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Caleb Femi. Photo credit: calebfemi.com.

Caleb Femi is a poet, filmmaker, and photographer. In 2016, he was named the first Young People’s Poet Laureate of London, a position in which he guided and led conversations in poetry and social life for Londoners aged between 13 and 25. Now 28, Femi has also been poet-in-residence at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London as well as performed at Tate Modern, recorded a poem, “A Tale of Modern Britain,” to greet travellers at Heathrow Airport, and had his words emblazoned on the windows at Selfridges.

But long before his success, there was a different life, a life before he found literature, a time when he survived gunshots as a teenager. In his new play, Goldfish Bowl, the Nigerian poet explores his journey, from leaving Nigeria as a child for an estate in Peckham, London, to his teenage involvement with gang violence and drug dealing, to his becoming a poet and a teacher.

In a recent feature in The Independent, we are let into the story behind Goldfish Bowl. Goldfish Bowl played at Battersea Arts Centre, London in June.

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“I BEHELD the miserable monster whom I had created…” Goldfish Bowl, the new play by Caleb Femi – former young people’s laureate for London – opens with this quote from Frankenstein – the moment the monster comes to life.

The play, which opens at Battersea Arts Centre in south London this week, explores the writer’s own life journey, from leaving Nigeria for an estate in Peckham as a child, his teenage involvement with drug dealing and gang violence, through to discovering literature and becoming a poet and a teacher.

And it was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that transformed him, reawoke him: Femi read the whole book in a day in hospital. His girlfriend was studying it for A-levels and had left it by mistake on his bedside table.

Femi had would up in hospital, aged 17, because he’d been shot in the leg. Yet even this was, in fact, an incredible stroke of good fortune – minutes before, a gun had been held to the back of his head, and the trigger pulled.

It jammed. Femi scarpered, a follow-up shot hitting his leg.

This narrow escape was a wakeup call. “It was just a random altercation that went really far. It had nothing even to do with me – I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person.

Continue reading the feature HERE.

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Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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