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Grenfell Tower fire: Heartfelt poetry tribute to blaze victims published by award-winning Ealing writer

The Ealing writer, who experienced first-hand the devastating effects of fire as a 12-year-old, wrote the poem as a "vehicle to call out for justice"

Grace Quansah, who writes and performs under the name Akuba, at the literary festival

A heartfelt poetry tribute to the victims of Grenfell Tower , published by an award-winning writer from Ealing , was performed at a west London literary festival.

Grace Quansah published Bittersweet Carnival in the aim it would be a “vehicle to call out for justice and support” for the families affected by the horrific tower block blaze on June 14.

The writer addressed a range of personal and public sensibilities and ambiguities that this year's Notting Hill Carnival raised in the wake of the tragedy, which left at least 80 people dead.

The poem points out that, while some affected families decided to stay away following the blaze, others thought it was important to attend as it “offers a sacred space to pay silent homage with a respectful muse”.

Sebastian Jenner, organiser of the Hillingdon Literary Festival, later invited her to read her poem at the event hosted by world-acclaimed poet and musician Benjamin Zephaniah.

The poem is now included in the anthology Ordinary People/Exceptional Lives, which - out of 300 author submissions - includes 37 poems.

Speaking to getwestlondon after the event, Grace said: “Not knowing what would be the poem's outcome, I wanted to pay silent homage to all those families who have been affected by the housing tragedy.

“[The literary festival] was indeed a humbling experience and an honour to have been afforded the chance to read Bittersweet Carnival from the anthology.”

Benjamin Zephaniah with Akuba

The director of the Writing, Acting and Publishing Project for Youngsters (WAPPY) also explains in the poem that the west London tragedy triggered a painful childhood memory.

In 1974, at just 12-years-old, she and a school friend witnessed the aftermath of a gas explosion at her former secondary school, St. Anne's in Hanwell.

They were the first at the scene to watch the incineration of their portacabin classroom by the blaze, which left the school's caretaker and teacher fighting for their lives.

Subsequently, the effects of the fire tragically cost the caretaker his life.

A newspaper cutting following the explosion at St. Anne's school in Hanwell

Grace, who writes under the name Akuba, added: “In those days no counselling was offered and there was no concept of the post-traumatic syndrome to help buffer the psychological wounds through therapy.

“Hence the reason for using poetry as a vehicle today to call out for justice and support for the families affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.”

An extract from Bittersweet Carnival, published in Ordinary People/Exceptional Lives

 

The anthology, in which Grace's poem is published, was distributed to all 17 borough libraries and Grace provided some to Twyford High School and WAPPY .

WAPPY , Grace's Ealing-based organisation, empowers children and young people to develop creative writing and illustration skills and trains them to become skilled performers and get published.

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