Interview with Kayo Chingonyi, Poet and Creative Facilitator

By Schreyer, Lioba | Transnational Literature, May 2018 | Go to article overview

Interview with Kayo Chingonyi, Poet and Creative Facilitator


Schreyer, Lioba, Transnational Literature


I first contacted Kayo Chingonyi, because I was interested in his work as a poet. While planning the workshop "Voices from the Margins," I was looking for a writer to perform as a part of the cultural event when I stumbled across his poem "Legerdemain" (Campaign in Poetry, The Emma Press, 2015). But I soon learnt that Chingonyi is more than a poet.

In his 2011 profile for Poetry International Web, Alan Ward calls Chingonyi a "creative facilitator".1 A title well earned, as a look into his biography and my conversation with him reveal. Born in Zambia in 1987, Kayo Chingonyi moved to the UK in 1993. In addition to writing and performing poetry, he raps and teaches creative writing workshops at universities, schools and youth centres. He has collaborated with the dancer Sean Graham, and with the composer Fred Thomas, and curated events for the Institute of Contemporary Arts as well as London's Africa Centre, to mention but a few of his projects. The London-based poet holds a BA in English Literature from the University of Sheffield and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. 2

Kayo Chingonyi has completed residencies with Kingston University, Cove Park and others. He won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2013. His first pamphlet, Some Bright Elegance (Salt, 2012) is subject of this interview. Following Kayo's suggestion, we discussed the elegies "Kenta", "Alternate Take" and "A Proud Blemish". He has published a second pamphlet, The Colour of James Brown's Scream (Akashic, 2016), and his first full-length collection, Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus, 2017).

Kayo Chingonyi attended the workshop "Voices from the Margins," held at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, 23 and 24 September 2016, where this interview was conducted. The interview was edited and expanded in consultation with Kayo Chingonyi between January and March 2017.

Lioba Schreyer: Our project is called "Voice from the Margins." Where do you fit in there?

Kayo Chingonyi: I think because I came to the English language as an outsider and I still exist within that space, there is a sense in which my voice could be seen as marginal, outside of the norm, somehow. And so, I feel the need, in the writing that I do, to affirm my sense of belonging to the centre rather than the margins, because English is a language I have lived with for a long time. It is the language I think in. I can express myself well in English. So, the notion of voices from the margins makes me think about how canons are made, and also what we think of as the 'unmediated, general, objective' voice.

I am also interested in trying to rupture our notion of the unmediated voice. A title like "Voices from the Margins" is immediately provocative to me, and interesting. And since it is a workshop, it is also an opportunity to interrogate the title. It felt like something I would be interested in.

LS: I asked the previous question at the reading last night, when we first met. Now that you have participated in the workshop, did your view on the title change?

KC: I have recently read a book of essays called The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla. He collected a body of essays by different writers who identify as immigrants to the UK. It expanded my notion of what being marginalised is, because my notion of that comes from being black within the context of Britishness, but also African within the context of blackness. A lot of the kind of contemporary iconography of blackness is African American and not African per se. And even 'African' you could rupture into smaller subdivisions.

Thinking about the margins is to think about subjectivity, the very specific things which cannot be generalised. And those are maybe the important things to maintain in writing, because they are the things we quite often keep to ourselves; the things that we do not think are worthy of literature. …

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