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Contribution to Literature: Poetry

Contribution to Literature: Case Studies

Una Marson (1905-1965) Black Feminist-Nationalist

Writer, Journalist and Broadcaster.  Written by Lauren Eglen

In March 1941, Una Marson began her job as a Programme Assistant with the Empire Service, the first black woman to be employed by the BBC. She had already made a stir in her native Jamaica as a poet and publisher and was a leading black political activist…

Perhaps the most important and influential of Marson’s creative inventions for the BBC was Caribbean Voices, the literary segment of Calling the West Indies. First airing on 11 March 1943, it enabled her to establish an avenue through which peoples and cultures could speak to each other, putting forward the ideal of collaborative effort and mutual education.

Historian Edmund Braithwaite has called the programme ‘the single most important literary catalyst for Caribbean creative and critical writing in English’. 

However, while the BBC utilised her voice to foster imperial unity, Marson herself faced great prejudice from fellow colleagues who were often uncomfortable with her colour. Marson had always suffered bouts of depression, but in 1945, after having lived without family or close friends, working long hours, the depression resurfaced. 

Marson arrived back in Jamaica in April 1946 and was out of the public eye for almost two years due to her illness. Though she would continue her social and journalistic work and continue to engage in political activism in the Caribbean, America and Israel for the next twenty years, Marson never regained the momentum of her earlier work. Whilst speaking at a three-day conference in Jerusalem in 1965 on The Role of Women in the Struggle for Peace and Development, Marson was taken extremely ill and was flown back to Jamaica on 10 April.  After 10 days in hospital, Marson suffered a heart attack and died on 6 May 1965. 

​While Una Marson has often been neglected by history, through her life and work she demonstrated the early stirrings of a Black feminist-nationalist agenda, recognising the use of literary culture in activism.

Marson brought Caribbean culture to London through her work in radio, her poetry and her political activism and utilised such literary culture to comment on the social issues of race and gender experienced across the Empire.  


Annette Liburd | Yorkshire Post (11 July 2006)

Poetic tribute to teacher and community champion.  Written by Richard Edwards

One of the first black schoolteachers in Leeds will be honoured at the city's annual poetry slam. Annette Liburd, who died in March 2006, was known for her commitment to young people, her community of Chapeltown and her campaigning for racial equality. A section of the event titled Honouring Local Heroes and She-roes, has been organised as a memorial to her. Cordelia Garrelts, Annette's daughter, said:

'She loved Chapeltown and the people who live there; she gave them her heart and soul. She would be very pleased to know people are thinking of her in this way.'

Now into its third year, the Annual Youth Team Poetry Slam and Lit Fest on Thursday and Friday will feature performance by top local and international poetry talent in front of judges. The contest, led by Chapeltown-based Leeds Young Authors, starts at the Host Media Centre, Chapeltown. The theme is heritage, with the young poets challenged to explore their cultural backgrounds. Leeds Young Authors leader Khadijah Ibrahiim said they also wanted contestants to explore what it means to be a young today.


Annette Liburd | The New Statesman (27 March 2006)

Urban life - Darcus Howe pays tribute to an unsung heroine

Hundreds gathered to mourn the death of Annette Liburd, an unsung heroine who spent her life challenging the racism that scarred the lives of those who joined the procession from the tiny Caribbean island states to settle at the heart of industrial production in Leeds.

I met Annette in the 1970s. Word had reached us at the Race Today collective in London that storm clouds were gathering at the Earl Cowper Middle School in Chapeltown. Parents were angry that the headmaster had made racist remarks and were concerned about the miseducation of their kids. Dispatched to the scene, I witnessed a full-blown school strike led by Caribbean migrants. It was swift in execution - and victorious, too.

Annette Francis (as she was then), a trained teacher, sparkled. She was fearless at a time when cowardice tended to paralyse community efforts for change.

'This is not our country and we can't change anything' was the mantra of the day. Annette's attitude was the opposite, encapsulated in the slogan 'Here to stay - here to fight'.

She was a terrific public speaker, stylish and uncompromising about her African and Caribbean heritage. She was founder of Uhuru Arts and the Afro Brotherhood, both of which aimed to politicise the black community on its cultural inheritance. Young men and women addressed her affectionately as 'Miss Annette'.

I stayed at her home many times in the course of my campaigning work. We would talk into the still of the morning, with me attempting to dispel her instinctive mistrust of whites who offered their support. 'Yes, Annette,' I would say, 'but we cannot proceed alone; we need alliances.'

I wept when I heard of her passing. The state-sponsored workers of the race relations industry dare not speak Annette's name. They have undermined everything she stood for, scorning independent community campaigning and replacing it with nothing but howls of displeasure at the way we have chosen to live our lives.