English PEN delivers its creative learning programme with the help of some of the UK's top writers, poets and performers. Here, get to know our cohort of workshop facilitators, their work and where you can find out more.
Adam Lowe is a writer, performer and publisher from Manchester. He runs writer development programme Young Enigma and has worked in a range of settings, including schools, prisons and community groups. In 2012, he was LGBT History Month Poet Laureate and in 2014 he toured the UK with his solo show ‘Ecstasies’ and the group performance ‘Tangled Roots’, as well as performing for a week with Young Enigma at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
It was whilst completing his Chemistry Doctorate at Manchester University that Avaes found his voice as a poet, playwright and performer. He has performed on stages across the UK, Denmark, India, Pakistan and South Africa and, having appeared extensively on radio, his poem Bhopal was commissioned by BBC Radio 4, going on to win an Amnesty International Media Award. In 2003, Avaes expanded into playwriting and has since been commissioned by BBC Radio and several theatre companies across the country with his plays.
Committed to the evolving landscape of British Arts, Avaes has directed the British South Asian Theatre Memories Project in partnership with the Foundation of Indian Performing Arts (FIPA) and SOAS, archiving the collective journeys of British South Asian Theatre through the narratives of its practitioners.
Avaes has also conducted workshops worldwide with organisations that include The Royal Court (London), English PEN, British Council and the Alternative Living Theatre (India). In 2012 he co-founded The Lahore Agitprop Theatre Company in Pakistan.
Bidisha is a broadsheet writer, critic and BBC broadcaster specialising in the arts and culture, human rights and international affairs. She also does outreach work in women’s prisons, in detention centres and with asylum seekers and refugees. She is a trustee of the Booker Prize Foundation and was an International Reporting Project Fellow 2013, focusing on global health and international development. She is the author of two novels and three works of bestselling non-fiction: the travelogue Venetian Masters: Under the Skin of the City of Love, the reportage Beyond the Wall: Writing a Path Through Palestine and most recently Asylum and Exile: Hidden Voices of London, based on her outreach work.
Dzifa Benson was born in London to Ghanaian parents and grew up in West Africa. She does four main things – writes, performs, curates and teaches. She has performed her prose and poetry internationally at venues such as Tate Britain, London Literature Festival, Glastonbury Festival, the Houses of Parliament, on tour with the British Council in South Africa and at the Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris. She has run creative writing workshops at the Royal Geographical Society, the British Library and with Apples & Snakes in schools and for the creative industries. She has also been a music reviewer for the Guardian, reporter and specialist researcher for the BBC and has been widely published in publications such as the Guardian, Poetry Review, Magma and the Manhattan Review. In 2008, she was a core artist in BBC Africa Beyond’s Translations and was writer-in-residence at the Courtauld Institute of Art from 2008 to 2009. In 2011, she received an Arts Council award for professional development, wrote her first opera as a librettist through The Singing Word Opera Development workshops at the Royal Opera House and is a longlist judge for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Femi Martin is a writer, performer, and facilitator from London. She is the Founder of Full Circle Projects, an arts intiative delivering creative projects to marginalised and forgotten communities, with a focus on those in prison. A documentary about her life, The Achalasia Diaries aired on BBC Radio 4 in June 2015 and in February 2016 she joined the presenting team of the BBC Radio 4 podcast, Seriously. Femi is currently developing her solo theatre show How to Die of a Broken Heart with support from Battersea Arts Centre and Talawa Theatre Company.
Joelle Taylor is an award winning poet, playwright and author with over 15 years’ experience of working in schools, colleges and universities across the UK. A former UK slam champion, she founded the national youth slam championships SLAMbassadors UK for the Poetry Society in 2001 and has performed her poetry nationally and internationally for the British Council – including Zimbabwe, Botswana, 100 Club, Trafalgar Square, the 02 Arena, Royal Court, Buckingham Palace, Pentonville prison and on a pontoon in the middle of the North sea. Her first collection Ska Tissue (Mother Foucault Press) is in its 4th edition, and a new collection The Woman Who Was Not There was released at the end of 2014 (Burning Eye Books) and was named by Morning Star as one of the top ten poetry books of that year. Her novel (W)horror Stories is due for publication in 2016. She has written a chapter about the transformative effect of spoken word in a new poetry pedagogy text Making Poetry Happen published by Bloomsbury at the end of January 2015, a subject that is also the inspiration for her recent TEDx Talk. She has been added to the OCR English syllabus for 2015, and will be touring the UK over 2015 and 2016 in a new one woman spoken word show, The Space Between Words.
Kat is a writer from London with a particular interest in the unsaid and self censorship. The opening to her forthcoming novel, The Eulogist, was shortlisted for the 2011 Pat Kavanagh Prize. She is a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths. Kat is co-founder of Wigan Pier Workshops. She facilitates her own workshops for a range of community based projects with young people around London. In 2015 her work for PEN extended to Cambodia where she held workshops for Khmer Rouge witnesses.
Malika Booker is a British writer, poet, playwright and multidisciplinary artist of Guyanese and Grenadian parentage. With a career spanning 25 years, Booker is an unforgettable writer and performer. The founder of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (a writer’s collective) in 2001, she has represented British writing internationally, both independently and with the British Council. Malika was also the inaugural poet-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the first Black British poet to be a Cave Canem fellow. Her poetry collections are Breadfruit (flippedeye, 2007) and Pepper Seed (Peepal Tree Press, 2013). She has an MA in creative and life writing from Goldsmiths, and is Cultural Fellow in creative writing/literary arts at Leeds University. Malika is a sought after creative writing educator with over 20 years’ experience working with young people in education, refugees and asylum seekers.
Miriam Halahmy is an author and a poet. She has published four novels and three poetry collections. Her novel HIDDEN (Albury Books) about asylum seekers and human rights was Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week and nominated for the Carnegie Medal. In June 2015 it was staged in Paris. Miriam runs creative writing workshops and mentors emerging writers. She is a frequent guest in schools, universities and at festivals and conferences. More recently she has been involved in an EU programme for peace and has been running workshops in a Paris lycée on peace and tolerance. Miriam’s special area of interest is supporting the writing of asylum seekers. She helped to set up the programmes for asylum seekers run by English PEN and is a consultant and writing tutor for current courses.
Paula Varjack is a writer, filmmaker and theatre maker making work across disciplines; performance, theatre, documentary and spoken word. Her debut prose and poetry publication, Letters I Never Sent to You, is published by Burning Eye Books. She has performed at numerous arts festivals and cultural spaces including: Glastonbury Festival, Berlin International Literature Festival, Tate Modern, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the ICA, Battersea Arts Centre, Southbank Centre, and The Photographer’s Gallery. In addition to performing, she facilitates workshops with a wide range of age groups, using writing prompts and drama games to unblock creativity. Born in Washington D.C. to a Ghanaian mother and a British father, out of the many places she has lived she considers east London to be ‘home’.
Shazea Quraishi is a Pakistani-born Canadian poet, playwright and translator whose poems have been published in UK and US journals including Modern Poetry in Translation, Ploughshares, Poetry Review, PN Review and The Financial Times. The author of two collections, The Courtesans Reply (flipped eye publishing, 2012) and The Art of Scratching (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), she has performed her work at venues including Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Ledbury Festival and The Royal Festival Hall.
Shazea has taught creative writing at Richmond American International University in London, and worked with a refuge for South Asian women to promote literacy and creativity. She has facilitated creative writing/reading and translation workshops in the UK and abroad in museums, schools, prisons, refugee centres, festivals and a school bus.
A graduate of the pilot Translators in Schools programme, Shazea is training with Living Words to work in care homes as a writer in residence with people experiencing dementia. She currently teaches with English PEN, Translators in Schools, and The Poetry School.
Simon Mole is a London-based spoken word poet, with an eye for the often overlooked in the everyday. Simon was the first ever Poet Laureate for the London borough of Brent, and was recently a performing guest on The Verb for BBC Radio 3. Simon is one fifth of the Chill Pill Collective, curating and performing at hugely popular poetry nights at the Albany, where he is an associate artist. He also co-leads the Keats’ House Poets Forum for Keats House Museum.
Simon has facilitated English PEN sessions with teenage refugees, prisoners around the country and rehabilitating soldiers. Other recent residencies have seen Simon working with Refugee Youth in Kennington, Salusbury World Refugee Centre in Brent, and as part of the Tricycle Theatre’s outreach work with local traveller communities. Simon was recently commissioned by the UK Race and Europe Network to write and perform a spoken word piece for this short animated film about the importance of human rights.
Raised in Tottenham, North London, Zena Edwards has become known as one the most unique voices of performance poetry to come out of London, was nominated for the Arts Foundation Award for Performance Poetry 2007 and won the Hidden Creatives Award 2012.
She has written and performed two one woman shows Security (2009) and Travelling Light (2011) and has travelled extensively round the UK, the US, Africa and Europe as a poet, supported by the British Council, UK Arts International, Apples and Snakes and 57 Productions. Zena is also Creative Director of ©ViD an umbrella creative arts and activism company, and is curator of Conversations TV, an explorative poetry, film and animation blog. She is Project Developer for youth arts and media project Shake! and is Project Consultant and Facilitator for UpRise Festival.