Full Title: The Spalding Suite, where poetry meets basketball – From hip-hop to hoop dreams
When Inua Ellams was 15, his family moved from England to Dublin. “Back then Dublin was, how shall I put it, at a youthful stage in its race relations,” Ellams says elegantly. “They had these ready-made stereotypes for black kids. One was that I would be into hip-hop. The second was that I would be good at basketball. The problem was that, at the time, I didn’t like either.”
But Ellams did love English. And his English teacher was also his PE teacher, and an avid basketball fan to boot. “I was struck by how this person whom I admired hugely could have these opposing passions,” says Ellams. “Plus, the boys I did my English homework with were the same boys with whom I ended up playing basketball. So the language of literature and basketball began to emotionally inform each other. For me, the way a game of basketball plays out is similar to the way a poem plays out. A basketball match can be transformed in its final seconds by moves you cannot predict. The transformation in a poem works in the same way.”
If Kate Tempest is the queen of today’s thriving spoken poetry scene, Inua Ellams is its king, even if he wears the crown reluctantly. A softly spoken, Nigerian-born 30-year-old, who moved to the UK when he was 12, Ellams started writing poetry at the age of 16. He is a published poet and playwright who regularly performs his poetry live but who also melds spoken word and theatre into luminous new dramatic forms: his loosely affiliated sequence of monologues, which began with 2009’s The 14th Tale, explored autobiographical questions of identity and migration.