Brixton Book Jam back home at Hootananny

As Brixton Book Jam gets back on track after lockdowns, Iona Cleave caught up with founder Zelda Rhiando to talk about the now decade-old event which fuses local and global influences across literature, music and performance

Zelda Rhiando

Zelda Rhiando is most of the force behind the non-profit literary event that has now been running for more than ten years.

The concept is simple: an unpredictable, eclectic mix of, mostly, writers, but also poets and musicians – some well-known and some completely new. Each has a five-minute slot.

“For the audiences, it feels long enough to get engrossed in the story, but the right amount of time to move on and become engrossed in a different story,” says Zelda. 

In terms of the selection of writers, “it’s not so much about locality, but about a spread of voices,” explains Zelda, and the inclusion of “seldom heard voices”.

At its heart, the event is about “making it a level playing field for writers … to give people equal access to publishing and to audiences.”

Alex Wheatle, the Bard of Brixton, was among the authors at the first event in 2012.

What’s different as Book Jam hits its tenth year?

“It hasn’t changed that much … it’s probably one of the few things in Brixton that hasn’t,” Zelda says laughing. 

“It could be laziness to be fair, but I think generally it seems to work quite nicely for people.

“They like it, the writers like it, it’s a sustainable event. That’s the point of it, everybody gets something back.”

Brixton BookJam logo

Authors have a space to share their work or sell it at the small bookshop the organisers set up without taking a cut, while the audience listens for free.

A rotating crew of people help to make it happen, as well as long-term support from Hootananny on Effra Road, which hosts the event.

Over lockdown, the event moved online, which offered an opportunity to do something different, says Zelda. “We were not constrained by geography anymore.” 

One event simultaneously featured writers from Mombasa, Cape Town, and Denmark – but it was missing a vital element of the Book Jam’s magic – the atmosphere of a live audience.

“It’s trickier for the writers to not have that sense of seeing the reaction of people live,” says Zelda.

There’s another dynamic at play too at in-person events, which makes the evening rather special.

Writers of all levels of success, young or old, can talk together, share ideas or learn from one another.

And, what’s Brixton’s role in all of this? “Could it just be a Book Jam rather than a Brixton Book Jam?” Zelda asks out-loud.

“I think there will always be a really strong local element, and that will always be what drives it, and giving back to that community.

“Brixton’s the kind of place that thrives on outside influences, and that’s quite an important part of it too.” 

The next Book Jam starts at 8pm sharp on Monday 3 October at Hootananny.

“It can get crazy busy” so the organisers encourage you to arrive earlier. Doors open at 7.30pm.

Running order

Set 1

South London blog Deserter is a slacker’s alt guide to the wonky wonderland south of the river. Its authors, Dirty South and Dulwich Raider, record off-beat days out and urban adventures in pubs, cemeteries, galleries, hospitals, disabled toilets and pubs again, often in the company of their volatile dealer, Half-life, and the rather nicer Roxy. | Twitter

Rosie Wilby is an award-winning comedian who has appeared many times on BBC Radio 4 programmes including Woman’s Hour, Saturday Live and Four Thought. Her first book Is Monogamy Dead? followed her TEDx talk of the same name and a trilogy of internationally-acclaimed solo shows investigating the psychology of love and relationships. Rosie also presents The Breakup Monologues podcast, which was nominated for a British Podcast Award, has been recommended by Chortle, BBC Radio 4, The Observer, Metro and Time Out and provides the inspiration for her second book. She regularly appears as a commentator on sexuality, dating and love on radio and TV. | T: @rosiewilby | I: @breakupmonologues 

Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She holds an MA in writing from Middlesex University, where she won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Prize. Her debut, Cry of the Flying Rhino (2017), was awarded the International Proverse Prize in Hong Kong. Her novels include Heart of Glass (2018), Overboard (2020) and White Crane Strikes (2022). She is commissioning editor of the Asian Anthology New Writing series. Her latest manuscript, The American Boyfriend, was longlisted for the Avons x Mushens Entertainment Prize for Commercial Fiction 2022. She lives in London. | @ivyngeow

C.J. Schüler is the author of three illustrated histories of cartography: Mapping the World, Mapping the City and Mapping the Sea and Stars and co-author of the best-selling Traveller’s Atlas. His previous book, Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London, 1891–2016 was published in November 2016. He has also written on literature, travel, fishing, and the arts for The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, The Tablet, The Financial Times and New Statesman, and was chair of the Authors’ Club from 2008 to 2015. He’ll be reading from his new book, The wood that built London. | @SchulerCJ

Set 2

Ned Beauman is the author of five novels including The Teleportation Accident which was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. In 2013 he was named as one of the 20 best young British novelists by Granta magazine and his work has been translated into more than 10 languages. His latest book, Venomous Lumpsucker, was published in July. | @NedBeauman

Kwaku Osei-Afrifa is a writer and commissioning editor living in London. Either side of a two-year stint as a chef, they worked at Canongate, Titan, and Unbound and Hodder & Stoughton’s new imprint: Hodder Studio. They have previously written for the Manchester Evening News, Huffington Post, and The Bookseller. The Surf is their first novella, a second is on the way, alongside about a million other things.

rebellionpublishing | @PennilessArtist

Graham Buchan is a writer and poet. He has published short stories, travel writing and dozens of art, film, theatre and book reviews in a range of UK newspapers and websites. His short fiction has appeared in The London Magazine, Litro, Butterfly and other prestigious outlets, and has been read at Liars’ League events in London, New York and Hong Kong. He has published five books of poetry and has read this work in the UK, France, New York, Austin, Vancouver, Nicaragua, Mexico and Iraq. 

Facebook   | YouTube

Celine Hispiche began her career as a featured writer at The Royal Court Theatre. She has seen her plays performed and broadcast in both London and New York. Presenting on Capital Radio as a teenager and interviewing bands gave her the springboard into music with both singing and song writing. Unusual shows include performing at the private salon of the legendary Louise Bourgeois. She currently runs Celine’s Salon – platforming both new and established writers within a friendly and creative atmosphere, and and has published two anthologies with Wordville Press. 

Wordville | Facebook

Zelda Rhiando lives in South London, and is the author of three novels, Caposcripti, Fukushima Dreams, and Night Shift, and is currently investigating the curious history of her eccentric Irish ancestors. When not writing she can be found child-wrangling and making digital products.

@badzelda |