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Rommi Smith by Lizzie Coombes

“My writing emerges out of an activist sensibility to centre what is marginalised; to utilise the tools I have to refuse the erasure and marginality to which me – and others like me – are all too often subject. Writing is a refusal of being ‘disappeared.’ And if I do step into the margins, I want to do that by choice – and sing from there.” 

An award-winning writer, performer and academic; seeker and celebrant of flipside and marginalised narratives often hiding in plain sight.

courtesy of TopFoto

The Sunset Club, December 1951

A poetic response to a transgressive 1951 photo of interracial romance at The Sunset Club in Soho. The recording (below), as well as that for ‘Photographer Unknown’ and ‘Make-Believe, Caught by Tony’, which features music by Christella Litras, is courtesy of St Edward’s School, Oxford and Tim Hand Productions.

courtesy of TopFoto

Make-Believe, Caught by Tony

Inspired by Ken Russell’s photo of a young cricketer, from his 1954 series: ‘Portobello Road – Scenes of Everyday Life’.

Photographer Unknown

A response to a photo of a West Indian couple arriving at Gatwick in 1962, just before the passing of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act.

courtesy of TopFoto

Rommi Smith in conversation with Dawn Cameron and Colin Grant

Rommi Smith has excavated an overlooked history of black people in Britain in her work and particularly in interpreting a series of extraordinary photos from the archives of the TopFoto agency. Through Smith’s carefully researched poetic responses she is changing the story of what we consider the nature of Britain.

Biography

Rommi Smith is an award-winning poet, playwright, theatre-maker, performer and librettist. A three-time BBC Writer-in-residence, she is the inaugural British Parliamentary Writer-in-Residence and inaugural Poet-in-Residence for Keats’ House, Hampstead. A Visiting Scholar at City University New York (CUNY), she has presented her research and writing at institutions including: The Segal Theatre, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and City College New York. Rommi’s performance at The Schwerner Writers’ Series in New York was at the invitation of Tyehimba Jess, Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry. Rommi is a Doctor of Philosophy in English and Theatre. 

Her academic writing was first published by New York University Press as part of the groundbreaking book Imagining Queer Methods (2019). She is recipient of a Hedgebrook Fellowship (USA) and is a winner of The Northern Writers’ Prize for Poetry 2019 (chosen by the poet Don Paterson). She was recently awarded a Cave Canem fellowship in the USA. Rommi is a Sphinx30 playwright: a programme of professional mentoring for – and by – contemporary women playwrights, led by Sphinx Theatre. Rommi is writer-in-residence for TopFoto, the UK’s leading photographic archive, and a forthcoming poet-in-residence for the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere.

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