Introduction From The Director

About Bambo Soyinka

Bambo Soyinka is Professor of Storytelling at Bath Spa University. She leads Paper Nations, a creative writing incubator located in the TRACE research centre at the university. Here, she introduces The Great Margin, a project that she initiated and directed in collaboration with a community of writers and writing facilitators as part of the Paper Nations 2019-21 Ambition for Excellence Programme (also known as the ‘Writing for All’ programme).

About The Great Margin

Founded on an ethos of collaboration and integrity, The Great Margin brought together writers from the fringes of our writing world to share stories and foster empathy. Launched in March 2020, The Great Margin was facilitated through a series of flash initiatives and partnerships, moving rapidly to support isolated and marginalised writers.

Our partners, each of whom brought expertise and skills in showcasing and connecting writers, range from national to local organisations, including BBC Upload, the British Library, The Stay-at-Home Literary Festival, Bath and North East Somerset Libraries, Bath Record Archives, and The Daily Haiku.

With over 500 submissions and 54 pieces published in written form, we have brought together writers from all walks of life. Over 20,000 people engaged with Great Margin events, with 72% of attendees saying their confidence had increased as a result and 76% saying their appreciation of the cultural and emotional value of writing had also increased.

"Stunning writing - such a wonderful experience to hear them all. Each one spoke to me in some way... and will stay with me for some time to come. Thank you, amazing writers and readers."
Hillary Smith at The Great Margin Showcase Event

Our latest exciting and innovative projects are two series of poetry films: the first in collaboration with those who submitted to The Great Margin, and the second with writing group The Daily Haiku. These two sets of films are the culmination of a year of The Great Margin project. This project was itself built upon a foundation of five years of creative intervention and research by Paper Nations into the creative pedagogy and phenomenology of writer development and writing ecologies.

Bulletins From the Edge

Over three months, Bambo Soyinka worked alongside writers and film editors to carefully craft a series of 15 poetry films, adapting poetry and prose submitted to The Great Margin. With empathy at its heart, the project was an exploration of community writing and sense-making through the pandemic. The finished films are acts of translation that represent an interpretation of the original pieces of work rather than a literal rendering of the writer’s original intention. Each video encapsulates a different facet of isolation from the fringes of the writing world.

I Even Dream in Haiku

These dynamic, collaborative films are entirely crowd-sourced from The Daily Haiku’s 3600-strong community of writers from across the world, presenting many voices at once to create a diverse call from the depths of pandemic isolation. The first series of films co-produced by Director Bambo Soyinka in collaboration with this highly engaged group of writers is “I Even Dream In Haiku”. The series imaginatively depicts a day in the life of a writer. Each film represents a stage in their day, and returns to touchstones of creativity and empathy.

Personal Introduction from Bambo Soyinka (December 24, 2020)

Writing this introduction to The Great Margin, it occurred to us how many times we use the word ‘we’ when talking about our work. It got us thinking about what exactly we mean when we say this tiny word which encompasses so much and so many.

The Great Margin was a collaborative effort, co-produced by Paper Nations. The ‘we’ of Paper Nations includes a team of writers, researchers, editors, and administrators. We also work closely with several leading authors including Nathan Filer, Kit De Waal, and Aminatta Forna who support and inform our programme of work. Outside the immediate team, we work closely with a group of community educators, creative producers, and creative advisory groups. Widening the circle still further, we also work with writers, writing facilitators, social enterprises and writing organisations nationally and online.

This ‘we’ is a collective composed of individuals from different backgrounds, with different motivations, experiences, and perspectives, whose singular voices contribute to one single shared purpose. It is this ‘we’ -- this diverse fusion of people, ideas and experience -- that gives strength to The Great Margin project. Together, we have created an impressive body of work over this year.

I developed the concept for The Great Margin prior to the pandemic. My motivation for this intervention came from my previous collaborations with marginalised groups, and from my own experiences of social exclusion. Due to the pandemic, we reworked the project, adapting it to an online environment, and focusing on isolation as an emergent theme.

The Great Margin was delivered against the backdrop of a world in crisis. As one of the most challenging years we have ever experienced draws to an end, I'd like to say a huge thank you to all of you who have supported creativity and writing in one form or another. It’s been an enormously difficult year for many people, and it’s more important than ever to find ways to stay connected. In the words of a tweet by Nathan Filer, ‘I hope next year is less character building’.

Filer’s tweet raises a smile, but it touches a nerve. This year has brought us together, and has revealed more starkly the ways in which we remain divided. Analysis shows that mental health has worsened by 8.1%, and that women and young adults have been hardest hit. Black, Asian and people from a minority ethnic background have been shown to be nearly twice as likely to die of the virus than white people. Older people living in care homes have suffered greatly, both from Covid-19 and from the effects of restrictions.

At the same time, I’ve been amazed by the speed at which the writing community has responded to the pandemic, adapting work and developing new opportunities. Communities have come together online through creative initiatives such as The Great Margin. Individuals who might normally be excluded from creative events -- perhaps due to disability or caring commitments -- have been offered opportunities for online inclusion.

As we try to make sense of our experiences, many of us are increasingly turning to creativity. Research from University College London shows that 24% of people across all demographics embraced creative activities during lockdown, and that creative activities were credited as being the most effective way to create wellbeing. Whilst creativity and creative writing cannot solve all of our problems, they can help us to process our situation and imagine futures. Creativity can help us to communicate with other people, listen, and share divergent views.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to share your writing and support your work through The Great Margin, where we have showcased your unique experiences of lockdown -- the highs and lows, the changes and losses, and the unexpected pleasures you have found in the strangest of places.

We would like to take the opportunity to thank all of the writing educators and writers who contributed to the success of this project. The Great Margin tapped into the power of writing to amplify voices and share understandings of our current situations. From gathering diverse writings from the many margins of our society, to these two final collections of films, The Great Margin has made visible a whole range of different responses to and reflections upon the pandemic.

Whilst this project has always been a collaborative one at heart, it has never spoken with just one voice. The Great Margin is a celebration of diversity and divergence; it is a celebration of inclusivity.

We wish you well, and join you in hoping for a more positive note for 2021. If there ever was any question about the ability of the arts to survive in difficult times, the sheer resilience, determination, and creativity the writing sector has shown this year, proves there is enduring strength and potential in creating stories and sharing them together.

Special Thanks To:

Joanna Nissel, Tracy Harris, Tom Gatley, Yoyo Barnsley, Amanda Barnsley, Neal Hoskins, Elen Caldecott, John Young, Carolyn Jess-Cooke, StoryTown, BBC Upload, The British Library, Bath and North East Somerset Libraries, and Bath Record Archives.