Fact And Fiction – Intersection Of The Imagination And Historical Record

Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre’s  Festival Of Libraries Workshop, 9 June 2021

This year, the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Centre and Education Trust joined libraries across Greater Manchester for Manchester City Of Literature’s Festival Of Libraries from 9-13 June, in a celebration of all things creative and cultural in our city.

We wanted to introduce our uniquely decolonised and contemporary library collections documenting Black, Asian and Global majority communities to anyone with an interest in creative writing. Encouraging participants to enter with a spirit of ‘starting anywhere’, we explored our archives together, inspired by the lives, knowledge and histories within our special collections.

We debunked the idea that archives are the territory of only archivists, researchers and academics and the notion that creative people are somehow always overflowing with great ideas. Sometimes all you need is an image, a film clip or maybe even a catalogue sheet from a special collection like Ann Adeyemi’s fascinating family history, donated to us in 2011, to spark the imagination and create new writing of your own.

Workshop participants were fascinated by photographs from the Black Chronicles II exhibition curated by Renee Mussai, on loan to the AIU RACE Centre by the Autograph Gallery in London.This is a powerful exhibition exploring black presences in 19th and early 20th century Victorian Britain, presenting new knowledge around black representational politics. We explored how important photographic images were in telling the stories of our own histories and of others absent from historical records.

As a writer myself, I have often turned to the terrain of archives and special collections to add texture to my fiction and non-fiction writing. I remember trawling through many archives like the 1947 Partition Archive immersing myself in oral histories, photographs, letters and interviews to help me create a sense of presence while documenting my 91 year old Grandmother’s experiences of the partition of India. I searched for emotional truths between all the facts represented to me while researching my Great-Uncle’s story. All we knew was that he had left India as a WW2 Indian Army soldier. Decades later I discovered he died in 1942 at the age of 40 and was buried in Basra, Iraq, far from home.

Watching our 2019 No Place Like Hulme short film, inspired by the Hulme Study Archive held at Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre, workshop participants were encouraged to share experiences and perceptions of their own neighbourhood or places they considered home. For one participant who had only arrived in Manchester two weeks ago, using archives for his creative work was a new and inspiring concept for him and another way to discover this city.

The silences that exist in between recorded histories and the fragments that give us snippets of people’s lives are rich intersections of the imagination and historical record, a territory that can offer possibility and new perspective.

Watch this space where we will be sharing the writing of participants inspired by our Fact And Fiction – Intersection of the Imagination and Historical Record workshop.