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Nick Makoha:

“If You Resent Black, You'll Resent Me”

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Sam Bennett
Nick Makoha Roger Robinson The Mixtape Tour

Born in Uganda, poet and playwright Nick Makoha fled the country with his mother, as a result of the political overtones that arose from the civil war during the Idi Amin dictatorship.

He has lived in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and currently resides in London. An alumnus of Spread the Word’s Complete Works development programme, last year his Kingdom of Gravity was shortlisted for the Forward Arts Foundation, Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection. This year sees him and his mate Roger Robinson bring The Mixtape Tour to Cheltenham Literature Festival. As he’s rushing off to work on his play, The Dark, with Fuel Theatre, we catch up with him to talk ‘home’, the Windrush scandal, and the purpose of poetry.

Has Britain ever made it hard for you to call it home?

No and yes. In the western world there are many opportunities. But at the same time, I'm a writer of colour. I'm perceived through my colour, not just my humanity. If you fear black, you'll fear me. If you resent black, you'll resent me. Yet you don't even know who I am.

What needs to change in Britain in terms of multiculturalism?

I don’t think anyone has actually dealt with the consequences of colonialism, or slavery, or more recently the Windrush [scandal] in a mature way. Everything is either hidden under the carpet or [addressed with] token gestures, and from the black experience you never see accountability for what has been done.

When the Windrush scandal broke, what was your reaction?

I’m proud to be black and at all times I feel like I am an equal. But there's always news to say, 'He's not equal,' or 'His people are not equal.’ So there was a lot of anger; my biggest annoyance was to do with how they got away with it – how do you get away with making people feel less-than?

What is The Mixtape Tour?

Even though Roger Robinson and I are poets, we do other things; we are so plugged in to other parts of society. Mixtape has music, extracts of theatre, installations. Just like a mixtape is your favourite songs to the ones you love, it's the best parts of us shared with the people we love – people who come to see us, people who show us love.

You’ll be joined by writer Anthony Joseph when you bring the show to Cheltenham Literature Festival.

We always like to invite guests who inspire us or are doing great things. Anthony is one of the top poets from the avant-garde theme. He's also Trinidadian – my wife is Trinidadian, Roger's Trinidadian – so there's that connection. He's just come out with this really interesting book about Lord Kitchener [Kitch: A Fictional Biography of a Calypso Icon], and it felt right to have him.

What is the purpose of poetry?

Part of a poem's purpose is to honour and serve in its community. I don't write poems for myself – poetry is not something to be done in somebody's ivory tower. Like a sculptor chisels work out of stone, I'm trying to leave something behind for other people.

Windrush Journeys: Mixtape Stories is at The Times & Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 11 October, 7-8pm, The Hive

cheltenhamfestivals.com

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