Poet and playwright, Leeds, West Yorkshire
Zodwa Nyoni is a young passionate poet and playwright with a message to the world. With her work she gives voice to the experiences and histories of those ignored in the past, from the young poets in Leeds to the slaves of the period of the British Empire.
Zodwa is a playwright and poet based in Leeds.
As winner of the Channel 4 Playwright’s Scheme she was Writer-in-Residence at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2014. She has previously been Apprentice Poet-in-Residence at Ilkely Literature Festival (2013), Leeds Kirkgate Market (2012) and Writer-in-Residence at I Love West Leeds Festival (2010).
She is currently under commission at Kiln Theatre (formerly Tricycle) and Theatre Royal Stratford East.
She started writing poetry with Leeds Young Authors (LYA). With the organisation, she competed at the Brave New Voices Inter national Poetry Competition in New York in 2006. Between 2005- 2010, she performed with LYA nationally, at venues and events including: Southbank Centre, British Library, Venezuelan Embassy, Ilkley Literature Festival and Bridlington Literature Festival.
In 2010, she started writing theatre with Freedom Studios as part of Street Voices 3. She wrote her first play, The Povo Die Till Freedom Comes. It toured to Theatre in the Mill, Square Chapel and the Bush. Following this, she's written plays for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Manchester Royal Exchange, Young Vic and BBC Radio 3.
She's led writing workshops in community organisations, schools and universities in the UK, USA and South Africa.
Zodwa graduated from the University of Leeds with an MA in Writing for Performance and Publication
Her plays are published by Bloomsbury. In addition, she's made contributions to academic journals within the arts.
Zodwa is represented by The Agency, London.
Zodwa's poem "Mahogany" is part of Nostell's Interior Worlds: Thomas Chippendale at Nostell celebrations.
Here are her thoughts about the poem and its context.
"British history is well curated in books, films, television, art, property and public iconography. History is the foundation in which ideologies and perceptions of self are formed. It is often quoted as being written by the victors. But history is a narrative of facts. To hand down a single narrative of history is inaccurate. It distorts society and its people. What of those who were conquered, oppressed and killed in the process? They too are part of our history."
" What interested me in this commission was the opportunity to look beyond the beauty of Thomas Chippendale's furniture. To exhibit his work in its historical accuracy is to also speak of its relationship with the transatlantic slave trade."
"The poem aligns the treatment of a slave to the life of a mahogany tree. Their spirits are tied. In African cultures, there are deities attributed to natural elements. - This means the person and tree both lived and breathed. It is an abhorrent act to forcibly take and then carve both. Yet it was done under the British Empire and in making of the Chippendale brand."
"The poem evokes the spirits of both slave and tree to give them a voice and a place in our history. I use Yoruba to do so, as the research refers to mahogany and slaves originating from West Africa."
"As we work to preserve and protect the beauty in our history, we must do the same for the pain. Everything, everyone shapes us."