Former Birmingham poet laureate Stephen Morrison-Burke has been selected for the inaugural Kit de Waal scholarship which offers a budding writer from a low-income household or a marginalised background a place on Birkbeck's creative writing MA.
Born and raised in Northfield, south Birmingham, Morrison-Burke’s talent for writing first came to public attention in 2012 when he was chosen as the city’s youngest poet laureate in its 20 year history, prior to which he had combined performing as a spoken word artist with a role teaching workshops to youth offenders and young carers.
The scholarship will pay for Morrison-Burke to complete Birkbeck’s part-time creative writing MA over two years from October 2016.
“I love language and have always loved words", Morrison-Burke said. "But to be honest, I grew up in a destitute part of the city, so getting into literature, or being a poet, novelist or short story writer, they just weren’t options. They never came into my consciousness. I didn’t think that people like me wrote books. My options were sport or maybe PE teaching or something like that. So I didn’t read my first book outside of school until I was 18-years-old. When I found out I was so excited, more so than I believed I ever would be because I didn’t think I would get it in the first place. I was so chuffed.”
De Waal said: “I’m delighted that Stephen has accepted his place at Birkbeck. He’s talented, dedicated and just the sort of person I imagined would apply.”
The scholarship was judged by MA course director Julia Bell, senior lecturer Benjamin Wood, Professor Russell Ceyln Jones, senior lecturer Toby Litt and Paul Sherread from Spread the World. The longlist was assessed by Kit de Waal.
Bell said: “Stephen’s application stood out for the quality of his writing and the discipline and commitment of his approach. He’s got a real talent for language but he understands that good writing is also about reading and learning and putting the hours in at your desk. I’m really looking forward to working with him on the MA.”
Kit de Waal, Stephen Morrison-Burke and Julia Bell
The scholarship will also include a travel bursary to enable Morrison-Burke to travel into London for classes, and Waterstones vouchers to buy books on the course’s reading list. Morrison-Burke will also receive £1,000 (donated anonymously) to put towards a new laptop.
On the evening (18th May) it was announced that scholarship runner-up, Charlotte Forfieh, would also receive a fully-funded position on the MA Creative Writing programme. This additional funding was made available via an anonymous donation.
Forfieh said she was “shocked and surprised in the most wonderful way”.
Speaking about the opportunity and her motivation for writing, she said: “I want to blow the doors of its hinges, and blaze a trail for those coming behind. The publishing industry needs to know there are other lives, voices and perspectives out there. So if I can play a small part in that I would be proud to do it.”