Croydon is celebrating National Poetry Day (1 October) by announcing the appointment of local resident and spoken word poet Shaniqua Benjamin as its first ever Poet Laureate.
Ms Benjamin, 28, is a Croydon spoken word poet, writer and creative workshop facilitator who has used her passion for making a difference to found Young People Insight CIC, a platform that inspires young people through creativity, conversation and writing. A former pupil at Winterbourne Primary School and Norbury Manor Secondary School, she was born and raised in Thornton Heath, and has previously written and performed poems to mark occasions of cultural significance for Croydon, including the reopening of Fairfield Halls in September 2019.
The launch of her laureateship coincides with National Poetry Day and the start of Black History Month 2020, and recognises and celebrates Croydon’s significant history of spoken word and poetry. On Sunday 27 September, Shaniqua was joined by other local artists who have inspired her and been part of her journey, to celebrate her laureateship with an afternoon of poetry and spoken word. She performed her first commission as Poet Laureate for Croydon, Come Together, which explores how the borough has united during the pandemic. Watch here.
Ms Benjamin will hold her laureateship until October 2023, when she will lead in the selection of the new laureate. Shaniqua’s journey to 2023 will see her undertake a number of residences with organisations and community groups to delve into the Croydon experience and identity, empowering others to find their voices through poetry. Her first residency will start at the Museum of Croydon, where she will be supported through a Diversity Matters grant from London Museum Development, who are funded by Arts Council England, to undertake the project Voices of Croydon. As part of this, Shaniqua will work with young people to understand the extent and representation of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) voices in the museum collection. They will identify any gaps and also reinterpret aspects of the collection and present them as an online exhibition, reconnecting young people creatively with Croydon’s heritage.
Throughout October, Shaniqua will work with Croydon Libraries to deliver an Instapoetry competition for young people. They will be asked to write poetry inspired by a book, author or artist that inspires them, which will be shared on Croydon Libraries Instagram page. Shaniqua will also be sharing some of her own poems and poetry writing tips to encourage and inspire others. Further details will be on our webpage.
Ms Benjamin said: “I love my home of Croydon and poetry is one of my great loves, so becoming Croydon’s first Poet Laureate means more than words can describe. I’m looking forward to hearing the voices of the beautiful people all over Croydon and making poetry more accessible.”
“The appointment of our first Poet Laureate is a significant milestone for Croydon. We are incredibly proud of our borough’s thriving spoken word and poetry scene and Shaniqua has been a true champion for these art forms. She has been instrumental in telling Croydon’s story and importantly, she inspires and empowers our residents to raise their voices and tell theirs – something which has never felt more important in these challenging times.”
Councillor Oliver Lewis, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport