Bangla Academy award
Shamim Azad, well done, trailblazer!
The Bangla Academy Literary Award has aptly recognised Shamim Azad’s trailblazing contributions to a world of poetry and spoken-word.
A whirlwind of creativity, she has published and performed over five decades as a storyteller, poet, journalist and writer in Bangladesh, London, Greece, Scotland, Pakistan, the US. With 39 Bangla and English works of poetry, essays, community plays, short stories and novels under her belt, she frequently collaborates with choreographers, composers and film-makers. Her work is firmly rooted in Asian folk, oral traditions and heritage.
Her commitment and creative energy is catalysing. A prolific member of Britain’s Poetry Society, Spread the Word and Apples & Snakes’ multi-cultural poetry collective championing social justice issues, from South Africa’s Apartheid to climate change, she also builds bridges at a time of increased socio-cultural polarisation through initiative including the E3 Storytellers and bi-lingual poems retold in a remarkable year-long tour of Britain re-telling of Shakespeare’s works with Bards Beyond Borders.
While this relentless schedule might daunt the fainthearted, Shamim, who moved in 1990 with her young family to London, also worked as a primary school teacher, bringing new ideas into the classroom and helping children transform fantasy tales into bilingual storybooks, poetry performances and plays. In Brick Lane’s then impoverished neighbourhood, such achievements offered invaluable hope and self-belief.
Shamim’s commitment to supporting wider creative communities has also been recognised through a Tower Hamlets Civic Award, 2014 Community Champion Award, London Arts’ ‘Year of the Artist Award’ and in Bangladesh, a 1994 Bichitra Award and 2016 Syed Wajulah Literature Award.
Her skills in bringing individuals together and infecting them with enthusiasm led to the 2004 founding of Bishwo Shahitto Kendro (BSK) London, which initiated an annual Boi-Lit event, spoken-word and theatre performances, talks, exhibitions and television debates.
While establishing a platform from which to engage wider audiences testifying to the talents of aspiring Bangla-heritage artists, young and old, who’s wordsmith, textile design, photography and playwright skills were often otherwise overlooked, it launched a Saturday school for children infusing Bangla lessons with creative learning.
BSK did more than welcome new talent; it tirelessly helped whole families tackle social challenges as they found their feet in unfamiliar environments.
More recently, Azad has linked with her daughter, Eeshita, who has a track record as a freelance creative producer, British Council rep in Dhaka, New York designer, and researcher for London’s Akram Khan’s Dance Company, founded British Bilingual Poetry Collective (BBPC); poets from Nigeria, Spain, Poland and Bangladesh celebrate and showcase London’s cultural talents through year-round performances and workshops including Brick Lane’s legendary Banglatown New Year celebrations.
Shamim’s commitment to supporting wider creative communities has also been recognised through a Tower Hamlets Civic Award, 2014 Community Champion Award, London Arts’ ‘Year of the Artist Award’ and in Bangladesh, a 1994 Bichitra Award and 2016 Syed Wajulah Literature Award. She is also a Trustee of East London’s RIchMix cultural community centre and launched a ‘Bijoyphool’ initiative commemorating Bangladesh’s 1971 struggle for independence.
I had the pleasure of working with Shamim on community workshops and performances for London’s Multi-Cultural Arts Consortium, BSK, Betar Bangla workshops for aspiring radio journalists and in proofing bilingual storybooks, to name a few. Well done, Shamim, for this well-deserved recognition!
* Danièle Lamarche is a photographer, translator, consultant and social activist