Stormzy at Hay literary festival: 'Black people are not monolithic'

June 5, 2023 3:01 pm

[Source: BBC]

Stormzy is used to wowing the crowds at festivals – his 2019 headline Glastonbury appearance was considered an all-round triumph.

His latest festival appearance, though, was a slightly different prospect.

The Heavy is the Head singer and rapper was appearing at the famous literary festival at Hay-on-Wye in Wales to talk about his publishing imprint, Merky Books.

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The star’s slot changed from Saturday to Sunday and rumours whizzed around the festival site about the late change.

At various points, I was told it was because he wanted to watch Saturday’s FA Cup Final featuring his beloved Manchester United (if he did, he might have wished he’d missed it) or that he was busy partying with Beyoncé, who has been in London on tour.

But it turned out he was making an appearance at Burna Boy’s London Stadium gig.

In his rescheduled Hay slot, Stormzy spoke to mark five years since the launch of Merky Books, which aims to develop and produce diverse storytellers.

“With Merky Books… everyone just sees the one man, but there are so many people who allow me to thrive,” he said.

“I’m very blessed. I have the most amazing team. So any time I have an idea, like Merky Books, I just have to send a text. One day I said, ‘You know, we should do a book company, man!’ And lo and behold, here we are.”

Stormzy said he had a revelation about finding his own authentic voice when he started reading a particular novel at school.

“With literature and writing music, both are about finding your voice… and the way you write.

When you’re young there’s a way you write in school, there’s a comma and… you put all these words in and all the fancy moves.

“But it’s not about that. It’s about telling a story. There was an amazing book in school called Vernon God Little and I was so amazed by this book. It was written in the style of the character. Two words and then a full-stop. That’s when I realised the whole smoke and mirrors of writing being Shakespearean, eloquent.

“It’s not about that. Your truth is enough. Your words are enough. Your voice is enough.”

The star said it was important that Merky, which has published works by Derek Owusu and Malorie Blackman, covered all genres.

“The reason I wanted all these various memoirs, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, is black people are not monolithic, we are multi-faceted. Growing up where I was… people think, OK, you’re a young black boy that raps, that’s what you do.

“And it’s like, no. There are days when I’m really angry… days when I feel on top of the world… even with literature, we are multi-faceted.”

Merky will explore another genre this summer when it publishes its first rom-com, author Taylor-Dior Rumble’s debut novel, The Situationship.

She told BBC News: “Being published by a diverse publisher like Merky Books is important to me because throughout the entire process, I didn’t feel like I was explaining my characters or their world to my team, nor did I feel the need or pressure to edit my story for the white gaze.

“My book touches on impostor syndrome and the microaggressions black women face in the office and it was so cathartic talking through those points with an editor that already gets where I’m coming from.

“I’m incredibly inspired by how a lot of what Stormzy does, outside of music, centres on giving back to the community and helping others achieve greatness.”

The man himself hopes his imprint, a collaboration with Penguin Random House UK, will continue to grow and inspire.

“My actual dream is being 80 years old, no-one cares about Stormzy any more – he’s just chilling with his dogs – and I see someone and they say, ‘Yo, I’m a published author, I sold so many books on Merky… and it’s nothing to do with me.

“It’s not a vanity thing. It’s just this engine that allows black authors to come and grow and thrive.”