Activist. Writer. Poet. Journalist. Historian. Publisher. The list could go on… If you don’t know of her already, Siana Bangura, a Black Brit, by way of Sierra Leone, is here to claim seats, in fact build a table for the ignored.
Our book editor, Vanessa Thomas, caught up with her ahead of an event she hosted during Litro Magazine’s Litro Literary Weekender, a series of talks and events exploring Nigerian and Ghanaian cultures and literature.
A graduate of Cambridge university, Siana describes herself as a “creative entrepreneur”, using all her time to, in her words: “Write, perform, edit and produce, with the intention of creating platforms and opportunities for marginalised voices to take up space, moving them from the periphery to the centre.”
Despite the many hats, Siana is first and foremost a writer. Her first book, Elephant, a collection of poems, came out in 2016. It is a raw and honest collection that addresses womanhood, feminism, racism, police brutality and as suggested in the title, the elephant in the room. Siana credits her inspiration to a variety of thinkers and writers. She said: “The work of Black Feminists and Womanists like Bell Hooks, Audre Lord, Patricia Hill-Collins and Angela Davis gave me the language to express the political reality of my Black womanhood. Then the work of Maya Angelou empowered me to understand that I don’t have to be limited to one form of expression as a writer. The confessional style of writers like Sylvia Plath have played their part too.”
As an activist, poetry was a natural form of writing for Siana. She said: “Poetry is political and lends itself well to the type of themes I write about and perform. Activists and writers have historically used poetry as part of their rebellion against the status quo.”
I am who I am
And whilst other women might fight one battle
I fight at least two
And although I refuse to be a victim
It still burns that you never listen
When I say I am simply expressing
All the stories of my soul
You shut me down
And make this all about you
(excerpt from Elephant, I, The Angry Black Woman)
There is a recurring theme of Black feminism and womanhood running through Elephant, indeed through many of Siana’s projects, which is interesting as feminism is commonly critiqued for being exclusionary and an ideology limited to white middle class heterosexual women. Siana’s view on this is: “Black women live and breathe it without calling ourselves the name.” She thus identifies as a Black Feminist, as she feels traditional feminism or “vanilla feminism” is “selfish, racist and only centres white women who are middle class, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual and so on.” Touching on a point made by the great Angela Davis at the Women of the World Festival earlier this year, Siana said: “This brand of feminism is limited, where the real aim is to be equal to white men in a racist, sexist, capitalist, trash society. It doesn’t call to dismantle said structures, whereas Black Feminism does.” For literature on this, Siana said: “It’s easy to access the work of African-American Black Feminists but harder to access work by Black British women but Bell Hooks and Audre Lord are solid places to start.” In fact, this is why Siana’s online platform, No Fly on the WALL, is so relevant. In its ‘humanifesto’, it states that it aims to create safe spaces and “sistah circles” “free from the very voices that often drown us out” to change the narrative of black womanhood and to ensure we are not just flies on the wall (www.noflyonthewall.com).
One way of owning the narrative we wish to see is through the publishing industry. Siana opines that many stories told by talented writers are being ignored and side-lined with poetry, as a rule, often not taken as seriously as other genres. Uninspired by the status quo, Siana set up the publishers, Haus of Liberated Reading (www.hausofliberatingreading.com), an online hub for radical writing, which also published Elephant.
The Haus of Liberated Reading publishers are on the lookout for submissions for their next piece, an anthology of Black writing from across the world. Siana said: “As different as our many contexts are, there are things that unite us globally as Black people, this is something the anthology will highlight. Submissions are still being accepted, so budding writers, check out the website for more info.”
We weren’t kidding when we said Siana is a woman of many hats. She recently released a short film called Denim, which explores gentrification in South London and how it is quite literally pushing many communities out. Siana knows first-hand the devastating effects this can have. She said: “Gentrification and the changing face of London is a personal grievance of mine as my family were forced out of South London because of it. Denim is a way of adding my voice to this topical conversation.” Although talk needs to be backed up with action, she adds; “We have to do more within our communities by way of supporting Black businesses and in turn, figuring out innovative solutions to the housing crises that we ultimately endure. There has to be a more organised collective clapback to the bullshit.”
Like we said, Siana Bangura is not here to be told no! You can’t help but be in awe of her spirit. So many (black women in particular) are tired of having the doors to opportunity bolted shut, and the seats at the table dragged away, thus, the efforts of this millennial on a mission must be saluted.