Arts Activism

Writing as Activism

Indian Women supporters of the Suffragette Movement.  (Image: British Library)  

Indian Women supporters of the Suffragette Movement. (Image: British Library) 

“Creative response – is something we do, in answer to the question ‘What kind of world do you want to live in?’ Ultimately, creative response insists that each of us maintain the courage of our convictions to meet the extraordinary challenges that confront our world.”

(D’Ambrosio, 2013)


For the last few months I’ve been exploring how writing can be a form of activism. I firmly believe that picking up a pen and writing is a revolutionary action, refusing to be silent and to give voice to our internal imagineering. Even if our writing is just shared between us and the page, we did it, we picked up the pen and wrote. We practiced courage. And whether we realise it or not, that simple act can profoundly impact us mentally, emotionally and physically - in unexpected ways. And that impact may then have a ripple effect in the world around us, within our families and communities. 


We can choose to make our personal writing practice an agentic force by consciously infusing it with the intention to make a difference within ourselves and beyond. This was the inspiration behind “Love Will Conquer Hate”, a practice workshop for my masters programme, inspired by poetic missives that urge us to make positive changes in the world. The title of the workshop was taken from a line from Salena Godden’s seminal poem, ‘Pessimism is for Lightweights’ which she performed at the Women’s March 2018.  By the end of the workshop, through creative writing, each participant had generated an idea of one positive social action they could take out in to the real world to make a difference. They left feeling uplifted and empowered. 

I am further curious how writing as activism can encourage people who have been silenced/marginalised/excluded from mainstream society or who identify as ‘other’ to raise their pens and refuse to be silent so we can hear their voices and stories.  I love Chen’s (2015) re-definition of these ‘others’ as the ‘counter-culture’.  Un-silencing through writing has the potential to agitate, fracture and activate a necessary counterculture in poetry and creative writing, one that challenges the predominantly white, male, middle class domination of mainstream literature which “maintains the imagination of the status quo”. (Kim, 2015)

Author, Tony Morrison (2015) re-enforces the power of language to heal societies,

“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.”

Like literary activism, writing activism can further mean,

“simply living as an artist and so showing others how to even as they show you: showing up for each other, teaching and caring the way we are not taught to...”

(Bocicevic, 2015)

This resonated with me. By creating a culture of imaginative caring and kindness through writing and by valuing our own and each other’s words with unconditional positive regard, we challenge the prevailing political, individualistic and consumerist cultures, de-colonising the imagination.


The poet Audre Lorde, in her essay ‘Poetry is not a Luxury’, describes poetry as,

“...a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams towards survival and change, first made in to language, then in to idea, then in to more tangible action.”

Like Godden, Lorde illustrates the power of poetry to change, moving from hope to real action and further states,

“Poetry is not only dream and vision, it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

Lorde perfectly describes how poetry can be both personal and social activism. 


I was recently called ‘angry’ after delivering a workshop on writing as activism! Anger has a bad reputation, the focus being on destructive anger. Yet anger can be agentic and a creative force for good. If I am angry,  it is a positive creative response to not be complicit by remaining silent. My authentic work as a facilitator is about un-silencing and empowerment. I am an ex-Social Worker (old-skool), I am political and I am activated by inequality and social injustice. I bring all of this passion in to my work creatively, purposefully and authentically. And with a lot of fun!


Definitions of activism range from ‘direct, vigorous and sometimes militant action’ (I think there could be some anger involved here!) to ’a philosophy of creative will’ (Chambers Dictionary, 2018). Renni Eddo-Lodge, author, has exercised her creative will through writing. She has been tone policed and described as an ‘angry black woman’. The truth of her experience is justified, rooted in her subjective experience and historical facts which maybe uncomfortable for others to acknowledge. If Eddo-Lodge is angry then she used it as fuel to write her seminal book, ‘Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ which is challenging and changing attitudes. She encourages ‘creative will’,

“If you are disgusted by what you see, and if you feel the fire coursing through your veins, then it's up to you. You don't have to be the leader of a global movement or a household name. It can be as small scale as chipping away at the warped power relations in your workplace. It can be passing on knowledge and skills to those who wouldn't access them otherwise. It can be creative. It can be informal. It can be your job. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you're doing something.”

It doens’t matter as long as you’re doing something . And that something may be picking up your pen and daring to write even if it scares you just a little bit.




* D’Ambrosio, Chen, Kim and Bocicevic references are taken from a brilliant article by Amy King on literary activism which you can access here:

* I highly recommend Audre Lorde’s essay, ‘Poetry is not a Luxury’ which has recently been re-published in the anthology, ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’. Read more about it here:

* Hear Renni Eddo-Lodge talk about her work here:

She Howls: the book that must be written.


Sometimes when the shite hits the fan (again) you need to use that damn stinky stuff for what it is intended – FERTILISER. ✊🏽 

You get hold of that sloppy mess and mould it in to something wonderful, a dream that needs time, a message you need to spread or the book that is waiting to be written. 

Some books won't wait. Some books weave their own jadoo so that anything that gets in the way of their creation, will be shoved to one side and if you don't listen then that pile on the side will maturate in to shite.

Then it will stink out your ifs, should and buts.

It will stink so loud, make your eyes sing  'hai rabba' and your nose dribble for mercy. 

It will be a lingering stink that travels on the slightest breeze so at just the moment you feel you got it all together, it goes whoosh bang slap in a big messy slop. 

Right over your life. 

It will make you beg...

Why me?

It will reply...

You listening NOW? 

You listening to me NOW. 

Write fucker. Write.

Hear me and write me until your fingers are raw torchlights melting plastic keys and searing through wood to lead.

Write me to the moment that you can't write me anymore.

I am going to exhaust you until you birth me like a wild howl in to blood red sky. 


Expected publication: Summer 2019

A soul-full and uplifting field guide to writing out of our hearts and souls. Excavate the feral poetry that lies deep within.

This field guide will be crammed with inspiration, poetic words and practical creative writing activities and adventures, exploring the power of words to heal us and how they help us to live our truest and wildest lives. 

Warning: Writing can seriously change your life for the better. 


Imagineered by Dal Kular, curatrix of the SHE HOWLS  open mics & writing circles, poem-maker, word-activist and facilitator of creative writing experiences for healing and transformation.

IMPORTANT GRATITUDE MESSAGE:  Shite happened and I called my friends. My allies. My fellow rabble rousers. Believers and seers. And they helped untangle the spaghetti mess. They listened, dusted me off,  strengthened my wings with duct tape and scaffolding. They reminded me of resilience. And of what I need to do in this fragmentary moment called life rather than the ifs, should and buts. THANK YOU mavericks and secret agents and brains, you know who you are. xo

2018: a holler for diverse voices


2018. Yeah. Here it is. I often think of New Year as just another day, the one after yesterday, the one before tomorrow. What's the big deal?  

But there is something magical about this linear time-marker, maybe it's the collective energy that builds around this time that promises something oh so fresh, so shiny and renewed. Hope. Possibilities. Increased love for humanity in the air. The end of rough times coming closer. Festivities and rituals. These little moments and little rituals matter. They make a difference. And when done collectively who knows what alchemy may be occurring. 

Last night I bumped in to an old friend at a New Year party... 

I recognised his dense velvety voice and juicy laugh but couldn't quite place him. We worked it out. We had studied on the same Black Access course in 1992. We last saw each other in 1993. We reminisced about that incredible year of education and how life changing it was for us. He reminded me I had more grey hairs than him even though he was older.  That neither of us, young and minority working class adults, would have got in to university without THAT course.

Our tutors repeatedly told us we were worthy of a university education and they believed in us one hundred percent. It was the first time someone had truly believed in my ability to study and excel - I was 24 years old. It was the first time I'd ever had black and asian teachers - someone to aspire to be and look up to.

The Black Access course was designed to address the inequity and under-representation of BAME folks in university education. It enlightened us students to the institutional and societal discrimination we faced as kids trying to make our way through the secondary education system. It was like having fog sucked from my brain and a wild and sometimes angry awakening. So, it wasn't "all our own fault" after all.

My 2 sisters and I were all placed in lower streams at secondary school even though we were clearly bright. My middle sister, now a Senior Sister of a major London paediatric A & E was told she would never get O-levels. My big sister, now a Senior Social Work Practitioner managing a busy mental health team, was told to become a secretary.  Me, I'm starting my second career in therapeutic creative writing after a 23 year career in Social Work. I was told by the school careers officer that I couldn't be a writer and to get a proper job. University wasn't even mentioned. 

Why am I going on about this?  

Because THAT year of education was pure alchemy.  It made us students believe we could succeed and rise above the naysayers. I realised last night that I am here, at this point in my life, by the skin of my teeth.  THAT course changed the course of my life. That is the power of education and of having others believe in YOU. Alas, this course no longer exists.

Because we both realised that in many ways not much has changed at a deep societal level to help and encourage those kids without role models, supportive parents, or from low income backgrounds... (fill in the gaps) to access higher education. In fact, it's worse than ever with education cuts, ridiculous university fees and deepening poverty. 

Because working class folks are very very under-represented in the arts and humanities in the UK. This is a BIG PROBLEM. It means we only get a narrow representation of what our society is, who it is made up of, the diversity of voices amongst us and this is usually presented to us by an arts and literary elite who edit and shape OUR 'real life experience'.



But there is an UPRISING.

Kit De Wall, who published her first book at 56 years old, "My name is Leon",  is currently rallying working class writers in to a rapidly growing movement and calling for submissions to a new anthology of published and unpublished working class writers, "Common People". OUR voices will be heard. 

Arts Emergency are actively challenging the glass ceiling and exclusivity of arts and humanities  through their mentoring program for young people. I am proud to be mentoring my first young person in writing, mental health and performance this year in Manchester. I feel honoured and privileged that maybe these grey hairs will contain some pearls of wisdom and inspiration for a young'un to go forth and create against the odds. 

2018 is going to be the year where we hear more voices that have been held back for far too long.  I can feel it in my bones. And it feels bloody great.  

dk x

Kit De Waal is seeking submissions and pledges for "Common People", an anthology of working class writers. 

Arts Emergency is a brilliant organisation supporting marginalised young people access the fields of arts and humanities. They are completely funded by US, the people.