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Mother Tongues

2nd November 2020

Shamim Azad - Poet in residence, Apples and Snakes

Shamim Azad’s chosen art form is the spoken word.

The bilingual Bengali author moved to London in 1990. She has since published to her credit more than 30 books ranging from novels to essays, plays to poems. She was a school teacher-governor, a trustee of charity One World Action, and is the founder chairperson of Bishwa Sahitya Kendra (World Literature Centre) London, British Bangladesh Poetry Collective and a Trustee of Rich Mix London. She is also the originator of Bijoyphool, inspired by the Poppy Appeal, in remembrance of the war of independence of Bangladesh.

Shamim is also a poet in residence at Apples and Snakes, one of the many fantastic causes who benefit from the £30 million raised each week by players of The National Lottery which has worked with renowned artists including Billy Bragg, Lemn Sissay, Kae Tempest and Benjamin Zephaniah.

The retired schoolteacher – who lives in Bow, East London, with her husband Dr Selim Jahan (an academic and writer himself) – normally provides training and education to schools and communities up and down the country through mentoring and creative classes.

Following COVID-19 lockdown, however, Shamim was forced to adapt her work, holding storytelling classes over Zoom for children ranging from eight to 13, weekly video broadcasts on Facebook to maintain community spirit, and translating NHS and Governmental messages for the Bengali community. The online sessions proved so popular that thousands of new accounts started following the storyteller.

“I gave bilingual talks and classes online with people and organisations from Canada to USA, from Bangladesh to UK, as well as writing profusely online about topics such as unequal workloads for women, domestic violence during the pandemic and maintaining mental health at a critical time. I wanted to inform and
entertain through the spoken word.

“The BAME communities I was engaging are often difficult to reach, and they arguably the group that needed the most support given the disproportionate number of members suffering from the virus.”

It was this tireless work that led to Shamim being given the Arts in the Community award, which in her own words has been one of her “proudest and most uplifting moments” of her life.

“I’m humbled, surprised and inspired. My work wouldn’t have been possible without the support from EAST, the British Bangladeshi Poetry Collective, the Bangladeshi Gardeners Society in the UK, Exiled Writers Ink, Eastside Bookshop, Half Moon Theatre, my community and my family – too many to count!

“My hope is that The National Lottery continues to fund organisations like Apples and Snakes, to help generate the next generation of ethnic minority artists”.

Shamim Azad - Poet in residence, Apples and Snakes