Spread the Word launches creative project on slave runaways

Spread the Word launches creative project on slave runaways

Writers' development agency Spread the Word is launching a project to reimagine the stories of transatlantic slaves who escaped when they were brought to London in the 17th century.

Partnering with Ink Sweat & Tears Press, the Museum of London Docklands and the University of Glasgow, the agency has announced an open call inviting London-based Black and South Asian writers, poets and visual artists aged 18 to 30 years old to apply to be part of the Runaways project. Two writers and one visual artist will be commissioned to work alongside the lead artists and academics.

Taking the historical research of Professor Simon Newman, expert on the history of slavery, and Dr Peggy Brunache, lecturer of the history of Atlantic Slavery at the University of Glasgow, as the starting point, Runaways’ lead artists – poets Momtaza Mehri and Gboyega Odubanjo and illustrator Olivia Twist - will reimagine the stories of London’s runaway slaves, showing people of colour to have been present in London, and as having been actors of resistance and resilience, as well as victims. 

The creative work  will be published in the Runaways anthology by Ink Sweat & Tears Press, due to be launched at an event on 21st October at the Museum of London Docklands, alongside a film of the commissioned work and research, and a resource pack for young people, schools and youth clubs.

Newman said: “Slavery was very different in London, often polite and genteel, with young people dressed in expensive liveries as personal servants who advertised the wealth and success of those who claimed ownership of them. But it was still slavery and these people could easily be sent back to the places where enslavement was more savage and violent. Some tried to escape while in London yet we know very little about them. Who were they, where did they come from, what had they experienced, and what kind of home was London for them? These are the questions that inspire the Runaways Project.”

Mehri added: "I am thrilled to join the Runaways Project, one which will untangle archival violence to reveal the sinews of resistance and the persistence of freedom dreams. Lending my voice to such a project is an honour, and I can’t wait for my creative intervention to stand alongside that of fellow artists, poets and researchers."

Odubanjo commented: “My work centres London very heavily and so it is exciting to be working on something that will teach me a lot about the history of the place I call home. I look forward to researching these misremembered lives and creating work that hopefully honours them in some way.”