• Manchester City of Lit

South Asian Heritage Month Spotlight Series: Anjum Malik

Anjum Malik is a script writer and a poet, writing drama for radio, TV, film and theatre and commissioned by such bodies as BBC and independent TV, film and radio for well over 18 years now.

Anjum also works with community and arts groups, where she's been commissioned to write drama for radio and film.

1. How would you describe your writing for someone who has never come across your work before?

I have so far have had at least over 80 scripts commissioned, performed/transmitted. I have loved writing and seeing every one of them come alive in performance.

My other writing passion is poetry, which is how I started out as a writer. I love writing poetry. One of my main themes is writing food poems, which started when I landed the writing residency with The Lowry for the Commonwealth games in 2002. I have recently been commissioned by Cartwheel Arts to write poetry about growing food, now my food poetry writing cycle is complete. You will be able to live on my food poetry without ever having to go to shops!

One of the best things which happened with my food poetry was to have it help set up the Manchester City of Literature initiative International Mother language Day, Multilingual Mushaira, there were over 47 schools involved in south Manchester and almost all of the libraries, I loved seeing the students from various schools make and eat my food poems.

I must not forget that my food writing has expanded to my script writing too. Last year my radio drama series was an adaptation of Claudia Roden's famous first cookery book 'A Book Of Middle Eastern Food' transmitted on BBC Radio 4 Easter 2019.

My theatre writing has focused on working with so called 'hard to reach' or 'hidden groups'. I don't believe they are either of those and ever so easy to find and work with. I have over the last 6 to 7 years been working with specific groups, helping them writing their own stories, or writing their stories. These have been monologues for live performance at non theatre venues such as the heart of these communities. I have also produced the groups' works as poetry collections, arts exhibition and most recently as poetry films.

I have just completed producing, writing and directing my latest ghazal poetry film working with Syrian refugees during the Covid-19 lockdown called: At Home – In The UK – Alhumdullillah.

2. Who are your favourite writers of South Asian heritage and why?

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, because I lived in Pakistan from age 7 to 12, I was surrounded at all times by his ghazals and poems on radio being sung by Mohd Rafi or Faix Ahmed Faiz on TV or in live mushairas reciting his amazing poetry.

Salman Rushdie, because he was the first writer I ever read as a young girl in UK who wrote about worlds I recognised and was same colour as me.

Women Writing In India 600BC to 20th century, two volumes edited by Susie Tharu and K. Lalita, amazing books of writing by women so far back in the Indian sub continent.  

3. If you could only recommend one book, whether novel, poetry collection or non-fiction, from a writer of South Asian heritage, what would it be?

Any of the above!

4. What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading again Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay and Madhur Jaffery’s ‘An Invitation to Indian Cookery.’

Right now, I am adapting Madhur Jaffrey's first cookbook to a drama series for BBC Radio 4 too, transmission will be early 2021.

5. Could you tell us about the role of literature in your upbringing?

I was very lucky, my parents loved poetry, they encouraged us to read poetry, stories, books and write. I was such a book nerd that during my time in Pakistan, my parents had a lovey teacher called Masterji come and teach me Urdu literature every weekday for 2 hours every day. I loved those times and was always standing by our gate waiting for Masterji to arrive.

I think being multilingual gives you a different way of expressing yourself, helps you understand multiple worlds, it is a real advantage to be able to jump from language to language. 
- Anjum Malik

6. When did you realise you had a passion/skill for writing?

I was always writing from when I could write, my diary turned out to be poems which are mostly in my first collection of poetry ‘Before The Rains’ published by Huddersfield University Press.

I didn’t realise I was a writer 'til I was in my 30s which is when I began writing professionally.

7. Do you write in other languages? If so, which languages do you write in and what are the differences you feel in writing in another language as well as English?

I write in Urdu as well as English. I also have a good understanding of Panjabi and Hindi ( which are similar to Urdu). I think being multilingual gives you a different way of expressing yourself, helps you understand multiple worlds, it is a real advantage to be able to jump from language to language. 

8. What advice do you have for emerging writers of South Asian heritage?

Keep going, never give up and write every day, you and your world are unique to you and very special. Find a way through words to take us into that place.

Manchester City of Literature would like to say a huge thank you to Anjum for taking part in our South Asian Heritage Month Spotlight Series. Be sure to keep up to date with her work over on her official website.

To find out more about other South Asian Heritage Month UK official events, visit the website hosted by Manchester Museum.


A City Connects by Manchester City of Literature


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