I attended the Futurebook 2019 conference and listened to a panel talk where Derek Owusu was one of the speakers. He was extremely gracious about the position he finds himself in, which from my viewpoint is that of a rising star in poetry and poetic prose. Not only is Derek part of Stomzy’s Merky Books family, his work has been optioned for television by Idris Elba’s production company.
Derek spoke earnestly about wanting to write in his own unique way, and how grateful he was to find support in the shape of Crystal Mahey-Morgan and her agency Own It! who was committed to putting his original and authentic style on paper.
It was a thoroughly inspiring panel discussion and I visited the Own It! trade stand to get a copy of Derek’s book That Reminds Me.
Having read it, I can honestly say That Reminds Me is the most original book I have read all year. Stylistically, I haven’t read anything else like it.
The book tells the story of K, a young man with a difficult upbringing. Told in the style of a memoir, and written in passages of poetic prose rarely more than a page in length, the book is slim at 113 pages. All thoughts of racing through it in one evening soon went out of the window. As soon as I started I saw how complex and detailed the nuggets of writing are. The passages eloquently tackle trauma, social care, mental health, addiction, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. There is also an examination of race, violence and knife crime. His poetry is raw and uncompromising, but never gratuitous.
Derek has given voice to experiences many of us could not begin to comprehend, which is precisely why this book should be read. Many of the discussions and talking points at Futurebook revolved around innovation and diversity in publishing. While publishing houses have their own in-house problems of racial inequality to resolve, we as readers need to also play our part. If we are going to tackle the diversity problem that currently exists around who and what gets published, then we need to consume material from a diverse range of authors to signal the demand for change.
Derek’s book is a shining example, published by an imprint dedicated to finding hidden and under-represented voices in literature.