Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Black Books for Kids and Teens

Are you looking for new reading recommendations by Black authors and illustrators? Did you miss our Black Books for Kids webinar? Fear not: you can now catch up with it at your leisure over on our YouTube channel! Join our own Liz Chapman chatting with Zoey Dixon from Lambeth Libraries as they discuss their favourite Black books for all ages, from board books for babies right up to Young Adult novels.
You can also find details of all the books discussed in this pdf document - plus, as a bonus, some new and forthcoming titles that we are especially looking forward to! For further recommendations, check out Lambeth's Black Writers listchallenge, or contact your local library for suggestions.

For information on our other Black History Month events, see here.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The story is in the story: Malcolm X’s visit to Sheffield in 1964

Désirée Reynolds has been the Writer in Residence at Sheffield City Archives for five months now and in that short time, she has uncovered some fascinating and hitherto unsung histories of Black Sheffield residents in the archives. Although her work has focused on hidden lives and marginalised voices, she has also revisited more widely known stories from living memory. One such account took her back to the 1960s, a time of rapidly changing culture, values and behaviours - particularly among young people. The University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union was, by this time, becoming more political, with protests against the Vietnam War and high-profile speakers such as Malcolm X drawing large audiences.

Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little, 1925 -1965) was an African American leader in the civil rights movement and a vocal advocate for Black empowerment during the 1950s and 1960s. Formerly a member of The Nation Of Islam, he left this organisation to forge his own path; the fight for civil rights would not have been the same without him. He was invited to speak at the Students’ Union in Sheffield on 4th December 1964 - one of only three places outside of London where he spoke. In his speech Malcolm X declared: “We are not fighting for civil rights; we are fighting for human rights. Freedom is a valuable thing. To get it I would use any means necessary, any time.” Afterwards, the Students’ Union gazette, Darts, wrote enthusiastically about his visit, describing in detail the hour-long speech, given to one of the largest audiences ever seen in the Union.

An original copy of Darts from 1964 - somewhat yellowing and brittle - still survives in the annals of Sheffield Local Studies Library - one of the few surviving accounts that recalls Malcolm X’s visit to Sheffield. This would have been the end of the story if Désirée hadn’t dug a little deeper: ‘there must be more.’ A trawl through the newspapers revealed a number of unsettling articles in the local press. ‘Row feared over Malcolm X visit’ warned The Star, ‘visit likely to cause racial troubles.’ In the Sheffield Telegraph the following day an inflammatory article claimed: ‘over 700 angry students hissed Malcolm X at Sheffield University last night’. The student body took exception to this, arguing the report grossly misrepresented what took place.

In Désirée’s words:

‘Malcolm X visits Sheffield Dec 1964. A headline predicts trouble, there wasn’t any. The Sheffield Telegraph make up a story that he was hissed at by 700 students. They didn’t. A petition is made against the paper’s misinformation. Even then.

The story is in the story…

They tried to draw him into a comment about, by this time, a dead Kennedy. Malcolm refused to be baited.

“I believe in the brotherhood of the human race and don’t care to know anybody who is not prepared to be my brother.”’

A mass protest in the form of a petition was hand delivered to the Star and Telegraph offices and a separate protest was made by the Secretary of the Union who wrote to the Telegraph expressing his dismay at the ‘violent distortion in the report, which he felt was especially ironic in view of Malcolm X’s opening remarks, in which he had stressed the danger of an irresponsible press’.

The Telegraph news editor, ‘though obviously disturbed’, declined to comment further.

Malcolm X visited Britain once more - in February 1965 - to speak in London and Smethwick. A few short weeks later, following his return to the U.S., he was assassinated.

This story is thought-provoking on many levels. It points to a prevailing racist culture in Britain; Malcolm X’s visits were met with hostility and lies from the press, underlining the national race row which challenged what it meant to be British in the post-war years. It reminds us, too, that when we look at historical records, we must ask: whose truth are we reading?

Désirée Reynolds and archivist Cheryl Bailey will be talking more about the hidden histories, silent voices and important discoveries they have found in Sheffield Archives at their Off The Shelf event:

Millennium Gallery, Thursday 21st October 2021, 12:30pm - 1:30pm

Tickets: https://www.offtheshelf.org.uk/event/take-it-to-the-streets-hidden-voices-in-sheffield-archives-desiree-reynolds-and-cheryl-bailey/ 


Darts, No.247, 10 Dec 1964 (Sheffield Local Studies Library)

The Star, 1 Dec 1964 (Sheffield Local Studies Library)

Sheffield Telegraph, 5 Dec 1964 (Sheffield Local Studies Library)

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Uncomfortable truths: Sheffield’s links to the transatlantic slave trade

Désirée Reynolds recently joined us at Sheffield City Archives as Writer in Residence. She is exploring our vast holdings of records in a quest to uncover Black and Brown voices and the hidden lives of other marginalised peoples - those living on the periphery of society. Désirée writes about identity, the notion of home and belonging, rootlessness and invisibility - all of which are becoming recurring themes as she leafs through page after page of faded handwriting in the archives.

This is not the first time she has looked to the archives for narratives. In 2019, she wrote Born on Sunday, Silent, a powerful short story (published in ‘The Book Of Sheffield’ by Comma Press) about the unmarked grave of an African child dating from the early 1900s. The story is told by a child spirit called Kai Akosua Mansah who wanders through Sheffield’s libraries and archives uncovering her own past, searching for lost truths. As she found, Sheffield’s own archives don’t always reveal the full tale - “looking for Sheffield’s past is not easy” says Désirée, “the things that get left out tell a story all of their own.” Moreover, as one reviewer noted, one of the uncomfortable truths the story highlights is “the city’s shameful collusion in a racist and imperial past”.

This is an important area that has come under scrutiny in recent months culminating in the Race Equality Commission which is examining the nature, extent, causes and impacts of racism and race inequality within the city. Among the many recommendations, academics have pinpointed the need for greater archival research into Sheffield’s involvement in the slave trade - the extent to which the city prospered from the trade in African slaves, an understanding of who was involved and the means by which they benefited directly or indirectly, and the amount of capital that was generated by slavery which fed into the close social networks in Sheffield.  Answers to these questions are harder to come by than in port-cities such as Liverpool or Bristol where the accrued economic benefits of slavery are well-known.

Only a few weeks ago, Désirée came across one of the most arresting documents we have found to date. Following our last project blog, local researcher Terry Howard got in touch mentioning that he’d come across a reference that might be of interest in the little-known ‘Ronksley Collection’ - an assembly of original archives and transcripts compiled by Mr J.G. Ronksley (1851-1916) of Sheffield.  Crucially, Mr Ronksley had meticulously transcribed thousands of pages of documents that were later auctioned off in the 19th century and have long-since disappeared. The transcripts survive in the archives.  Among these - a reference of great significance: 

An inventory of goods of Reginald Wilson (deceased) of Broomhead Hall, Sheffield, 1694, giving the value of black slaves. Alongside French pistols and pearl necklaces, the following names are given:

1 negro boy named Mingo £24

2 negro women £45

1 negro named Hector £25

1 negro woman £28

1 negro named Debby £25

“Sometimes when looking at this, as a Black creative we often have to ask ourselves, is this something that is useful?

Why do we always look at Black pain porn and not at the other stories?

Our history is not only slavery, but also the centuries before, why root it in this?

Why is it that these are the stories that get funded? Delivered? Written about? I get that. I get that it often feels that this is all anyone wants to engage with. I get that we are more than this. I agree.


I think about the silences. The structured absences.

I think about what it means for a writer like me to look at this. I know I may never find their real names but since these are the ones that I’ve found then this is what I have. 

I need to say to these people, with names that aren’t theirs,

‘I see you’.

Speak the unspeakable.

We must see archives as a source of reparative justice.

We were always here.”

The Wilson family were a prominent family who lived at Broomhead Hall in Bradfield - they had extensive business interests in plantations and slaves in Jamaica. Although Reginald Wilson died in 1692 (killed during an earthquake in Jamaica), the wealth accumulated from the slave trade passed down the generations. The will of John Wilson (dated 22 Jan 1762) in Sheffield Archives mentions ‘lands, tenements, plantations and hereditaments in the island of Jamaica in America’ formerly belonging to his great uncle, Reginald Wilson. And the executors of the will? Wilson’s relatives - John Trevers Younge of Sheffield, mercer and Thomas Staniforth of Liverpool, merchant (and slave trader).

Sheffield is often lauded as a centre for radical anti-slavery protest; while this is undoubtedly true, it is only part of the story. The less palatable truths are just below the surface, they’re buried in the archives, we just need to find them.

The Archives and Reparative Justice (Off The Shelf event)

Writer Désirée Reynolds and archivist Cheryl Bailey will be delivering an illustrated talk discussing Désirée's work as Writer In Residence at Sheffield Archives and the hidden voices that will inform her next book. The 'Take It To The Streets' project aims to bring the Black and marginalised voices out of the archive, provide some form of reparative justice and to bring to the public a Sheffield past that has not been looked at on this scale before.

Millennium Galleries, 12:30-13:30, Thursday 21 October 2021 (tickets available soon)

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Creativity During Covid - Exhibition

As the first national lockdown began, we all experienced a range of emotions as many of us were forced to slow down and consider a situation unlike anything we’d ever known.  Amid the fear, boredom, and loneliness experienced by many, there was also relief, wonder, and hope to be found in people and places, perhaps familiar and yet somehow previously unseen. 

As we look back to springtime 2020, there is no ignoring the tragedy of what unfolded, the extent of suffering was too awful for that, but we can remember the positives too.  The explosion of creativity observed amongst ordinary people across the country was one such example. 

Here in Sheffield, Claire Walker, the creative dynamo behind the Central Library poetry and writing groups was quick to encourage people to explore and express their creativity.  Every day from March to July 2020, Claire posted on the Library Facebook page, a daily writing prompt to inspire others to write, feel or think imaginatively.  Claire was overwhelmed by the response and the impact this appeared to have on those taking part.

The Creativity During Covid Exhibition showcases a selection of the written work sent in by those who read the prompts, alongside a number of physical items created during those months. It offers a snapshot of a moment in time, capturing a glimpse of our shared experience. 

A folder of further writing submitted can also be viewed, as well the daily prompts created by Claire. 

The Creativity During Covid Exhibition will be available to view in the Central Library foyer from 11th August 2021 until 1st September, 2021.

Please leave your comments (subject to moderation).

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Poems by the Porter with Helen Mort

Last week, we were joined in Endcliffe Park, one of Sheffield’s many green spaces by a lovely group of Sheffielders as well as the award winning poet and novelist, Helen Mort.  What a pleasure it was to be out with a crowd of people sharing ideas, memories, and inspiration.

Helen led us on a walk through the woods, and beside the Porter Brook, and along the way read pieces from her various published works.  We enjoyed it so much, we thought it would be nice to share the experience more widely, so Helen very kindly offered to record a condensed version of the walk for you to enjoy at home.

We've placed the recording on our podcast which you can listen to for free through our Anchor webpage or your favourite podcast platform.

If you want to learn more about Helen and her work, you can visit her website, all good bookshops, or of course your local library.

Finally, Helen closed the session by giving us a writing prompt to think about at home.  Here it is,

Write a piece in the voice of Endcliffe Park. What does it think about? What does the park see, hear, taste and feel? It could be a poem, a short story or just a series of notes. Let your imagination take over.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Introducing our Writer in Residence, Désirée Reynolds

Faced with endless rows of boxes, the contents of which span 800 years, most researchers visit us with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.  The archive is often seen as a place where ‘old things’ come to rest - rows of boxes on shelves imbued with a sense of mystery and possibility. The researcher’s natural impulse is to delve in and find the hidden lives and actions documented in the archive - which is exactly what writer, Désirée Reynolds is doing every Tuesday on her weekly visits to Sheffield City Archives.

Désirée recently joined us as our Writer in Residence. She was brought up in Clapham, London to Jamaican parents. She told her Mum, at about eight years old, that she was going to write a book and has been writing ever since. She moved to Sheffield in the late 1990s and writes about female identities, ideas of belonging, home/not home, rootlessness and invisibility. This links directly with her work in the archives… 

“I still find that so much of our lives is untold and the silence around our stories makes me want to fill those voids with thought and emotion and the very ordinariness of living.”

Désirée is exploring a myriad of different sources, from 300-year old parish registers to case books documenting the plight of young girls in Victorian Sheffield, in a quest to uncover Black and Brown voices and the hidden lives of other marginalised peoples - those living on the periphery of society.

What has Désirée found so far?  She has already published some tantalising pictures and thoughts on her Twitter and Instagram feeds…

(Pictured): A haunting still from the short film of employees leaving John Brown’s Atlas Works in Sheffield made by Mitchell and Kenyon in 1901. Look closely among the cheering throng and you will see a little Black girl aged around five or six years old.

‘Who is this little Black girl at the factory gates in 1901? Why is she there? What is her story? Such a sad little face. She is very much alone amidst the glee.’

(Pictured): A diary kept by Thomas Staniforth (born at Darnall in 1735, but later a member of Liverpool’s prosperous commercial society and prominent slave trader) he visited Yorkshire for one month every year to check on his agricultural and coal mining interests near Darnall. This diary dates from 1799 and documents one of his trips over to Sheffield from Liverpool (Sheffield City Archives X755/1).

‘Looking at the 1799 diary of Thomas Staniforth. His name is listed against 79 definite voyages in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade database - most likely more. The diary itself is innocuous, about his investments in a colliery, going out to dinner, visiting his son.

“I had a few drops of ruin (gin).”

So casual, so nothing to see here and yet this man caused the suffering and death of thousands upon thousands and that legacy must run into millions.

“Weather fine.”

I do sometimes run out of words…’

As Archivists, we often find that researchers come with ideas of what they hope to find but it is seemingly not there. There is an expectation - or hope - that the archive is complete, all-encompassing, and inclusive. In reality, archives are characterised by gaps. Over the next few months, we will be working with Désirée to address some of these gaps, to give voice and emotion to some of the untold stories, and stories only hinted at, in the archives. The end result will bring together creative work by Désirée along Otis Mensah and Jenson Grant in a pop-up ‘archive shop’ in the city centre. 

For project updates see:

Sheffield City Archives (Twitter) @SheffArchives
Desiree Reynolds (Twitter) @desreereynolds
Desiree Reynolds (Instagram) @desiree_reynoldsu2

Watch the full film by Mitchell and Kenyon of employees leaving Brown's Atlas Works, Sheffield, 1901 (the little Black girl can be seen around 2:10 in the bottom right corner): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sjdBokDhr8 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Love Sheffield, Luv - Writing Competition

We're here again. After a year and a ton of entries we are delighted to announce the winners of the three categories of our Love Sheffield, Luv competition. A huge thanks to everyone who entered - and for your patience while we navigated our way through lockdowns and not being able to access entries!

Whittling down to one winner in each category was exceptionally difficult - there were just so many amazing stories and poems celebrating, based in, or inspired by our city. 

- Nik Perring (Sheffield Year of Reading Writer in Residence)

The winners are...


CHILDREN - Lockdown is Breaking Me Up Inside by Eva Simms

Nik Perring – "I love how much this feels like so many people have been feeling over lockdown. It’s beautiful and sad and reminds us of all the things there are to love about our city."

Lockdown is breaking me up inside, piece by piece, slowly but surely. Stuck inside all day; the outside world so tempting. So close, yet so far away. Not being with the people I hold dearest in the places I love dearest is … very frustrating. I tell myself I can do this but I cannot.  I am forever on the sofa thinking about what life would be like right now if we weren't in lockdown. Maybe I’d be strolling through Endcliffe Park throwing bread to the ducks or walking through those ancient trees. Or maybe I’d have a day out at CineWorld, watch the latest superhero movie with my friends then go bowling followed by pizza. What could be better?

My mouth breaks into a huge smile as my eyes see not my living room with its matching sofas and off-white walls but the sparking waters of Ladybower Reservoir. I am running along the bank next to the shimmering water, my shoes kicking up mud and grass, then my view shifts and I'm seated on a soft leather seat with the aroma of chicken all around me. I'm in Nandos being served heaps of fries and a massive roasted platter of food. I laugh gently to myself, never wanting this magical dream reality to ever end. 

I suddenly find myself in the lush green grass of the Botanical Gardens looking at the plants, the trees and the people. Turning my face to the sun, I feel its warm hands envelop my face and the light fills my eyes I am standing in town facing the Town Hall listening to all the pigeons take flight with the shopping bags of my recent spree cutting into my wrists and in the blink of an eye I feel weightless. I'm bouncing high, high, higher, surely I could touch the sky if I wanted to – I am in Jumping! 

As I am bouncing I begin to feel heavier and heavier until I am back to the reality of unwashed dishes and rooms in serious need of a tidy. I am sitting as before on one of the matching sofas staring at the off white wall. The realisation my visions have evaporated makes me feel hollow inside like a chocolate egg without the toy surprise. They were my anchor in the murky sea of Covid 19.

I am strong. Imagination is never silly.


TEENS - Hive New Writers' Prize - Wizened by Sharmin

Nik Perring - "A piece with delightful maturity. A beautifully poignant look at life and with a warming feeling of hope. This story felt real. Most importantly, it made me feel."

Wizened by hope, the old man sits in the waiting room. His mind dives from the cliffs of cancer. It twirls through fear, spins at the thought of nothing; of nothing waiting beyond the dark, of emptiness, and summersaults towards hope, spread before him like a sunlit lake. Perhaps they have caught him in time.

He chuckles optimistically to himself, fingers curled in a ball upon his walking stick, his back stooped by the blows of time, the blasts of age, rounded, like a ball. He thinks, “I ought to be easy to catch!”

To his right, his daughter’s turmoil of thoughts strafe at her worried mind- the thought of never seeing her dad again were a salvo to her asphyxiated heart. Silently, she sat as still as a cement, her mind hardening with the reality of final goodbyes, of last of times, of end of lives…

“I’ll be alright, don’t worry,” he stated. The more he reassures her -or himself- the more the daughter realises his optimism and her pessimism were like repelling magnets: same awareness of the ending, but one magnet tries to paint it, the other one accept it.

Her father’s vision has been blanketed by dreams, like a paradox of a pair of glasses. Tempting him into hallucinating of chances. Blurring the line between the possible and the unlikely with its lenses. Increasing the resolution of its trickery to make sure he does not go back to his reasonable self. To make sure he gives himself false hopes. To make sure he kills himself with disappointment before something else kills him... She begs silently that this doesn’t happen.

But nothing changes.

Suddenly, the silent shriek of a door catapults her back to the not-so-distant reality. The catapult thrusts her face-first to the situation that was about to occur: they were about to know whether there was a chance of living or not. Though, she does not believe in hope. The chance of survival was like the chance of a little seed reaching the outside world, whilst growing through dry, hard mud.

Briefly, she glances at the doctor’s medical badge. She knew what was going to happen all along, but she never prepared for this situation. It’s like a pair of glasses, reminding her of actual reality. Distinguishing between a dreamy life and inevitable death. Increasing the resolution of the desperate scenery to make sure she sees it, to make sure she wants to close her eyes, to make sure she wants to quickly run back to the catapult, so it can propel her away from what was about to occur. She wants to

But nothing happens.

She helps her father get up with struggle and they trudge to the doctor’s office.

And he tells them the news.

He will live.

At that very moment did the daughter realise that pessimism was an ocean in which she has drowned in. Her vision melted with the obscure layers of the sea; diminishing her ability to see any hope. Her hearing melted with the muffled, dark echoes of the ocean; diminishing her ability to hear any possibilities. Yet, a fine line of light swam down through the surface of the sea, to her. It was like a vulnerable little plant: slowly growing through dry, hard mud- until finally reaching the vast outside world. With trembling hands, she reaches out for the light; deciding she was going to swim. She could not let herself drown anymore.

Their minds dived from the cliffs of happiness, twirling through robustness, and summersaulting towards hope, spread before them like a sunlit lake. Of course, life isn’t eternal. But both of them learned a lesson: live in the present. If you enjoy the present, it will seem like an eternal dream.


ADULT CATEGORY - The Low Wall Beat of Love and Loss by Ellen Uttley

Nik Perring - "This is a story that makes all of me smile because it reminds me that stories are everywhere. Beautifully written and a great idea so well realised. Congratulations!"

I stood outside the university building at Arundel, the creative swirling of the writing class I’d just left already settling in my mind. The ideas, so clear just minutes before, now fragmented and brushed to the dust of faint memories and half formed ideas of thoughts unwritten.

The beat of their voices reached me before their words did; the rhythmic tick of the t’s and the hisses of s’s reaching above their words to find me in my procrastination. Rain misted my face as I walked through the grey air towards them, two men, rapping at the edge of my hearing.

They stood beside a speaker that was rested on the short wall that made the entrance of the university building into a squat kind of courtyard. Leaning in over it, they seemed to be aware only of each other, as if they thought the sound of their voices and the beat of the speaker wouldn’t move past the bubble of space and concentration that they had created. They rapped for each other, at each other, and no one else.

I reached them at the same moment that their words reached clarity. The one to the left, a squat man of strong build and sharp shirt, moving with shoulders and knee to the flow of his counterpart. His eyes rapt; competitive and entertained, he took in the words of the longer man. The right man, in his baggy stained shirt and his tight jeans, chin wagging to the beat of his story.

“..she was maybe eighteen, yeah

her collar pristine.

Her daddy was furious that she wasn’t Miss Thing.

She spoke with her gumption, yeah

and she spoke from her heart.

Her mummy would have train her

but there was nowhere to start.

She was her own to the core, yeah

her dreams made her soar, yeah

Her sisters screamed and cried and scratched

and yeah they called her a whore, whore...”

Rapt, I took in the words as he threw them. About a girl thrown out into the world with nothing but her wits and her dreams. How he had scooped her up and placed her down in a place of security and serenity. He tapered off as she reached him through the computer screens that had connected them to the real world of the life that they had pledged to build together. Two beats later, the squat man pulled down first one starched cuff and then the other and took up the beat.

“...yeah, I hear what you’re saying, man

my own love was tight.

I kept her warm and loved her and she

treated me right.

But she died from the train tracks, man

she died in her sleep.

She died from her mind

and mother

calling her weak, weak.

I know what you’re saying, man

how love can change everything.

But she died and worse

she died on the day that I bought a ring...”

He wove his grief in the air between them like silk, thread of his own recovery and the redemption and hope and the cleansing fire that he found in a loss so certain and so destroying that he had nothing left of himself but a handful of dust.

Lost in the words of his counterpart, the tall man swayed, and as the sharp shirted rapper lifted a hand to wipe his eye, he grabbed the beat from the air and continued his story.

“...It was perfect for a time, man

the woman was sweet.

She hoped and cooked

and wrote and sang

and we just went click.

But things start to slip, yeah

then it just went quick, yeah.

She has been gone and month now

and my minds like a crypt, yeah...”

The arms of both of them, swaying in time, reached over to form a bridge. Hand to shoulder they rocked with the music that swirled around them. Suit jacket stretched taught and rocking softly to the beat of his soft sobs. His counterpart looked down at him into the safe space created by the loop of their arms.

“...Yeah man, this life will throw stuff at you

and grief will go hard.

But your life is your own, man

and you hold the cards.

We have to pick up the tatters, man

we have to tie up the shreds.

We have to pick up our feet

we have to pick up our heads.

We have to pick up our hope

we have to find what we can

we have to stitch this together

as we clutch at the sand.

We might lose some moments, man

we might lose some years.

we might lose some parts of us and

we might lose some tears.

But after it all

when we come out of the dust

we will still be there waiting

we’ll be whole

we’ll be us...”

Their heads raised up to face each other, and they lowered their hands. The shorter one reached out and clicked off the speaker with a numbing silence. I turned before they could notice me standing there, and moved off down the hill, towards the train station.

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone who submitted amazing writing to the competition. Watch this space for more Sheffield Year of Reading creativity …

Please leave your comments (subject to moderation).