This dedication is a tribute to Gboyega Odubanjo, editor of the volume Uprising and Resistance and a brilliantly talented poet. We at Underwriting Souls would strongly encourage those who can to make a contribution to the fundraiser setup in his name by his family to create a foundation in his memory to support low income Black writers.

It has taken me a long time to write this. The loss of Gboyega Odubanjo had left me speechless for some time, much like he first did when I first met him. Sadly for me I did not know Gboyega very well but his work, his poetry and his way of being in the world touched me very deeply. I was in awe of him in the short time we worked together.

We first met at an event in the City of London which included a reading of his poetry from the Runaway’s London volume– a compendium of incredible beauty and brilliance. I was meant to speak after him- about historical research into slavery and the City of London and how beneath these towers of capital is an older history, stories of Black life obscured and erased, of brutality and slavery hidden beneath suits and ties and behind closed doors, and most importantly stories of great humanity.

Gboyega’s poetry left me speechless, not just from the profundity of his words or the power of the performance but because, in  few stanzas, he captured everything I would have ever wanted to say and more, with the empathy and the care that takes a lifetime to develop as a writer. Gboyega’s poem from that volume-Cousins- a speculative letter between one person and their cousin on the other side of the world, encapsulates the speechlessness that I first felt when I met Gboyega. In that poem he captures all the hurt, all the not knowing and all the love that is and can be possible in spite of and through the rupture of slavery that cleaved what would become the Black Diaspora, and what would lead for so many of us, to the further migrations after centuries of plantation slavery, and colonial exploitation- the American Great Migration; Windrush and all the post-colonial and Pan-African movements then and since. In all the pain and love there is also peace, and a space apart- apart from the words of the enslavers, the voice of the colonial governor, where their presence, while assumed, exists in the distance, as  if as a whisper. In the center of the frame, with all the edges and background blurred, is the image of two cousins, one receiving a letter and the other awaiting a reply. It is the tension of awaiting this reply, or the hope that the letter will bridge the distance of separation that is the promise, the hope and the sorrow of the shared histories of the peoples separated across the Black Atlantic.

When we launched Underwriting Souls I hoped that we could work together with Gboyega, Tom, Ruth and Kate to put together a poetic and artistic response to the artefacts in Lloyd’s collection. I am so very deeply grateful to them and to Gboyega as editor of the volume and to Keith Jarrett, Remi Graves, Levi Naidu-Mitchell, Jess Nash, Courtney Conrad and malakaï sargeant. In the introduction to Uprising and Resistance we reference Derek Walcott’s Nobel Prize speech. In that same speech he describes poetry “as perfection’s sweat”. I did not know what Walcott meant until reading and hearing Gboyega’s work and those of the other poets engaged in this volume.

Historical research, and archival research is said to require on some level a detachment from the material you are analyzing. To study the histories of our people and slavery, it requires us to refuse that detachment. The volume that Gboyega ushered into existence confronts us with the humanity lives lost, pasts unrecovered and histories unreconciled. It was one of the greatest privileges of my life to be a small part of that volume.

I was born in the United States but spent much of my childhood and adolescence in Holloway. I can remember spending time with my grandparents in their house around the same time that Gboyega would have been born up the Holloway road and across Dalston Lane in Homerton Hospital. We grew up a few miles apart in the same city, supporting the same football club, unaware of one another’s existence until we met in the City in 2022. Gboyega’s poetry, and his empathy brought us together to work on a project that may have connected two people who grew up a few neighborhoods apart but whose families had been separated by oceans.

Underwriting Souls-these exhibits, its spirit and its aspirations, whether they are achieved or not are dedicated to him. I do and will miss you.

Alexandre White