in Camden over the weekend for the first #Merky Books free two-day literature festival, put together by Stormzy’s publishing company #Merky Books.
#Merky Books is an imprint launched in 2018 by the rapper and Penguin Random House UK, with an aim to develop and produce diverse storytellers.
The #Merky Books Literature festival was held on 22nd and 23rd April at the Roundhouse in London, and showcased established authors covering literature, writing and storytelling across film, TV, music and photography.
The event aimed to demystify the creative industries and inspire young creatives by giving them access to talks from established authors, alongside up and coming voices.
The initiative further demonstrates Stormzy’s commitment to creating more diversity within the creative industries and follows his announcement of #Merky FC last year, a football partnership with Adidas which aims to improve diversity in the sport, and his personal pledge of £10m to UK organisations, charities and movements over 10 years, to tackle racial inequality, justice reform and black empowerment.
With the event, Stormzy says he wants to spark a passion in young people and light imaginations of young storytellers who have never considered a future in the creative arts.
Stormzy said: “I’m so proud that we’re able to offer a free festival to inspire young creatives. This is going to be our biggest event yet for #Merky Books.”
The free event sponsored by Netflix, opened with a panel discussion featuring rapper and songwriter Wretch 32 and author and playwright John Agard, followed by an opening party hosted by Sounds by No Signal.
Wretch 32 said: “I’m excited to join such an inspirational line-up from #Merky Books and Netflix. It’s so important to encourage and support young people across the full range of creative industries.”
Award-winning author John Agard spoke on the initiative and how writers from diverse backgrounds can be encouraged into the writing space, he said:
“It is vital for young people in their reading space, to hear different voices. And it’s a very commendable initiative as it opens opportunities for young writers…it’s important to instil in them from early years the joy of language, and how words are empowering…what this initiative is doing is extending the repertoire of their voice and extending their ability to engage with the page and from the page, you can lead up to the stage.”
The following day, former Children’s Laureate and ‘Noughts and Crosses’ author Malorie Blackman was interviewed by Vick Hope, where she spoke of the barriers faced by some and the routes into the industry. She said:
“There’s a lot of people who still feel that you either have to have a whole spider’s network of connections, or you have to have parents with deep pockets to get a foot in the door, and while that does help in every industry, I think it’s not the only way in. I think that’s an incredibly important message”
Fiona Lamptey, director of UK features at Netflix, hopes that attendees will walk away from the event feeling inspired and with knowledge and advice to help them take the next step towards their goals. She said:
“I hope the festival debunks any misconceptions they have about the creative industries. It’s important that we as professionals talk about our roles or functions, and how we are part of the process. It’s about sharing knowledge so people can understand the skills they need if they’re considering a career in the creative industry. She added: “without everyone’s voices represented in the arts, we are missing out: not only on amazing talent and incredible stories but also on the opportunity to be challenged by a different perspective or alternative viewpoint, or to see familiar things differently,”
Poetry was also celebrated at the event with spoken-word performances by Sophia Thakur, Monika Radojevic, Yomi Sode and Caleb Femi and audiences were able to watch live recordings of the 10/10 Would Recommend podcast with Tolani Shoneye and Gena-mour Barrett in conversation with Bolu Babalola.
Other highlights included a panel discussion with best-selling author Candice Brathwaite, playwright and screenwriter Theresa Ikoko, and novelist Jacqueline Crooks who exploring the theme of girlhood, a panel with Liv Little, Rivers Solomon and Okechukwu Nzelu who shared their personal journeys and creative processes as queer individuals and a conversation on mental health and resilience hosted by BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter Richie Brave.
In addition, there were career drop-in clinics held by Penguin Random House UK, Netflix, and expert industry organisations such as MYM: Million Youth Media, whose specialist advisors were available to discuss career moves, offer advice and tips on getting into the industry, and how to secure funding for creative endeavours, along with masterclasses, workshops, mentoring and screenings, which took place throughout the weekend.
With writing and publishing often seen as an elitist profession, Stormzy’s Merky Book festival is welcomed and arguably very much needed to help inspire, empower and spark literary passion in young people and make the world of the publishing feel that little bit more accessible to a new generation of talent.
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