You arrive in Britain seeking asylum. You’re standing outside Heathrow. Where now? There’s as National Express headed to Swansea via Cardiff, and you knew a man who had been there once, so you get on.
That was the moment in 1999 that shaped the life in Britain of Eric Ngalle Charles, author, poet, playwright, cultural activist and Write a Note’s very special festival guest.
Once the coach reached Cardiff, Eric approached the first Black man he saw and made enquiries. The man had been helped by Cameroonians when fleeing Rwanda, and welcomed Eric into his home.
This marked the end of one journey from Cameroon, via Russia, Belgium, Malta, on a Zimbabwean passport, to the UK asylum and immigration system. It marked the start of a continuing journey that has already taken in London’s South Bank and the Hay Festival as he explores that journey through writing.
Eric was 17 when he fled Buea in Cameroon and a situation that he believed threatened his life. Trafficked to Russia, he intended to move on to Belgium but on applying to travel there he found out the student visa he had paid for was one way Spending the next 2 years in Russia, he learned the language fluently. Now the Welsh words of his new home are creeping into his writing.
Having been introduced to Literature Wales, Eric attended their conference in 2002, which was on the theme of literature and trauma. It set a template for his work.
Since then, Eric has founded Black Entertainment Wales, a community-based organisation that provides a platform for artists from the BME diaspora as well as homeless artists to showcase their work. The organisation also works in an educational context through schools and colleges.
The poet launched his first play, My Mouth Brought Me Here, at London’s South Bank. Eric has gone on to publish a book, Asylum, about the experience of a man seeking asylum in Cardiff, and the mental health issues and poverty of refugees. Earlier this year he spoke at the Hay Festival and was included in their 30th anniversary list of important thinkers. His memoir will be published later this year.
I have always felt the need to use literature and creative writing as a means of overcoming trauma. It has worked for me, I highly recommend it.
Eric Ngalle Charles will be telling his remarkable story and talking about his writing on Tuesday 24th October at 6pm at the Central Library. Free entry.
Write A Note open-mic night is on Tuesday 24th October from 8pm. Free entry.