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"Keep it unreal": key characteristics of Black Country literature revealed

18/03/2021
"Keep it unreal": key characteristics of Black Country literature revealed

Researchers at the University of Wolverhampton have revealed the key ingredients of Black Country literature in their new book 'Smell, Memory, and Literature in the Black Country' that has recently been released.

A keen interest in history and myth, specific metaphors including fire as symbol for transformation and creativity, a rejection of realism, sensory provocation and laughter are among the key devices used by Black Country writers, according to Professor Sebastian Groes and Dr Robert Francis.

Professor Groes said: “Together, writers capture a Black Country texture that, just as the smells and childhood memories that belong to the area, are quite specific.

“Indeed, when reading the work by contemporary writers who recreate the region in their imagination, we can construe a unique Black Country Poetics.”

According to Professor Groes and Dr Francis, what unites their stories are the following characteristics:

  • Black Country metaphors
  • A Black Country sensibility
  • History and mythologies
  • Collective memory
  • Black Country psychogeography
  • Black Country language and dialect
  • Anti-realism
  • Laughter

Explaining some of the components, Professor Groes said: “Even just the name Black Country itself is an ambiguous metaphor; it combines the colour of death and funerals, and a certain kind of darkness associated with industrialisation with ‘country’, a word that evokes mental images of the countryside and natural beauty.”

Dr Francis noted: “Language use in the Black Country is an especially important part of our identity here. The region does not only have a specific dialect, there’s a structure, a connected feeling, that makes it feel like a unique language – a way of thinking, a certain way of life.

“The region has a specific sensibility: precisely because of industrialisation, there a strong appreciation of sensory perception and the body in Black Country literature. This is why our book focuses so heavily on the smells of the Black Country.

“Black Country psychogeography is about the way in which the specific architectures of the landscape influence the psychology of the inhabitants, which, when reading Black Country fiction, is complex and ambivalent. Black Country poetics are complicated by the juxtapositions of light and dark, past and present, natural and manmade, ruined and renovated.

“In the Black Country you are looking forward and back, facing landscapes, urbanity and culture infused with both arousal and trepidation.”

Dr Francis added: “Our book shows how perceptions of the Black Country are changing.  We’re seeing more positive, open, inclusive perspectives that promise a more hopeful future, despite the difficulties the region is facing.

“The Black Country seems to be awakening from its post-industrial slumber.  Black Countryness is rising. The future is here, also.”

The book was released earlier this month and can be purchased from the publisher’s (Palgrave Macmillan) website and Amazon.

Professor Groes and Dr Francis are also organising an official event to take place on Zoom on 25 March to celebrate the launch of the book. 

At the event, which starts at 5:30 pm, writers including Kit de Waal, Liz Berry and Kerry Hadley-Pryce will read from their work.

Free tickets for the launch event can be booked via Eventbrite

For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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