One of the advantages of being “Beyond the PhD” is having enough time to do all of those things I used to want to do when all of my time was taken up by writing up. After handing in my corrections, and spending a few months mostly resting, I felt the urge to learn something new. In the time since I was awarded my degree, I have learned, variously, to drive, to rock climb, to reason and argue, and to Olympic weightlift. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which of these is the least plausible.
One of these very things I had been meaning to go to for some time is Book Slam. Book Slam is billed as London’s first/best/only Literary Club Night. I like books, and I like London, and I even like books about London. I am more ambivalent about club nights, but Book Slam promoter Elliott Jack describes Book Slam as clubbing for grown-ups. October’s Book Slam had an inspiring line-up so I though I would give it a go.
I had a great time – you literary types should keep an eye out for the next Book Slam! The October event was compered by Felicity Ward. Shami Chakrabarti spoke about the proposed abolition of the Human Rights Act in the UK, and her book On Liberty. Laura Bates talked about the evolution of the Everyday Sexism project, and read excerpts from the book. Both spoke with power and anger. At this performance event, though, the acts that struck me most came from two artists who were new to me. Poet Chimene Suleyman drew audible gasps and laughs from the audience when she read from her collection ‘Outside Looking On’. And author Salena Godden was a commanding presence reading from her book Springfield Road. Hundreds of literary clubbers in the Clapham Grand sat silent at she weaved a story that went from her childhood to her adulthood to her childhood again.
I thought about these powerful women, and their strong voices and the clarity of their messages, and I thought about my blog post from some years ago, about convictions and courage. In all the blog posts in between where I have blogged about public speaking, my main concerns were communicating clearly and quashing nerves. These days, I am required to go beyond that – to convince and to compromise, to reason and persuade. This requires a new set of skills – and skills that were not taught during Transferable Skills Training at Graduate School. Fortunately for me, I have lots of examples from fellow Occam’s Typists who have spoken, and continue to speak, with both passion and conviction. And fortunately for me, old habits die hard, and I like to learn new things.