Watch 'Celebration of Stammering & the Arts'

16th March 2021

Robert Coe, co-organiser of the first ever 'Celebration of Stammering & the Arts', reflects on the highly-successful event earlier this month that brought together people who stammer from around the world. 

The artistic potential and enhanced creativity of people who stammer was showcased on Saturday 6th March as hundreds joined up with the Cambridge Stammering group to celebrate stammering.

The three-hour event, the world's first online Celebration of Stammering & The Arts, attracted participants from four continents and connected with distinguished artists, comedians, cartoonists, movie producers, documentary makers and more to listen to keynote speakers and a roundtable discussion, and take part in online workshops.

Keynote speakers

Composer JJJJerome Ellis
JJJJerome Ellis

The afternoon began with New Yorker JJJJerome Ellis, a poet and composer who shared a performance of his musical improvisation. He then talked about investigating the temporal and spacial links between music and his stammer. JJJJerome described his moment of stammering as an 'air pocket' and said, "I have the right to stutter and I have the right to have time." He went on to reveal he also stammers whilst playing the saxophone. Commenting on the repetition of the letter J in his name, he said, "I spell my name as a way of self-disclosure and self-advocacy." Visit his website jjjjerome.com to listen to more of his music.

It's incredible how social media has enabled stammerers across the world to create and join a community, and the event really showed this.

The second keynote speaker was former BBC Director of Arts and new STAMMA patron Jonty Claypole, author of the recent book 'Words Fail Us: In Defence of Disfluency'. Jonty talked about growing up in the 70s and 80s amid such negative portrayals of stammering as Open All Hours, A Fish Called Wanda and the Stutter Rap song. He blamed the mainstream media for the false narrative of 'overcoming' a stammer in films and on TV. "Anyone who retains their stammer is automatically seen as lesser," he said. "We need to fight that perspective." 

Jonty went on to argue that having a stammer actually increases creativity because of the determination and imagination needed to hide or manage our stammers. "People who stammer are actually superheroes," he proudly claimed, adding that creative and linguistic diversity must be shared. 

Roundtable discussion

A video call with speakers at the Celebration of Stammering event
Top left to bottom: Sophie, Paul, Felicity, Rory, Daniele, Helen, Gina

The highlight of the afternoon for many was the artists' roundtable, co-chaired by BBC colleagues Felicity Baker and newsreader Sophie Raworth, makers of the recent documentary 'I Can’t Say My Name'. They were joined by Helen Rutter, author of children's book 'The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh'; artist Paul Aston; socially-engaged arts producer Rory Sheridan, from neurodiverse collective Hiatus; Daniele Rossi, creator of the Franky Banky comic strip; and film producer Gina Rose — she and Daniele taking early-morning Zoom calls from North America.

The panelists reflected on a range of stammering topics including being covert or overt and how they express their stammers through art. Cambridge artist Paul Aston explained how painting people in the act of stammering (see the picture below) has helped him to come to terms with his own stammer, and cartoonist Daniele Rossi explained that his fictional characters are a great way to de-dramatise stammering and open up conversations. "The goal with my comics is to have plots that have nothing to do with stuttering," said Dani, "but framing stuttering as 'cool' to help shift people's mindsets."

Artwork of a man whilst stammering, by Paul Aston
Artwork by Paul Aston (Instagram @PaulAstonPainter) 

Breakout rooms & music

Twenty individual breakout rooms then enabled participants to discuss specific artistic genres such as music, dance, the media, theatre and many more. People also had the opportunity to get advice from renowned professionals and academics currently employed in the arts, who ran the sessions.

It was an opportunity to hear, meet and learn from the cornucopia of people who stammer in the arts. A day to cherish. I'm excited to see where the conversations take us to next!

The afternoon was complemented by musical performances from singer-songwriter Saraphir Qaa-Rishi, who opened the event with a song (visit her website movingpresence.co.uk to hear more), and 13-year-old violinist Madeleine Jones, who treated us to an unaccompanied performance of Bach's Partita 3 Prelude. 

Madeilene Jones playing the violin
Madeleine Jones (Instagram @ViolinWaves) 

To round off the event, US comedian Nina G gave a closing speech, talking about her stand-up experiences and her book 'Stutterer Interrupted'.

As a member of the organising committee, I came away thinking that it's incredible how social media has enabled stammerers across the world to create and join a community, and the event really showed this. Co-organiser Rhian Binns said, "I was so overwhelmed by the uptake, the support and how the event went. I'm proud of every single one of us stammerers and what we've achieved."

Another co-organiser Patrick Campbell said he was equally as proud, "to have been involved in the joyous celebration of stammering and people who stammer. It was an opportunity to hear, meet and learn from the cornucopia of people who stammer in the arts. A day to cherish. I'm excited to see where the conversations take us to next!"

The free event also has raised over £500 so far for STAMMA and the African Stuttering Centre. You can still donate via JustGiving

The Celebration of Stammering & the Arts was organised by the Cambridge Self Help Group For Adults Who Stammer, which meets on the first Thursday of each month. 

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