Interview with Raquel McKee on Mary Ann McCracken Reading for Look North Festival

How did the show come about and how long have you been working on it?

The Mary Ann McCracken reading was a brainchild of Clifton House and the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation in particular, which aims to celebrate this pioneering woman in her own right. Ruth Carr and I were asked to read at this event over a year ago, amidst the upheaval and uncertainties of the pandemic. It was postponed last year, so I was very pleased that it was able to go ahead this year, in spite of unexpected last-minute changes to take account of Ruth needing to self-isolate. One of the things I particularly like about the Look North Festival is its intentionality in being nonpartisan and engaging artists and community members not only from the traditional communities but also from marginalised communities.

Mary Ann McCracken has quite a substantial and varied outlook politically and socially. Which of her ideas is the show concentrating on?

Ruth and I, when we first met to plan the show, were agreed on the many facets of Mary Ann McCracken’s inspiration, so in fairness to her we touched on many.  We did this by spending time presenting snapshots of her, looking at issues that were important to her and by considering the legacy she left behind. This was ably hosted by Norma Sinte, the chair of the Foundation.

What areas is your work examining?

My pieces did all three things – present a snapshot of the fascinating Belfast educator, entrepreneur, social reform advocate, philanthropist and writer; consider the issues that were important to her and considered her legacy. Since the areas of overlap in her life and mine are education, social (and especially racial) justice and writing, it will be no surprise that my major focus fell within these areas. I looked at her s a woman of outlived faith. I also looked at her gender advocacy.  Ruth did too, adding vivid images of what life for her as a child, as a sister around the time of her brother’s execution and as an entrepreneur, might have been like. We love that the audience engaged in discussion on all three areas.

Do you think her ideas particularly around the questions of slavery and on women’s oppression still resonate today.

It is a poignant point that Mary Ann McCracken over a century ago was fighting for racial and gender justice, and the battles are still not yet won. She must be credited though, for her relentless efforts against enslavement of Africans and for the oppressed generally, and whilst her actions did not stop Belfast merchants and manufacturers from producing and exporting shoes, food and other items that supported the Transatlantic Slave Trade, she was partly responsible for Belfast not becoming a slave trading port.

This particular show is, at the time of writing, sold out. Are there any plans to extend the run?

It was a very successful event and we are in talks about potentially repeating the event, so … watch this space…

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