On 29th November 2014, Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives hosted a day of events featuring Hannah Lowe and her recent Hercules Editions publication, Ormonde.
In the morning, Hannah led a writing workshop which focused on the histories that gather around family mementos. She shared stories of her own family, and poems by Hart Crane, Philip Levine and WS Graham. The writers round the table were ask to write about objects that had been passed down to them, and there were poems that told of early LPs, prayer shawls, cooking bowls and sepia photographs.
The afternoon event began with a reading from Hannah of the entire Ormonde sequence, which covers the initial journey of the ship, the stories of its passengers, from boxers to dressmakers to stowaways, and its arrival in the UK.
After the reading, writer and broadcaster Colin Grant led the discussion between Hannah and Windrush author Mike Phillips. They began by considering the metaphor of the suitcase, which as Mike Phillips pointed out “contains any number of feelings”. He went on to say that the ship he arrived on wasn’t that significant to him, but he still carries the memory of walking though the wharf and smelling the sugar, and all the associations inherent in that scent.
Hannah spoke of her research in putting together Ormonde, and the influence of other books, such as Windrush, but also works by James Berry and Derek Walcott: “any books about what it meant to leave one life for another”. She spoke of the difficulty in reconstructing the history of the ship and her father’s crossing. “There was so little about the truth, I had to invent it,” she said.
She talked about giving her father a voice, placing his story centre stage, and also the challenge of finding a formal structure for the poems, as a way of finding structure for the lives she writes about. “Each writer takes on the task of writing in a different way,” she said, but also revealed, “the book is really me” and how her identity as mixed race is recognised by writing.
Colin Grant concluded that both Mike’s book on the Windrush and Hannah’s Ormonde use “real voices and experiences to tell a story the way it hadn’t been told before”.
In the audience were a number of fellow writers, including Malika Booker, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Lawrence Scott and Chris Beckett, all of whom deal with stories of cultural and racial difference in their works. Arthur Torrington, the director of the Windrush Foundation Project, was on hand to introduce Alan Wilmot, who was born in Jamaica in 1925, served in the Royal Navy during the war, and arrived in the UK on the SS Almanzora, a ship that came over from Jamaica between the Ormonde and the Windrush.
To increase access to this fascinating and historically interesting talk, we have uploaded a video record of the event to YouTube:
• Ormonde reading by Hannah Lowe
• Discussion with Mike Phillips, Colin Grant and Hannah Lowe