Dinesh Angelo Allirajah. 6-05-1967 to 9-12-2014
Whether as a writer, activist, or teacher, Dinesh Allirajah moved through his various simultaneous-pursued professions much like a swan, gliding through the water elegantly and effortlessly, or so we thought. Such was the man’s humility, grace, patience, and generosity, few stopped to really consider the energy and commitment he put into everything he did, or quite how many different things he was always doing at one time.
Dinesh was born in Kensington in 1967 and grew up in Upper Norwood the second son of Sri Lankan parents Evelyn and father Sivam. His Sri Lankan heritage was always dear to him – a springboard for the internationalism that informed all of his creative passions and teaching – and yet, true to his humility, Dinesh spent a lifetime inwardly smiling whenever anyone categorised him as simply ‘Asian’.
In 1985 he moved to Liverpool to attend university and attained a BA (Hons) in Modern History and then an MA (Distinction) in Ethnic Studies. His dissertation was called ‘Groove in Tongues’: The radical Potential of Black British Poetry. In Liverpool he found the stimulus to explore the worlds of literature, music and performance in which he was to excel. During the First Gulf War he became a DJ and helped keep alive what for many was the only independent voice on the airwaves: the pirate Toxteth Community Radio. In 1992 he became a co-founder of the poetry performance collective ‘Asian Lives, Asian Voices’, which quickly built up a large following, performing at venues across the country.
Within two years of arriving in Liverpool Dinesh also co-founded the Spark Collective: a multimedia performance company that took centre-stage in the Liverpool live art scene: a collective of diverse, talented artists that he continued to support and admire over the years to come. During the 90s, he built a career as a Literacy and Creative Writing teacher, facilitating workshops in community centres, schools and prisons, and latterly delivering university modules at LJMU, then UCLan and Edge Hill universities. He was also a Writer in Residence at Hope University where he worked with fellow writer and poet Michael Murphy. His literary repertoire expanded to take in poetry, song lyrics (working with Marty Muscatelli, creating demos of Jazz rap poetry under the name ‘Flag’), more jazz poetry (as one of ‘The Imaginary Selves’), short fiction, literary criticism and reportage (most recently on his brilliantly funny and erudite blog, Real Time Short Stories).
His work was recognised and published by, among others, Sable Magazine, Peepal Tree Press, Spike Books, The Windows Project, Comma Press, Moving Worlds Magazine, and Amauta Publications.
He also performed his work internationally: in France, Poland, Germany, Bangladesh and Nigeria. His first collection, A Manner of Speaking was published by Spike, winning the praise of Levi Tafari among others, and he was working towards a second collection through various commissions with Comma Press, its intended title was to be ‘Easy on the Roses.’
He described his writing as ‘narratives of the unnoticed moment’, giving airplay to what happens ‘on the edge of the crowd’, where characters have to suddenly reassess who and what they are. He often said the Czech dissident and exile, Josef Škvorecký was the author that most influenced him. Dinesh was also very influenced by Chekhov.
The term ‘Cultural Activist’ hardly does justice to Dinesh; he worked tirelessly as a believer in the liberating and educating power of the arts: he was Chair of the NALD (1995-7), and of Catalyst Dance and Drama (1999-2001); he became the Chair the National Black Arts Alliance Trustees in 2002, and was also a founding Board Member of Literature Northwest from 2005, and a Director of Comma Press from 2012. In his capacity as the Bluecoat Events Programmer (2002 to 2004), he fund-raised, programmed and developed the team for the inaugural Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival and the Liverpool Irish Festival, and played an instrumental role in establishing Liverpool’s Writing Officer
For NBAA prior to becoming its Chair Dinesh was a major team player in its extensive arts projects and conferences. Keynoting alongside such luminaries as Ntozake Shange and performance acting alongside 147 men for ‘In My Father’s House’. As chair he steered NBAA wisely securing its reputation as the UK’s largest network of Black artists.
For many years he dedicated his time to Yellow House founded by George McKane (director) helping to support and develop young people through arts based projects.
His encyclopaedic knowledge of writers was matched by an equally staggering knowledge of music (jazz in particular) and cricket. A shrewd intellect, a master of the subtle satire, and a generous, supportive and trusting soul; perhaps most of all he will be remembered for his humour. Even as when he took ill, he jumped at the opportunity to poke fun at his own ironic situation (on his blog): the image of a writer, finally with time to write!
Everyone who met Dinesh, even if only briefly, instantly admired and liked him, he will never be forgotten. The many organisations he helped throughout his life - Comma Press, NBAA, The Bluecoat and others – will work together to establish a commission or prize in his name. He is survived by his mother and older brother Duleep, his fianceé Vic, two sons Bruno and Rufus, and their mother, his ex-partner Jo.
With love SuAndi, Vic, Duleep & Ra Page.
Photographs courtesy of David Hynes via Maurice Fyles on FaceBook