A pair of eyes decorated with a rainbow flag

A new rainbow canon

Writer Afshan D’souza-Lodhi introduces a recording of her conversation with artists and poets Dean Atta and Paula Varjack where they discuss the need for a new LGBTQ+ literary canon containing a diversity of voices. This recording was produced for Pride 2020.

In a world where the constant whitewashing and erasing of LGBTQ narratives from history is the norm, it has become the role of writers and creatives to put pen to paper, voice to microphone and will those erased into existence. 

A canon is defined as a traditional collection of writings, against which other writings are evaluated.

With the old canon of literary work neglecting diverse narratives, what might a rainbow canon look like that is representative of Britain, alive and defiantly queer, today? The creation of this new canon doesn’t come without its issues. Paula Varjack, Dean Atta and myself, Afshan D’souza-Lodhi, delve into these very issues in this recorded conversation for the British Library.

The reality for creatives is that few of us make our money solely off our art. In fact, it is through educating and teaching that we are able to survive. Using our art to speak to a younger generation about our collective histories is not only important, but feeds and inspires creative minds. In some ways this is a responsibility most of us are willingly taking on. We are happy to teach, to educate, to create so that a new canon can emerge. So that younger people have a library of books they can access and see something of their own lives reflected back.

We consider it our responsibility to represent and educate audiences about the lives of Black/People of Colour LGBTQ people. For the writers that find themselves caught in between the burden of representation and responsibility, the tips and perspectives given by Dean Atta and Paula Varjack may help.

Between us we thought up a new canon and leave listeners with a list of recommendations of writers to read, performers to see and artists to engage with. 

Resources, recommendations and top-rated writers to watch out for – as mentioned in the podcast:

  • Coming Out to My Father – Paula Varjack
  • Letters I Never Sent You – Paula Varjack
  • The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta
  • I am Nobody’s Nigger – Dean Atta
  • re: desire – Afshan D’souza-Lodhi
  • Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
  • In The Life – Essex Hemphill
  • The Vagina Monologues – Eve Ensler
  • Burgerz – Travis Alabanza

Writers and creatives that inspired us:

  • Rikki Beadle-Blair
  • Ajamu X
  • Topher Campbell
  • James Baldwin
  • Stella Duffy
  • Eve Ensler
  • Miranda July
  • Sophie Calle
  • Adam Lowe

Writers and creatives to watch out for:

  • Remi Graves
  • Maz Hedgehog
  • Ella Otomewo
  • The cohort coming out of the Guildhall School PACE (Performance & Creative Enterprise) course that Paula Varjack teaches on
Photo of afshn
  • Afshan D’souza-Lodhi
  • Afshan D’souza-Lodhi was born in Dubai and bred in Manchester. She is a writer of plays and poetry and was commissioned to write and direct a short film for Channel 4 (An Act of Terror) and a radio play for BBC Sounds (Chop Chop). She has an essay featured in Picador's collection by Muslim women called It's Not About The Burqa. Her most recent play, Santi & Naz puts female friendship against the backdrop of the partition of India and Pakistan. As well as her own writing, Afshan is keen to develop other younger and emerging artists and sits on the boards of Manchester Literature Festival and Pie Radio.
    Photograph by Uzma Chaudhry
Paula Varjack with sunglasses
  • Paula Varjack
  • Paula Varjack is an artist working in performance, video, and participation. Her work explores identity, the unsaid, and making the invisible visible. She enjoys working across and combining disciplines, from spoken word to documentary, and has performed at numerous arts festivals and cultural spaces. Her debut prose and poetry publication Letters I Never Sent to You explores how love and heartbreak can be felt just as strongly for a place as for a person. Paula’s most recent work, Coming Out to My Father, is a limited edition print based on an email written to her by her father when she came out, aged 26. All profits from the sale of this piece are shared between two charities close to her, Colours Youth Network and Dementia UK.
    Photograph credit: #mourningwithflorals
Photo of Dean Atta
  • Dean Atta
  • Dean Atta was named as one of the most influential LGBT people in the UK by the Independent on Sunday. His debut poetry collection, I Am Nobody’s Nigger, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. He has a Philosophy and English BA from the University of Sussex and a Writer/Teacher MA from Goldsmiths, University of London. His debut novel, The Black Flamingo, was awarded the 2020 Stonewall Book Award, and shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, YA Book Prize and Jhalak Prize.
    Photograph by Thomas Sammut