before books, there was a puppy
“Don’t go mad Ben”. Will said. I did hear him…in the distance…as I ran off like an excited puppy.
Will was my flatmate at drama college. He saw the adolescent pooch in me from day one. “Don’t go mad Ben” rang in my ears as I filled the supermarket trolley at the start of term, stayed all day in the pub rewriting Police lyrics with rude words, or started arguments about objectification of women at 2am. Training me was a thankless task.
By my mid-20s I was chasing sticks with abandon. I ran arts and community projects by day, studied for a film MA in the evenings and signed on for social justice campaigns at any hour. But I hankered after a properly big chew toy. Something substantial. Something I could write.
Write what you know, right? The day job connected me to some of the UK’s most innovative youth programmes. A commission from Carnegie UK (via the Participation Education Group) followed, resulting in The Youth of Today Have Something to Say. The book topped the National Youth Agency’s essential reading list in 2000.
Find your passions, they say. I have few stronger than my commitment to social change or my love of cinema. Put them together, do a megaton of research, dozens of interviews and a shit load of screenings and…Hollywood’s New Radicalism. Published by Palgrave MacMillan and IB Tauris in 2005, it sits in the library of congress on a few uni reading lists.
And like every puppy who doesn’t know it’s past their bed time, I kept on running and barking, writing more about youth citizenship. I still can’t believe the Commonwealth Foundation published my words in their CC21 collection, right after Kofi Annan and just before K Sello Duiker.
Well informed about a complex subject, Dickenson achieves a finely-tuned balance.Review Hollywood’s New Radicalism, The Independent
old dog, new non-fiction
I also chased the cinema frisbee quite a bit, writing for Bright Light’s Film Journal, The Big Issue, The Guardian, The Independent and appearing on Radio 4’s Film Programme. Then a spell on the editorial board of Film International, and teaching gigs at Westminster and Sunderland unis, Goldsmiths College and Tyneside Cinema.
Then, as I got deeper into fringe theatre and culture at large with City of Dreams, I found a nice new slipper to slobber over. Soon I was blogging, reviewing and speeching (new verb, TM). Highlights below.
As much as I’ve lived by Scrappy’s mantra (puppy power), I’ve had my share of Scooby-Do “zoinks” moments. After agreeing to speak at the Lumiere Conference (2019) it dawned on me that I had to match up a Global Teaching Prize winner and Chair of Arts Council England. Gulp!
I’d like to say I’ve matured into a leisurely hound but chuck a ball and I’m gone. Sorry Will!
My latest is a collaboration with the inestimably clever Vee Pollock. Our chapter about culture, civic action and young people can be found in Hope Under Neo-Liberal Austerity.
A bit more…