Students at City and Islington College (CANDI) interviewed writer and poet Hannah Lowe ahead of her latest work winning both the Costa Poetry Award and Costa Book of the Year Award.
Hannah, who taught English at the college from 2002 to 2012, won these awards for The Kids, her book of sonnets about teaching, learning, growing up and parenthood.
Hannah’s first success was in the Costa Poetry Award in January. And in February, Hannah went on to win the £30,000 Costa Book of the Year Award.
The Kids draws on her decade of teaching at CANDI as well as her own coming of age in the 80s and 90s, and explores issues of race, identity and class.
In December, college students interviewed Hannah for The Jam podcast, which was initially set up at the college as a way for students to talk about their experiences in lockdown and has gone on to feature discussions on various academic and social topics.
Hannah spoke to Adam Njai, 19, a former CANDI student at the college studying for a BA (Hons) History at the University of Bristol, and Gabrielle Okonkwo, 17, who is studying A Levels in English Literature and Language, History and Politics at the college.
In the interview, Hannah said: “I began sketching these poems about five years ago after I’d left the sixth form and had a period of reflection where I started to think about what I’d learnt in my time as a teacher, not least from the students I was teaching.
“I realised I’d learnt so much from the young people that I taught about personal things, and public and political issues to do with feelings of belonging, a sense of Britishness or not, social class and gender; and I started to think about how they had impacted my own sense of my own identity.”
Hannah left CANDI to complete a PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and now lectures in the subject at Brunel University. Her other works include Chan (2016), Long Time, No See (2015) and Chick (2013).
One critic described her poems in The Kids as “funny, moving, sometimes painful and always questioning,” adding that “they capture teachers and their students’ learning life from each other in profound and unexpected ways.”
Reviewing the podcast, Elysha Smith, 17, who is studying A Levels in English Literature, History and Philosophy, said: ‘I was left feeling enlightened, like I had heard the much-needed other side to a story I had been reading since I was young. Putting it simply, this is just the kind of thing that students should listen to if they ever forget that their teachers are human too.”
A Level History teacher Debbie Bogard, who set up The Jam podcast, said: “From the very beginning, this has been a student-driven initiative, and it’s been such an excellent way for our students to develop creatively and engage with learning beyond the curriculum.
“It’s also been a brilliant way of drawing on the expertise of our wonderful ex-students and ex-teachers and welcoming them into our wider college community. I’m incredibly proud of what our students have achieved here, and already excited to hear where the podcast goes next.”
The Kids is published by Bloodaxe and is out now on Amazon and at all discerning bookshops.
This article was updated on 4 February 2022, to include Hannah’s success in the Costa Book of the Year Award.