The University of East Anglia (UEA) is set to become the home of a new collection of archives amplifying the voices of poets from underrepresented groups in British and Irish literature, thanks to a funding boost of more than £200,000 to develop a Centre for Contemporary Poetry in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW).
The Centre will be based within the BACW on UEA campus, and will promote and preserve the archives of contemporary poets of colour, LGBTQ+ poets and writers from other historically underrepresented backgrounds and practices.
The pioneering project, entitled ‘New Ways of Collecting, Collaborating and Curating: Towards a Centre for Contemporary Poetry in the Archive’, is a joint initiative between UEA, the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service.
The collaboration will promote a community-led approach, with workshops that will encourage people of all ages to get involved in shaping the archives of living poets, as well as having the opportunity to write poetry themselves. The archives collected will be a mix of physical and digital material which will be showcased online and made available in UEA Library to students, teachers, researchers and the visiting public.
The initiative will build on world-leading work in the University’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing to reimagine reading and writing for the 21st century, such as the successful Arts Council-funded ‘Future and Form’ project, which marked 50 years of Creative Writing at UEA by commissioning alumni to produce new literary works in hybrid media.
The new project will aim to develop interdisciplinary learning between poets, researchers and archivists locally and share this learning with the wider poetry community, putting UEA and Norfolk at the heart of research into the diversity of poetic voices in the UK today and the importance of developing digital preservation methods that help to safeguard this literary heritage for future generations.
Central to this work will be the further development of BACW’s innovative ‘storehouse model’, in which contemporary writers deposit their materials in a university archive early in their careers to help ensure broad and lasting use. Writers who have already loaned material to UEA under this model include UEA’s Naomi Alderman, whose 2016 novel The Power won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The £207,600 ($278,000) funding for the first phase of the project has come from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Public Knowledge Program, which supports the creation and preservation of cultural records to help build an informed, culturally diverse, and civically engaged society.
The money will help to support the Centre for the first 18 months of its existence. During this time, members of the project team will produce a white paper to raise awareness of critical gaps in current poetry archives and make recommendations on how to safeguard and illuminate culturally diverse material. The Centre’s focus on collecting poets who have been historically underrepresented in British and Irish literary culture will make it unique in the UK.
Professor Sarah Barrow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Arts and Humanities at UEA and Chair of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, said: “The Faculty of Arts and Humanities at UEA is absolutely delighted to receive this significant grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that that will result in a step change to the work of our British Archive of Contemporary Writing.
“It will enable us to develop a new Centre for Contemporary Poetry in the Archive that will shine a light on underrepresented poets and poetries. It will also support the development of innovative new digital and community-led methods of archiving. We are thrilled to be working with the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk County Council’s Library and Information Service on this ground-breaking project.”
Peggy Hughes, National Centre for Writing’s Executive Director, said: “The National Centre for Writing (NCW) is delighted that the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA has received this support from Mellon to realise a new Centre for Contemporary Poetry in the Archive.
“The intentions of this programme align with NCW's key ambitions to promote new work and new ways of working, and to champion under-represented voices, so we're very pleased - particularly in the 10th anniversary of Norwich as a UNESCO City of Literature - to be part of this important and innovative work with our longstanding and valued partners at UEA and at Norfolk County Council’s Library and Information Service.'
Sarah Hassan, Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service’s Assistant Head of Service, said: “Creativity and expression is for everyone, so we are really excited about working with the UEA on this project.
“Public libraries in Norfolk will be connecting people with the best writing, in a safe and welcoming environment. This is about preserving what is being created now for the future, and inspiring people through a greater diversity of voices and the power of the written word.”