This week I put a post on my Instagram page asking how much non-fiction people read. I enjoyed reading the responses and seeing how, like me, some people start to reach more for non-fiction as they grow older. For me, it’s a way of continuous learning which I appreciate more now than ever. One of my favourite forms of non-fiction is essay collections. I find them a great way of dipping into heavier subject matters and getting a good variety from one book. That’s why I was thrilled to be sent an advanced copy of Just So You Know: Essays of Experience from Parthian Books.
Just So You Know is a diverse and insightful collection of essays that gives space to underrepresented perspectives. Edited by Hanan Issa, Durre Shahwar and Özgür Uyanık, the essays span continents and breadth of topics. The writers explore race, cultural heritage, language politics, neurodivergence, sexual identity and immigration. Though varied, there is one thread that links them all – each writer is connected in some way to Wales.
As someone who has lived in Wales almost my entire life (I moved here as a toddler), I was keen to read the thoughts of people linked to Wales. That very idea is an interesting concept that is addressed beautifully in the first essay ‘I, Invisible Immigrant’. The Just So You Know project invited writers who are “born in, living in, or have a connection to Wales”. However, many guidelines for similar projects ask for writers ‘from’ somewhere, implying ‘born in’. A somewhat simple change in language welcomes a wide range of voices that challenge the idea of what we expect the Welsh perspective to be.
The topics covered in Just So You Know are handled with awareness, sometimes humour, searing honesty and compassion. To give you a taster, in one essay a student writes letters to his OCD, in another a woman weaves together African and Welsh folklore with her own experience of abuse. In one, a young woman comes out to her mum as bi during a Sunday session down the local. (I grew up in the Valleys and could picture the scenes in this oh so vividly). Yet another explores not being “Welsh enough” despite a Welsh upbringing and the influence of language and being seen as ‘other’. Each essay was my favourite until I read the next. This is telling about the importance of reading a variety of voices. It is the mesh of ideas, cultures, races and identities that makes this anthology such vital and important reading.
Through sharing their stories, the writers of this collection have brought often overlooked topics into the spotlight. Sometimes they’re uncomfortable or painful yet that’s the truth we must face. I learnt a lot and have thought a great deal about them since putting the book down. Whether you have a connection to Wales or not, I urge you to buy and read this book. These essays challenge us as humans to think differently and they demand to be listened to.
Just So You Know will be published on 1st August 2020 and is available to pre-order here.
The contributors to the collection are Isabel Adonis, Kate Cleaver, Taylor Edmonds, Dylan Huw, Ruqaya Izzidien, Bethan Jones-Arthur, Derwen Morfayel, Grug Muse, Dafydd C Reeves, Ranjit Saimbi, Nasia Sarwar-Skuse, Ricky Stevenson, Kandace Siobhan Walker, Josh Weeks, Sarah Younan.
Thank you to Parthian Books for my copy of Just So You Know.