An Interview with Patricia Cumper

Patricia Cumper (MBE) is a multi-award winning radio-drama writer, producer, arts administrator, critic and commentator of Caribbean (Jamaican) and English descent. Her work celebrates, showcases and explores the beauty and reality of our world’s human diversity. She is currently a trustee of the British Museum and is the former artistic director of the UK’s largest Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) theatre company: Talawa Theatre Company. Having made an outstanding contribution to the development of culture and theatre in the UK, especially within the Black British community, she was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2013. In the following interview, she speaks with us about her time at Cambridge University, her life experiences and offers us a bit of inspirational advice for our own journeys.

Interviewer (Int): What are the dates that you attended and graduated from Cambridge?
Patricia (Pat):
I went up in 1973 and graduated in 1976.

Int: What did you study?
I studied Archaeology and Anthropology.

Int: What college were you at?
Girton College.

Int: What are your hobbies, talents, interests?
Current affairs, sport, family, politics.

Int: What would you say motivates you in life?
A desire to do my best and change things for the better where possible.

Int: What is your national and ethnic/racial background?
I am mixed race: half English, half Jamaican.

Int: How have those identity backgrounds shaped your perspective of life, your struggles and your successes?
As much as you would expect.

Int: How would you say that your ethnic, national and racial background affected you at Cambridge University, if at all?
Though there were many happy and interesting times, there were many incidents where it was clear that people's reaction to me was based on my race. I was often deeply unhappy while I was there. My tutor, Prof. Joan Oates, was a huge help to me.

Int: What was it like attending Cambridge University?
A mixed blessing.

Int: Do you feel that Cambridge University was a welcoming environment to you as a black person?
Not welcoming, no. A little hostile but mostly indifferent, I would say.

Int: Would you encourage people of your background to attend Cambridge University?

Int: If yes, what advice would you give to them?
Be confident, know what you want from the experience, and grow a thick skin.

Int: What has been your greatest accomplishment during, and since, your Cantab days?
I won the Jamaica Scholarship gaining the best A level results in the island. At Cambridge I won College Exhibitions based on my exam results and was awarded my Full Blue and made Ladies Captain of the CU Swim Team. My writing has won awards both in the Caribbean (for theatre) and the UK (for radio drama) and I was made an MBE in 2012. I am a Trustee of the British Museum.

Int: What challenges did you have to overcome to achieve those successes?
Loneliness, a lack of mentors and role models, ignorance around race and Caribbean culture.

Int: Were there other black, Caribbean or African students who studied alongside you or that you know attended Cambridge University around the time that you attended?
I know of two other Jamaican men at Kings, one West African Girtonian, and knew about a handful of West African grad students.

Int: If yes, can you tell me more about them, or how I might contact them to hear their story?
The Jamaicans were Anthony Aarons and Graham Brand. Temi Wilkey was the Girtonian.

Int: What activities did you participate in at Cambridge?
The swim team.

Kalifa Damani

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