Apples and Snakes – Living Archive Project

Preserving our history. Securing our future.

Spoken word and performance poetry is a vibrant, growing and diverse artform that is often marginalised. Since it relies heavily on oral tradition, it is essential that we act now to record and preserve a cultural heritage that is in danger of being lost – a cultural heritage that has reflected and influenced many social and political movements over the last 30-plus years. Apples and Snakes are thrilled to receive funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to create a Living Archive for Spoken Word and Performance Poetry.

Lemn Sissay, Kate Tempest, and Jean Binta Breeze feature on some of Apples and Snakes' earliest event line-ups.

Lemn Sissay, Joolz Denby, Benjamin Zephaniah, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and many more recognisable names feature on some of Apples and Snakes’ earliest event line-ups.

This exciting project will ensure that Apples and Snakes’ historical and culturally important collection of materials, including rare sound and video recordings, photographs, and press cuttings, is preserved and made accessible to all.

“The archive will present a fascinating insight into the development of this artform within a fast changing social and political context, and it [will] give old professors like me a place to send students who wish to understand the history of what they are doing” – Benjamin Zephaniah

From November 2015, Apples and Snakes will work to catalogue and digitalise the extensive archive of materials collected since the organisation was founded in 1982. This collection will be augmented with new acquisitions and recorded interviews with key artists and individuals who have contributed to Apples and Snakes’ development, and to the development of the artform as a whole, and will be made publicly available through a bespoke, interactive website.

A performance by John Cooper Clarke, dated the 3rd March 1989, features amongst rare audio recordings in the archive.

A performance by John Cooper Clarke, dated the 3rd March 1989, features amongst rare audio recordings in the archive.

A bespoke, interactive archive website will encourage input – images, documents, AV recordings – from the wider spoken word community.

The project will culminate in 2017 with a series of events and community engagement programmes across the country, giving everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly the opportunity to engage with the history of our art form. Public events, including community workshops, evening classes, and a touring exhibition, will link in with Apples and Snakes’ 35th birthday celebrations, and will highlight the artistic, social, political, and economic developments in spoken word over the 35 year period in which the organisation has flourished.

Using digital technology to display and catalogue over 3,000 individual items, the Living Archive will preserve and create easy public and academic access to a vast array of materials that together represents a significant addition to the heritage and understanding of spoken word and performance poetry as an artform in the UK. Keen to develop the knowledge and skills of those we work with, Apples and Snakes is pleased to be able to provide training in archive management, cataloguing, and digital conversion techniques for 11 staff members and project volunteers.

The archive shows early hand-drawn flyers dating back to 1982 and Apples and Snakes' first public events.

The archive shows early hand-drawn flyers dating back to 1982 and Apples and Snakes’ first public events.

Approximately 1,100 audio and video recordings, 500 pre-digital photographs, over 500 press cuttings, and more that 1,000 posters and flyers illustrate the trajectory of the UK spoken word scene.

Early publicity materials promote the then-relatively-unknown names of Phill Jupitus, Benjamin Zephaniah, Jackie Kay, Craig Charles, and Linton Kwesi Johnson, whilst unseen photographs show major artists, such as Adrian Mitchell and Apples and Snakes’ patron Michael Rosen.

For over 30 years, Apples and Snakes has been the foremost clearing-house and promoter of new poetry and newcomer performers. With principle and commitment they have encouraged poets from a range of backgrounds that truly represents the ethnicity of the UK” – Michael Rosen  


During the creation of the Living Archive, an expert in the history of spoken word will ensure that the archive is interpreted, explained, and documented in a way that makes it both informative and entertaining to the widest possible audience.


Kate Tempest performs at Shake the Dust, 2012.

Features on the Apples and Snakes blog throughout the upcoming year will include individual objects from the archive collection, selected by the project team to highlight and discuss the significance of a particular item of interest. And we’ll be putting a call out on Facebook and Twitter for you to get involved and #AddToTheArchive. Taking place throughout the second year of the project’s development, there will be a series of performances and public engagement events placing a focus on the discoveries and stories that have been unearthed by the Living Archive.

Given the organisation’s critical role in the development of spoken word in the UK, and as the only national literature organisation with such an extensive archive of spoken word heritage, Apples and Snakes is uniquely placed to undertake this valuable project.

“Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we’re thrilled to offer our support to this project which will involve communities, train volunteers and work with literary stars to ensure the story and legacy of this often marginalised artform is preserved for generations to enjoy” – Stuart Hobley, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London.

To keep up with the latest Living Archive developments visit the project page and follow us on Twitter #AddToTheArchive. Visit the HLF website or follow @heritagelottery.