In 1997, I was excited and flattered to be the first recipient of the Alfred Fagon Award, which was set up to acknowledge and encourage a new generation of black British playwrights.
I was equally excited when I heard that Mustapha Matura would the one to present me with my award. He was a writer I knew of and admired.
His adaptation of JM Synge’s classic Playboy of the Western World (retitled Playboy of the West Indies) was originally performed at Oxford Playhouse in 1984 and subsequently toured the UK, finishing at the Tricycle Theatre – now the Kiln Theatre – in London. It was on a list of many plays that were recommended reading during my time studying writing at Rose Bruford College.
Mustapha was such a renowned and celebrated black practitioner. During a time when black people were not made to feel welcome in this country, Mustapha’s work had inspired many actors, directors and writers of colour to find their voice.
His play Welcome Home Jacko – first performed at the Factory Theatre in 1979 before touring to venues such as Theatre Royal Stratford East – was inspired by a visit Mustapha made to a youth club in Sheffield in the 1970s. The play examines the lives of four West Indian teenagers and is concerned with the experience of disaffected second generation young black Britons.
Mustapha was one of many black artists who were determined to destroy the falseness and simplicity of stereotypes created by white society and to show the complexity of modern black British life. For many black writers now, we are still having that fight.
Mustapha was there to show us that a career in the arts is still possible, and the fight for acceptance should go on. I first knew of him when I was a kid growing up in the late 1970s – a time when black theatre was much more visible than it is now. There was Umoja, Carib Theatre Company, Talawa, Staunch Poets and Players, Black Theatre Co-operative (now known as Nitro Beat).
For a young black teenager who only had a remote interest in theatre at the time, the works of these companies and of playwrights like Mustapha was truly inspiring and important to me.
Roy Williams is an award-winning writer whose plays include Clubland, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads and Sucker Punch