Young Poets Network is thrilled to be partnering with spoken word producer Melanie Abrahams to offer mentoring opportunities to two young writers.
Melanie is a curator and producer of literary events, festivals and multimedia projects across the UK. She has worked with writers including Ali Smith, Patience Agbabi, Caryl Phillips and Patrick Neate, and is the Creative Director of Renaissance One, a team of literature producers, writers, and practitioners working across England, and its sister spoken word production company, Tilt.
“For me, mentoring is communicating – an exchange of knowledge and insights. When it’s good, it’s attuned to what a person most needs at that time. At the very least it offers a sympathetic ear – someone who is making time to listen to you.”
We caught up with Melanie to find out a bit more about her own path into literature
Hi Melanie! You’ve made a fascinating career in the literary sector. What opportunities were there to work in this field when you were first starting out?
Few that I could see. But reading and literature was always a first love – from early on I read voraciously, listened to the radio, and avidly consumed words. It was frequently put to the side as not being something you could ‘make a career’ from. So by the time I wanted to work in the arts sector, after many other types of jobs, I was very keen to make things happen, quickly.
I found ways to be noticed or to make progress. I stood out because I dedicated a lot of time to helping writers who lacked support. It was an opportunity to identify writers who weren’t gaining the profile they deserved, and to combine all my reading, event experience, linking people together, maths, and the creative sounds and ideas in my head to slowly but steadily make my own way, into something that eventually became a career.
Do you see a distinction between ‘stage’ and ‘page’ poetry?
Sometimes critics will make that distinction for emphasis or to create a ‘story’, sometimes artists will distinguish themselves in that way. I’ve worked a lot with writers who transform and straddle both, whether or not they are viewed as having that ability. Some writers are all-round communicators and care about relating to audiences, which can make them great on stage.
I’m interested in working with good artists and am keen about multiple voices, so I look out for both aspects when curating or producing. I’m just not into the ‘this versus that’ arguments around them.
“Think about which things interest you most in the world or in your day-to-day life, which also interest you about literature”
Spoken word as an artform has taken off hugely in the past few years. How do you think it will develop in the future?
I feel it will broaden out in scope and not be limited to a performance poetry definition. Hopefully there will be more on spoken word for wellbeing – that’s an important interest of mine, which I use in mentoring.
For a young person interested in making a career in literature today, what would be your top tip?
Think about which things interest you most in the world or in your day-to-day life, which also interest you about literature. For example you might listen to, and pay attention to, sounds or words or speech; you might like the way words or pieces of text look on the page, or enjoy experiencing different worlds through reading or stories.
If you pay attention to this, as well as learning the craft of literature in broader ways, you’ll most likely develop a particular ability or skill that makes you distinctive or stand out. This is one way of developing your unique voice.
Why were you particularly interested in offering these mentoring sessions? Is it filling a gap or a lack of some kind that you currently think there is in the UK’s literary sector?
There is a gap in mentoring partly because of the tough times the arts sector is facing, and possibly because the professional development elements of literature outside of creative writing courses seem to come and go in waves. I have been asked to mentor so many writers and artists and have been doing it for enough time to realise there was, and is, a need.
What would your advice be to mentees to make sure they get the most out of their mentoring sessions?
Before you come along to the session, think about what you would most want to get out of the time. Is there a question or issue about which you wouldn’t usually think of getting advice or support ? What would you most want to improve or develop out of what you are currently working on, or thinking about?
Two young poets will receive one-to-one sessions with Melanie either in person or via Skype or telephone. These sessions will be between sixty and ninety minutes in length, and will focus on an area or a project of the mentee’s choice.
You might be seeking careers advice, be looking for support on a project, want feedback on a CV, ideas about how to apply for project funding, be developing a show, event or tour, or simply wish to sound out an idea. This might be your first foray into the world of literature, or you might already have a bit of experience under you belt. The important thing is that you’re able to demonstrate real enthusiasm for your idea, as well as showing us that you would be fully committed to the mentoring opportunity.
How to apply
This opportunity is now closed, and successful applicants will be announced shortly.
The opportunity, part of the Mentoring Three Ways project, is funded by Arts Council England.
Published January, 2016