Writer-in-Residence Ken Wilson-Max talks about working with the George Padmore Institute

January 26, 2021

Ken is an award-winning author, illustrator and publisher of children’s books including Astro Girl, Where's Lenny? and Max Paints the House. As part of the Reaching New Generations (RNG) project funded by Arts Council England, Ken will be writing a book inspired by the George Padmore Institute (GPI) archives for 5- to 8-year-olds. Here, he gives his first thoughts on working with the GPI:

‘I was both surprised and honoured when the invitation came to be Writer-in-Residence at the George Padmore Institute. By coincidence, I live nearby so knew about the archive and New Beacon Books. Here was a chance to dive into Black British community history and find a way to make the archive live outside of the building. One of the first things I wanted to do was experience the place and try to pick up any visual style and feelings that might set the tone for the project. Lockdown has prevented regular visits, but a video call and a morning visit was squeezed in while possible. Combined with emailed material, these have been more than enough to work with at this early stage. Meeting the team of people responsible for this archive has also been a wholly positive experience. They are available to answer any questions and are informative and committed.

The archive is proving to be a treasure trove. Some of the most interesting things so far: the amount of engaging outreach and educational work that the team does, working with primary and secondary students; the high level of protest and lobbying that has been going on for decades in terms of making Black Lives Matter and the wonderful way that the Black British community has used art and education in their activism. I have seen how Carnival was very much a political event and the Institute was a community hub which reflected its visitors' lives so richly. As someone who only arrived in England, and to this neighbourhood, in the 1980s, it is reassuring to see the unity in the photos and documents from the archive. It confirms my belief that while diversity in a community is wonderful to see, inclusion and unity are what seem to take people forward. If we can capture a bit of that by the end of the project, we will have done a great thing.’

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Photo of Ken Wilson-Max
(c) Ken Wilson-Max