Caribbean Voices: Una Marson at the BBC
Una Marson was a pioneering political activist, playwright, poet, broadcaster and champion of global gender and race equality. Born in Jamaica, she lived and worked in London during the 1930s and 40s mixing with writers, film makers and political activists via organisations such as the League for Coloured Peoples and the International Alliance of Women. She published several volumes of poetry and wrote and produced a play, At What A Price, for the West End stage in 1933. Marson was also the first black woman broadcaster at the BBC. She worked initially on ‘Calling the West Indies’ for the Empire Service before founding ‘Caribbean Voices’, a literary programme which became a central platform and catalyst for Caribbean literary culture.
Image: BBC Photo library
With King's now resident of the former BBC World Service outpost Bush House, we considered the history and meanings of ‘world service’ and revisited Marson’s remarkable work for the BBC and beyond. This roundtable discussion brought together leading experts on Marson’s work to explore the multifarious aspects and impacts of her extraordinary career.
Alison Donnell is Professor of Modern Literatures in English and Head of the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her main area of research is Anglophone Caribbean Literature and she is currently leading a Leverhulme funded project on ‘Caribbean Literary Heritage’. Donnell edited Una Marson: Selected Poems (Peepal Tree Press, 2011) and wrote the introduction to the Jamaican edition of Marson’s plays, Pocomania and London Calling, published by Blouse and Skirts Books in 2016. She delivered the National Library of Jamaica's 2016 Distinguished Lecture on the topic of “Una Marson: Animating the Archive of an Extraordinary Life”.
James Procter is Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Newcastle. His research expertise centres on black British writing from the mid-twentieth century onwards, including diasporic writing from the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia. He has a particular interest in empire and radio, more specifically the print archive of West Indian and West African writers at the BBC. His recent publications include Reading Across Worlds (2015) and Postcolonial Audiences (2015). He headed up the Leverhulme-funded project, ‘Scripting Empire: West Indian and West African Literature at the BBC, 1939-1968’.
Anna Snaith is Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature at King’s College London. Her areas of research specialism include modernism and empire, early twentieth-century women writers and modernism and sound. Her recent publications include a scholarly edition of Virginia Woolf’s The Years (Cambridge University Press) and an edition of A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas (Oxford World’s Classics). Her latest monograph, Modernist Voyages (CUP 2014) treats the writing of women (including Una Marson) who travelled from colonial locations to London in the late early 20th century. She is currently editing a book on Literature and Sound for Cambridge University Press.
Leonie Thomas holds a BA from the University of Exeter and an MA from Bristol. Her MA dissertation focused on Una Marson’s radio work. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Universities of Exeter and Bristol working on a project entitled ‘Wireless Women: Listening in to Forgotten Female Voices at the BBC, 1922-1955’.
Ruvani Ranasinha is Reader in Postcolonial Literature at King’s College University in London. She received her PhD from the University of Oxford. She is the author of Hanif Kureishi: Writers and their Works Series (Plymouth: Northcote House in association with The British Council, 2002), South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain: Culture in Translation (Oxford University Press, 2007) and the lead editor of South Asians Shaping the Nation, 1870-1950: A Sourcebook (Manchester University Press, 2012). Her most recent monograph is Contemporary Diasporic South Asian Women’s Fiction: Gender, Narration and Globalisation (Palgrave 2016). She is Associate Editor of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing and on the editorial board of the feminist digital humanities Orlando project.