Malorie Blackman: The Power of Stories (24 November 2023 – 25 February 2024) is a free British Library exhibition celebrating one of the UK’s most popular writers for children and young people.
Featuring comics, manuscripts and books from the national collection alongside original typescripts, editors’ notes and artworks, the exhibition uncovers Malorie Blackman’s inspirations and the impact she has had on her readers, and on inclusivity and representation in publishing.
Malorie Blackman OBE said: ‘Libraries are the great equaliser and, without them, literacy would become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone. I wouldn’t be a writer if it wasn’t for my local library, and I hope this exhibition – in the national library of the UK – shows that every child has the right to be seen and need to be heard in literature.’
Divided into Representation, Claiming a Voice, Noughts & Crosses and Legacies, each section of the exhibition includes an introductory film narrated by Blackman, as well as material from her own archive, such as:
- A ring binder of over 80 rejection letters Blackman received from publishers, on public display for the first time
- The Temple of My Familiar with ‘Don’t give up’ written and signed by Alice Walker, on public display for the first time
- BAFTA award for the TV adaptation of Pig Heart Boy, which aired on CBBC in 1999
- Blackman’s medallion from being Children’s Laureate from 2013 to 2015
- A Whizziwig puppet from the CITV adaption (1998-2000) of Blackman’s 1995 book of the same name
Other highlights include a copy of the typescript letter and Noughts & Crosses first draft Blackman sent to Penguin Random House UK in 1999, Andrew Salkey’s manuscript for Danny Jones (1980), illustrations by Dapo Adeola, Errol Lloyd and Kingsley Nebechi and new poetry and artwork by students from Regent High School in Camden.
The Library collaborated with a group of students from Regent High School in Camden to create new works inspired by Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series, and to help to shape how the exhibition was presented. The engagement project included artist, illustrator and graphic designer Kingsley Nebechi and the POoR (Power Out of Restriction) Collective hosting art and design workshops with the students. Their responses, poetry and artworks feature throughout the exhibition, as well as in a zine titled The Power of Diversity.
Sandra A. Agard, a British Library Learning Facilitator for Schools, said: ‘Every library is a place of learning, a welcoming space where anyone can embark on their own personal journey of discovery, and we hope this exhibition, which follows Malorie Blackman’s journey to be a writer and reflects her persistence, humour and generosity along the way, inspires storytellers of the future.’
Throughout the exhibition run, the Library will be running free facilitated workshops for Primary and Secondary schools exploring Blackman’s activism, writing process and her passionate support of libraries and children’s literature. The Library also runs a programme of free, curriculum-linked workshops and events for Primary and Secondary Schools and Further Education colleges throughout the year, and offers a range of free digital resources to support students and teachers.
Placing Blackman’s works and experiences centre stage to explore Black British writing more broadly, the exhibition also showcases A Thief in the Village by James Berry (1989), the first Black-centred children’s book Blackman discovered, Norman Smith’s Bad Friday (1982), the first published novel by a British-born Black author, and Margaret Busby, who was the first Black female publisher in Britain when she co-founded Allison and Busby in 1967.
The exhibition is accompanied by in-person and online events, including Blackman in conversation with author Bernardine Evaristo in association with the Royal Society of Literature (23 February 2024), writers Jade LB, Jyoti Patel and Taylor-Dior Rumble from #Merky Books discussing Blackman’s influence (26 January 2024), and an evening with notable super fans of the Noughts and Crosses series (12 February 2024).
Author of over 70 books for children and young adults, many of Blackman’s books have also been adapted for stage and television. In 2008, Blackman received an OBE for her services to children’s literature and between 2013 and 2015 she was the Children’s Laureate. In 2022, Blackman published her long-awaited autobiography, Just Sayin’: My Life in Words, and became the first young adult author to be awarded the PEN Pinter Prize at a ceremony in the British Library. Blackman was recently presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of Action for Children’s Arts JM Barrie Ceremony for the recognition of her profound contribution to children’s literature.
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