On My Radar: Courttia Newland's Cultural Highlights Culture | MCU Times

On My Radar: Courttia Newland’s Cultural Highlights Culture

Courttia Newland was born in 1973 and raised in west London. After an early musical start, he began writing fiction and published his first novel, The teacherat age 23, eight more books followed, including A river called time, published earlier this year. Newland has written eight plays, beginning with Properties of the mind, which was first staged in 1998, and together with Steve McQueen he wrote two episodes of the TV series Small ax, released last year. His new collection of speculative short stories, Cosmogram, will be released by Canongate on October 28th.

The trees
Photo: Graywolf Press


The trees of Percival Everett

I’ve read a lot about lockdown, and one of the most prominent is the really cool mix of satire, surrealism, and literary crime thriller by my favorite author at the moment. When a series of murders take place in Mississippi, police are fascinated by finding a different corpse at each crime scene – a boy resembling Emmett Till. But every time they arrive at the morgue, the body is gone, only to show up at the next killing. Everett is really good at tackling great ideas and making them great. He gives me courage and makes me feel a little less alone with all the crazy ideas I have.

2. Gig

Thundercat on We Out Her festival

‘Makes You Think of Jimi Hendrix’: Thundercat. Photo: Naomi Omokhua

My wife and I went to We Out Here, the festival run by Gilles Peterson, and there were so many highlights, many of them from the British jazz scene – and this great one from the US. No one knew Thundercat was on the way, but he was amazing, one of the most amazing live performances I have seen in years. Now I’ve seen him live, I think he’s a musical genius. The way he plays bass – flawlessly and even faster than on record – makes you think of Jimi Hendrix playing guitar. His fingers just went.

3. Art

Lubna Chowdhary

Artwork by Lubna Chowdhary.
Artwork by Lubna Chowdhary. Photo: Copyright artist

I came across Lubna Chowdhary’s work just a few weeks ago when I went to her show at the Peer Gallery in Hoxton. I was completely amazed. She does a lot of work with ceramics and makes them almost look like textiles. I love the colors – very bright reds and blues and yellows. They are beautifully designed, full of vitality and life and emotions and you will really touch them. Everything feels organic, as if it’s alive, which I thought was really weird – I’ve never had that feeling with art before.

4. Play

The Seven Ways to Kill Kylie Jenner

Leanne Henlon and Tia Bannon in Seven Methods Of Killing Kylie Jenner at the Royal Court.
Leanne Henlon (left) and Tia Bannon in Seven Methods Of Killing Kylie Jenner at the Royal Court. Photo: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

This play by Jasmine Lee-Jones at the Royal Court Theater in London was just brilliant. A truly surreal, dark story, it follows Cleo, who has disconnected from the world but has much to say about Kylie Jenner, the cultural acquisition of the beauty of black women and the attempts to be dark-skinned. It was a lot from a contemporary black London perspective. I started writing that kind of thing, but I could never do it now – I’m too old and outdated. But I like that Jasmine Lee-Jones can make it so authentic.

5. Exhibition

War In Babylon, ICA

War Inna Babylon: The Community's struggle for truths and rights at ICA, London.
War Inna Babylon: The Community’s struggle for truths and rights at ICA, London. Photo: Tim P Whitby / Getty Images for Institute of Contemporary Arts

This was a seriously comprehensive look at the black British society’s struggle for truth and justice, curated by [the racial advocacy and community organisation] Tottenham’s rights. It had plenty of archive footage, the highlight of which was a comprehensive collapse of the independent Mark Duggan investigation. And it had really detailed information about the history of Broadwater farm and riots in the 80s. There was just so much information about black British history that I had not come across before. I went shortly before it closed and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen in ages. I think it needs to be done permanently.

6. Film

Ballad about a white cow (for you Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moqadam)

In Edinburgh for the book festival in August, I took the opportunity to go to the film festival, where I saw the British premiere of this Iranian film. It’s about a woman whose husband is executed for murder and how she tries to clear his name and rebuild her life in the wake. She has a deaf child and no money, so she is also trying to survive. It’s a beautiful story of family, love and grief, and it has great performances by Maryam Moqadam (who is also co-director) and Alireza Sani Far. It’s an understated masterpiece, and I can ‘t stop thinking about it.

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