What is ILS?
The International Literature Showcase forms part of the International Literature Exchange, a yearly partnership between National Centre for Writing and the British Council. ILX brings literature professionals together to learn, exchange expertise and experience, devise collaborations, and build international networks.
Read on to discover the International Literature Showcase 2019-21.
50 remarkable writers
Podcasts & videos
New essays & provocations
Expert industry discussions
The International Literature Showcase has highlighted great UK-based writers and facilitated collaboration and exchange for over eight years.
This selection of 50 writers working in the UK was curated by Kei Miller, Elif Shafak, Val McDermid, Jackie Kay and Owen Sheers.
The ILS is dedicated to sharing knowledge and exploring new ways of working. We invited literature practitioners from around the world to examine the opportunities and challenges of a post-Covid world. You can find their insights below.
The videos, podcasts and commissions are made possible by support from Arts Council England and Creative Scotland.
Work commissioned by ILS in 2019-2021.
Explore Kei Miller’s writers
“These are not just new and promising talents. More importantly, they are the writers of an emerging world – or, at least, the best that we might imagine that world to be.”
“They are the writers of an emerging world”
Caleb Azumah Nelson
Novelist and photographer documenting people and their infinitudes
“It is the intelligence that infuses almost every keenly observed sentence that strikes you…the kind of intelligence that holds within it a quality of vulnerability.” – Kei Miller
Young writer, old soul, smashing stereotypes by writing human stories
“A story about a very ordinary family living a very ordinary life, packed with so much tension that we can hardly breathe as we read, biting our nails, to see what happens to them all.” – Kei Miller
Writer and overthinker interested in gut flora and gut feelings
“Lafarge writes the poetry that this world, in this moment, needs. These aren’t so much hymns to the beauty of nature as they are dirges to what is fragile, a keening against literal toxicities that we live with and have grown dependent on.’”– Kei Miller
Poet and writer. Preoccupied by dreams, desire & stories of women/girls.
“Her poems insist that all the things that make her – her black woman’s sass and her political insights – can be bent into careful craft rather than hidden in ellipses.”– Kei Miller
Creating a space for words and the world to find a home in each other.
“Lovatt’s beautiful meditation on birdsong is the first account I have read to take up residence in that silence and to make sense of it. What a beautiful direction he gives to say, at this time – stop! Listen to the birds.” – Kei Miller
Poet, reader and community arts worker writing about the warmth of spirit
“Queerness is just one part of McCann’s identity and it is folded into an intellect, a curiosity, a slight mischievousness that looks out to the world and notices its oddities and its disruptions.” – Kei Miller
Writer, reader, hybrid creature.
“Her practice is endlessly playful, formally inventive, and always stretching itself into new territories. We are always in need writers to show us new forms, and McClory is establishing herself as a writer able to do just that.” – Kei Miller
Curious about language, queerness, parenthood, the living and the dead.
“The kind of work that teaches us how to ask questions we might never have thought to ask. These poems are formally playful as they try to invent a new language and a new possibility for people who resist the limiting construct of gender.” – Kei Miller
An author finding joy in the tragedy of it all.
“McGinnis doesn’t require his readers to walk a mile in his shoes. In fact, he doesn’t want the reader to walk at all, but instead to navigate the world and its new strangeness from a wheelchair.” – Kei Miller
I write knowing that laugh and cry live in the same house.
“Ingrid Persaud’s prose is near flawless, her story-telling is compelling, but what really stands out in her novel is something more than its outstanding literary merits, and it’s her compassion.” – Kei Miller
Explore Elif Shafak’s writers
“At a time when the world is changing with a bewildering speed, and we are constantly bombarded with information and misinformation, stop what you are doing, find a quiet corner and read these amazing writers.”
“Bold. Compelling. Vital.”
Polyvocal poet, lover of formal constraints, film noir, sci-fi
“Patience Agbabi tirelessly innovates a new relationship between the classics and the contemporary.” – Elif Shafak
Mother-of-two, reader of everything, writer of novels, short stories, plays.
“Lucy Caldwell’s words across discipline and form open compelling and unforgettable worlds with sensitivity and humanity.” – Elif Shafak
Welsh poet, broadcaster, playwright, conserver of eighteen beautiful Ceredigion acres.
“A towering figure in Welsh literature, simultaneously haunting and immediate, shifting between languages in her exploration of the local and the global.” – Elif Shafak
Afro Saxon Amazon, experimenter, comedy & tragedy, activist for inclusion.
“Bernardine Evaristo is one of those writers who should be read by everyone, everywhere. Her tales marry down-to-earth characters with engrossing story lines about identity, and the UK of today.” – Elif Shafak
Quixotically determined to reach the centre. Funnier than expected.
“Jessie Greengrass makes words dance. And she makes me want to stand up and dance with them….She is a brilliant, emerging talent.” – Elif Shafak
Author, journalist, classicist; I love tragedy, poetry and ancient tales.
“An author with magic in her pen. From ancient subjects she conjures living text: vast conversations about who we are today and why the stories we tell really matter.” – Elif Shafak
Writer of deep journeys, explorer of human geographies, connecting worlds.
“Unflinching, eloquent, Kapka Kassabova looks inside the human soul, excavates the deepest truth and tells us about it in all its tragic, mysterious beauty.” – Elif Shafak
Lives on her own in as much silence as possible on a high moor in S.W.Scotland.
“Writer, thinker, seeker, seer, Sara Maitland is one of our most articulate and probing intellects, with an enervating ability to look closely at things and make us look with her.” – Elif Shafak
Feminist, internationalist, crime fiction, narrative champion, contemporary fiction, politics, giggler.
“Compassionate, outspoken, witty, taking crime to places it hasn’t been before, Denise Mina is a tour de force.” – Elif Shafak
Landscape, ghosts, human beings and animals. Sharks in particular.
“A bold, often spectacular wordsmith, Evie Wyld’s restless characters are matched only by the rugged landscapes and untameable wildlife around them.” – Elif Shafak
Explore Jackie Kay’s writers
“These ten writers open up the world to you and give you the world back. There’s a worldly-wise wisdom in their work, as well as an abundance of humour. They are bold. They often tackle difficult and dangerous themes with an extraordinary grace and lightness of touch.”
“Open up the world”
Interdisciplinary, critical, queer and rooted in the archive.
‘Their poems sing with outrage and indignation, with fury and passion…They have brio, they have brilliance, they are breathtakingly brave’ – Jackie Kay
Mary Jean Chan
Poet, editor, academic. Proudly queer and BAME. Londoner from Hong Kong.
‘Her work has an astounding urgency to it. A poet of our time – she captures the newness of everything, stepping into a gay bar for the first time. Her poetry is psychologically astute and culturally complex.’ – Jackie Kay
Eric Ngalle Charles
Eric Ngalle Charles is a story-teller par-excellence with many tales to tell, a unique theatrical voice.
‘His voice reaches out across the divides, across the lands, from Cameroon, to Russia to the UK taking it all in.’ – Jackie Kay
Poet, pen-and-ink artist, video film maker, escaped shapeshifter.
‘Her poetry shines a light in the dark… You cannot hear her perform without being somehow transformed by the experience.’ – Jackie Kay
One of the Observer’s New Faces of Fiction 2018.
‘His work has an immediacy and a warmth to it and his is a world you want to enter.’ – Jackie Kay
Aiming for a perfect balance between narrative drive and close attention to language.
‘A brilliant craftswoman, a master of the form, she makes the reader ask important questions of themselves and makes them laugh at the same time.’ – Jackie Kay
Nadine Aisha Jassat
Writer building bridges made of stories, connecting people through words.
‘A fearless poet, who boldly takes on difficult themes, like gender-based violence, reasserting her right to speak out about those things that are often hidden from view.’ – Jackie Kay
Subtle poet whose writing addresses language, family, heritage, nature and time.
‘His poems are precise, startling in their originality, full of grace. Kunial traces the roots in language to then track the roots in his mixed-race identity, effortlessly transporting the reader from one place to another”‘- Jackie Kay
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Ugandan writer keen on folklore, feminisms, masculinities, renergising readerships for African fiction.
‘Witty as well as deeply affecting, Makumbi is as comfortable in the grand sweep of the epic novel as she is in the powerful shot of the short story.’ – Jackie Kay
Feminist exploring innovative writing and accessibility, committed to voice(s) and representation
‘Her elegant and lyrical prose is instantly engaging. She is fascinated with the spaces in between culture and form, and she is adept at moving between Nigeria, Germany and the UK.’ – Jackie Kay
Explore Val McDermid’s writers
“Words do change the world, reader by reader. They open our eyes, they provoke thought, they make us uncomfortable in our entrenched positions. The work of these ten writers will do all of those things.”
“Fresh delight in the wonder of words.”
Manchester poet exploring the intersections of Masculinity, Sexuality and Violence.
“He explores marginal lives and masculinity as well as his own lived experience as a gay man from the North of England.” – Val McDermid
Poet – lover of the singing line – long lost Derry girl.
“The deceptive simplicity of her language disguises a profound engagement with identity.” – Val McDermid
“Lyrical, ethereal and sometimes brutal, it’s an intense exploration what it means to be different.” – Val McDermid
Trans writer and filmmaker, inspired by modernism and socialism.
“Combines critiques of trans theory, literature and film with a personal story of transition.” – Val McDermid
A contemporary voice in journalism and cutting-edge YA fiction.
“A School Role Model for LGBTQ charity Stonewall and runs writing and story-telling workshops in underprivileged schools.” – Val McDermid
Cross-genre writer & performer; British and Caribbean history, sexuality, religion…
“A poetry slam champion both in the UK and internationally.” – Val McDermid
Professional daydreamer; creator of queer feminist fairytales.
“She reworks folk tales, fairy stories, myth and magic to explore desire, identity and our hidden queer lives.” – Val McDermid
A writer exploring complexities and seeking nuance in binary times.
“Marries nature writing with his struggle to reject the binary and accept his internal contradictions.” – Val McDermid
Edinburgh novelist of the overlooked. Likes to wander in graveyards.
“Firmly rooted both in the secret lives of Edinburgh and what she calls ‘the murderous side of family life – the dark, the quirky and the strange.’” – Val McDermid
Will take you to strange places, yet bring you back safely.
“A poet, short story writer and novelist whose work also incorporates a wide range of performance.” – Val McDermid
Explore Owen Sheers’ writers
“From travelogues to poems to memoir to YA and adult fiction, these ten writers create stories and poems which offer us glimpses of how we might reposition ourselves in relation to each other and the natural world; they invite us to imagine other ways to be.”
“Imagine other ways to be”
Everyday life as science fiction.
“Inventive and inquiring novels explore what it means to be human in the 21st century.” – Owen Sheers
Daydreamer. Sometimes angry, always hopeful. Writing in the margins. Dancing in the kitchen.
“Poems born of a fearless and unflinching interrogation into heritage, race, identity and the nature of belonging…driven by an honesty and energy of surprising power and immediacy.” – Owen Sheers
English-Kenyan writer whose creative and critical work explores environmental themes.
“This is a work of illuminating grace and observation that offers us glimpses of new ways to know ourselves and to be”– Owen Sheers
Gender equality activist and author making the invisible visible
“At once ultra contemporary and tragically timeless…brilliantly harnesses the empathy and insight of the novel to challenge the restrictions and injustices of patriarchal societies.” – Owen Sheers
I often write in an attempt to answer something confusing.
“An acute insight into human nature to explore the blurred edges of kindness and compassion...” Owen Sheers
I build homes of voices, each word a stone.
“A novelist of rare accomplishment and skill whose use of language and characterisation effortlessly carries readers away.” – Owen Sheers
Searching, reflective, sanguine, vulnerable, direct, historical, relevant, multi-textural, rhythmical, intersectional.
“Poems about masculinity, loss, silenced voices, the d/deaf experience and personal and communal inheritance.” – Owen Sheers
Poet, editor, critic. Looking at the stories we tell ourselves.
“Poems of fierce love about the full scope of contemporary life from the intimacy of motherhood and the divided streets of London to elegies for the victims of honour killings and the climate crisis.” – Owen Sheers
Telling stories at the overlap of the human and non-human worlds.
“The human and ecological stories, connections and histories…come together to create a beautiful, devastating and painfully urgent piece of travel writing.”– Owen Sheers
Through mapping and writing, I consider how we shape landscape and are shaped by it.
“Carr approaches his subject both from across history and from within the immediate moment of his travels to produce a particularly timely and resonant travelogue.” – Owen Sheers
Meet the curators
We commissioned experts from across the sector to speak with our showcase curators about their inspirations, motivations and the rationale behind their selections. In podcast and video form, these present a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight into how the 2021 International Literature Showcase came to be.
Joy Francis on recovery & reimagining
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the UK’s cautious steps out of lockdown, do we want to go back to ‘business as usual’?
We welcome Joy Francis, Executive Director of Words of Colour, for a keynote lecture. Drawing on her extensive background as a former journalist and creative entrepreneur within the literature sector, she uses examples of best practice and innovation to present post-COVID recovery as an opportunity to reimagine and reset our approaches.
Innovation & Enterprise in the Literature Sector
What might innovation and entrepreneurship look like in literature?
Revisit a discussion of the current practices, opportunities and challenges for innovation and entrepreneurship across the literature sector. Our panellists have experience across commercial, non-profit, and freelance capacities, and will speak about their experiences of founding and the support they needed and/or received for innovative publishing, writer development and festival programmes.
Kei Miller presents…
Exceptional times call for exceptional writers.
Award-winning poet, essayist and fiction writer Kei Miller introduces his selection of ten unmissable emerging writers working in the UK today. Discover the writers you should be reading and find out why Kei believes they are influencing and shaping the UK’s literature scene.
Kei is joined in conversation with three of his chosen writers as he explores what makes their work so vital.
The View From Here
We commissioned ten literature practitioners from around the world to share their insights and experiences, reflecting on recent challenges and exploring the opportunities available to the sector in the years ahead.
Lyndsey Fineran on digital distinctiveness
Lyndsey Fineran, Literature Festival Programme and Commissions Manager at Cheltenham Festivals, opens our series of commissioned think pieces and explores the crucial question of digital programming: how to retain the distinct identity and local connections that make your festival unique?
Pooja Nansi on seeing each other as never before
Pooja Nansi, Festival Director, reflects on recent changes to the Singapore Writers Festival and asks, if the view from here has changed forever, what new literature experiences might we create?
Enterprise & Experiments
Paul Bradley-Cong on keeping a sense of experiment
Paul Bradley-Cong, Director of Out On The Page, explores how to retain a sense of experimentation even during difficult times, and how staying true to the radical queer energy of their membership opened up new international opportunities.
Luka Grigolia on new ventures during lockdown
When lockdown hit, Luka Grigolia left the city with a stock of books to get through. But despite the difficulties of lockdown, it has been a busy time of launching new ventures, including Tbilisi World Book Capital, as well as the crucial work of connecting with readers.
Dike Chukwumerije on inclusive communities in person and on mobile
Dike Chukwumerije of the Abuja Literary Society looks at how, both in person and on mobile, creating a space where writers, readers and audiences can express themselves freely is crucial to building an inclusive literary community.
Mikael Johani on wandering into new spaces
Mikael Johani, poet and co-organiser of Jakarta’s Paviliun Puisi, looks at how Zoom events have created new opportunities for self-expression and connection beyond PavPu’s usual venue, beyond Jakarta, and even with international partners.
Mehr Husain on sustainable publishing in context
‘Do the economies of scale justify the energy, electricity, carbon footprint, paper waste, plastic packaging in the mass production of books?’ asks Mehr Husain, founder of Zuka Books, as she explores how sustainable publishing tailored to its local context could hold the answers to the future of publishing in Pakistan.
Alana-Marie Gopaul on crowdsourcing and the canon
‘A list, a curriculum, a bookshelf, a publishing trend – they are attempts to anchor us, but the real joy is floating just outside of that’ writes Alana-Marie Gopaul of Bocas Lit Fest, as she reflects on crowdsourcing a list of 100 Caribbean Books That Made Us
Sharmilla Beezmohun on the power of partnerships
Is a partnership really just a contractual relationship? Sharmilla Beezmohun, co-founder and Director of Speaking Volumes, explores how building trust through partnership working can open new opportunities for innovation and inclusion.
Diana Santiago on a new era for literature work
Diana Santiago of Kujiezela Wall reflects on the recent challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and imagines the future of literature work: a future in which funders, beneficiaries, artists and literature workers collaborate more closely than ever.
Our thanks to all the writers, journalists and literature professionals who have contributed to the International Literature Showcase.