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IWD 2019: Celebrating our women

BLACK GIRL MAGIC: Malorie Blackman, Carol Wilson-Frith and Ayanna Witter Johnson

TO MARK International Woman's Day we've selected three black British women inspiring a generation through music, literature and design.

TRAILBLAZER

1. Malorie Blackman

MALORIE BLACKMAN is the best-selling author of the Noughts & Crosses series, which explores love, racism and violence. Her first published book was Not So Stupid! (1990), a book of short stories.

Since then she has written several bestselling books and scripts, and her popularity has steadily grown. Among her television work are episodes of Byker Grove, Doctor Who and an adaptation of her novel Pig Heart Boy, and she has also written dramas for CITV and BBC Education as well as two plays.

In 2013, Blackman was chosen as the eighth UK Children’s Laureate, becoming the first black person to take on the role. She held the job until 2015 before passing on the baton to British illustrator and writer Chris Riddell.

The acclaimed author has won numerous prizes for her work, including the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Fantastic Fiction Award. Malorie has also been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. In 2005 she was honoured with the Eleanor Farjeon Award in recognition of her contribution to children’s books.

In 2008 she received an OBE for her services to children’s literature and has been described by The Times as “a national treasure”.

IRRESISTIBLE

Speaking about her work, Blackman said: “I hope I’m... presenting positive images of black children simply living, instead of coping with ‘A Problem’... I tackle racism by showing black people doing everyday worthwhile things.

“Vicky’s dad works in a bank (Hacker), Elaine’s dad is a computing manager (Elaine, You’re a Brat!), Bean’s dad is an inventor (Operation Gadgetman) – no big deal, now let’s get on with the story.”

Blackman has said that she wants to “make reading irresistible” for children, by encouraging them to explore a range of literature, from short stories to graphic novels.

2. Carol Wilson-Frith

CAROL Wilson-Frith is a British furniture designer, speaker, mentor and owner of luxury furniture brand Carmen Constantine. She has an honours degree in furniture design and crafts- manship from Buckinghamshire New University.

With more than 20 years’ senior projects experience in the furniture and investment banking sectors, she is also dedicated in helping people achieve their personal purpose.

In 2008, her work won a prestigious UK furniture award for Best Innovative Cabinet Range at the international Design Interiors Event at the NEC, Birmingham. She has been interviewed by several journalists and news reporters about her work and has also been engaged in community initiatives since 2002.

These included working with people such as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, MPs, internationally renowned historians, curators, bishops, MOBO award-winning artists, and institutions such as the BBC, Channel 4 and the Ministry of Defence.

Wilson-Frith has also managed a range of experienced volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. In 2017, passionate about marrying community and business initiatives, she founded The Carmen Constantine Foundation – established to encourage people of all ages to play a part in active citizenship and social cohesion.

She also created Designed For Greatness UK, a one-to-one mentoring and business strategy group created for women in art, craft, design and architecture to encourage collective personal and business advancement, establishment of their businesses and to achieve their individual goals.

3. Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a singer, songwriter, cellist and pianist. Her career in music started with attending a Sweet Honey In The Rock concert aged three with her mum – and singing aloud all the words to every song. Her mother then organised piano lessons that started aged four.

As she grew up, Witter-Johnson received classical training and studied in piano and cello. In her final year of school she was encouraged to participate in a jazz jam session at the Jazz Cafe, which further sparked her desire to perform and create music.

She went on to study Classicial Composition at both Trinity Laban and the Manhattan School of Music, during which time she built relationships that opened doors for her to perform alongside Courtney Pine, become an Emerging Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre through a series of workshops with Nitin Sawhney, and become the only non-American to win Amateur Night Live at the Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York.

In 2016, she was nominated for a MOBO award. After her studies, she released two EPs – Truthfully and Black Panther. These projects allowed her to hone her craft as both a songwriter and performer and brought the opportunity to tour India, Europe and
the US as a member of Anoushka Shankar’s band for her Traces of You album tour.

She recalled it as an amazing opportunity that opened her eyes to life on the road and how to give your all on stage night after night.

Other highlights were being commissioned by both the London Symphony Orchestra and The Hip- Hop Shakespeare Company, which provided further opportunities for her to showcase her talents.

This April will see Witter-Johnson release her debut album Road Runner, a collection of songs that express “my journey, physically, emotionally, historically and celebrate my growth as an artist”.

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