Inspirational Talk for LitSoc with Author Shani Akilah

In a happy coincidence of timing with both World Book Day and International Women’s Day, Colfe’s Literary Society welcomed writer Shani Akilah to give a talk on her journey to becoming a published author.

Shani Akilah is a Black British Caribbean writer and screenwriter. She is a book influencer, co-founder of the Nyah Network, a book club for Black women, and was a literary judge for the Nota Bene Prize 2023. For Such a Time as This is her debut short story collection which will be published in June 2024 by Oneworld.

Ms Akilah gave a fascinating and inspirational talk to a large group of pupils from LitSoc, EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion), Feminist Society and ACS (African-Caribbean Society), as well as many other interested pupils and staff. A self-confessed proud south-east Londoner with deep pride and connection with her African-Caribbean family heritage, Ms Akilah told the audience of her journey to realising her dream of being a published author, through school and her International Development and Politics degree at the University of Leeds. A Masters in African Studies at Oxford University followed, which included a period in Ghana that helped solidify an ambition to work in international relations, leading her to join the civil service in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Despite this blossoming career, she told the audience, her passion grew for telling stories through creative writing, and attending a chance talk from Booker prize-winning author Bernadine Evaristo was the deciding factor in her leaving the civil service to pursue her dream.

Her story, she said, was one of resilience, hard work and learning through experiment; she spoke of how she looks back now at her first story of “a young, Black millennial woman exploring life and love in the pandemic” and “cringes” but how she learnt from all her writing to develop her craft until she achieved her first publishing deal.

The audience heard of how her stories are inspired by everyday life and observations, from a conversation in a local supermarket to being a ‘serial’ bridesmaid during her 20s as so many friends around her got married. After a lively Q&A session that covered topics from the difference between short stories and novels, her developing screenwriting, and what her own favourite books include, she ended her talk giving a tantalising glimpse of her writing by reading an extract from ‘Good Goodbye’, one of the stories from her collection, before asking the group to suggest their own ending, a challenge the audience happily accepted.

English Teacher and English Enrichment Lead Alexandra Flegg said, “It was wonderful to welcome Shani into Colfe’s. She was very relatable and clearly resonated with the students in the audience. There was a real buzz in the room and the students gained a lot from listening to her journey and connecting with her. I am certain she will have inspired many of them in their own literary or personal journeys.”

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