An interview with Tilt founder Melanie Abrahams

NL: How was Tilt set up and why?

MA: renaissance one was going along nicely with good rapport with the publishing world, through book events and the idea of literature related to the book. Gradually, I became confident about being able to create literature myself - what I wanted to explore in the world - and doing it through spoken word. I began to view myself artistically as well as someone who would represent writers, facilitate for them and position them. And so, Tilt was set up in 2005 to have a dedicated focus on spoken word.

NL: Why a focus on spoken word?

MA: To view it as a vital artform in its own right. To develop it in interesting ways. I feel that spoken word enables you to give a good account of yourself. Take for instance the importance of speech in everyday life - to get by, and to get on. Or, the ways that people have been moved to action by strong presentation – Obama being a totemic example. I’ve a passion for well-phrased, wise, funny and stirring words and their articulation and delivery.

NL: And this year you’re initiating a spoken word festival?

MA: Yes, ‘Something I Said?’ spoken word festival. Five years in the making. I pitched it to many venues in London before it was taken on. It’s in October, in association with the Southbank Centre Literature team and presented at their venues. I’m excited as it will explore spoken word in a myriad of ways and lots of exciting writers, raconteurs, and personalities are involved.

NL: Do you see spoken word as taking off more now?

MA: Yes. As it’s evolved over decades there has been a broader representation. More voices emerging, which resonates with more people. Before this, we were grateful to get a few voices.

NL: You’re right. We were not too picky, glad if there were more people in the audience than the poets waiting to go on themselves! What did you do to be self-sustaining?

MA: I had to think of it as a business as well as a practice. We’ve always been entrepreneurial, never had core funding. It meant ensuring that it all comes good for the writer I’m working with – that I bring in the fees and all the things I said I would. As a company, we also needed to develop sustainable structures and relationships with venues that leads to future work.

NL: That’s interesting; it’s almost like for there to be a job for you to do in this sector you’ve had to create it from scratch?

MA: In a way. I did it because I knew I had to, for it to be self-sustaining.

NL: To have this environment to work in, you’ve had to create the environment?

MA: Yes, which is why I view myself as an entrepreneur, as someone who thrives on change and gravitates towards creating new things. Having said this, I didn’t do it because I felt like creating something new. I did it to reflect what I saw and recognised around me.

NL: So, you feel if you had set out with a big mission statement of the way it has developed up to now, it would have been too daunting?

MA: It wouldn’t have been bespoke.

NL: That’s interesting. I know some people who would give their arm to have that opportunity. Then again, you had to build the environment, put the work in?

MA: It is fortunate. Then again for years the creativity I have now was on hold as I lacked self-confidence about my sensibilities. I was trying to fit in. Also, I hadn’t got the structure right for looking after artists. It took a while to develop symbiotic relationships, shaping connections and collaborations. Things have happened in the right way. But, it did for a while seem a long time coming….

NL: I think if anything it takes entrepreneurial endeavours more than ever. Some argue that if the sector is going to survive and thrive in the next 5 or 10 years it’s going to take more people being entrepreneurial, environments that other people can be brought into?

MA Yes. (I) Hope as well as the rhetoric that recognises entrepreneurialism that there’ll be development to foster it, and harness it

NL: It’s all very well entrepreneurialism being there but it needs support to function?

MA Yes. Given the recession, if there are possibilities to make a positive and creative difference to the sector, then we should do it.