The sixth #ATownExploresABook festival in St Leonards-on-Sea was the biggest and most successful in the festival’s history to date. It stretched across the spring school holiday with multiple projects that provoked conversations between members of the Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities and many local people. It was
also the inspiration for some wonderful inter-generational community connections. Two thousand children and many local community organisations took part in schools projects in the run up to the festival creating outdoor art, exhibitions and events. For the first time, the festival included an Easter Saturday street party organised
by Kings Road traders.

Hastings independent Press can now exclusively announce the next featured book. The team behind the festival is very excited to be able to share that the book choice for #ATownExploresABook23 is The Wonderful Adventures of
Mrs Seacole in Many Lands
. It is an autobiography and travel writing book by 19th century adventurer, Mary Seacole, a woman of the world.

A Town Explores A Book 2023 Ambassadors: Melisande and Susan
CREDIT: Victor of Peach London

The announcement coincides with a new theatre production, Marys Seacole, at London’s Donmar Warehouse, written by Jackie Sibblies Drury and directed by Nadia Latif. Primary children across the UK are more familiar with the author as a historical figure through her identity as a medical practitioner of mixed-race heritage. Mary Seacole is a topic in Year 2 history modules that offers exploration of Mary’s experience of racism and marginalisation compounded by the sexism she navigated as a 19th century woman forging a career in business.

Mary Seacole is many things to many people, and a good place to start is to explore her as a woman fundamentally informed by an inspirational parent. Her mother ran a respected lodging house called Blundell Hall in Kingston, Jamaica. Variously termed Creole and Caribbean, Mary’s mother was a black woman who was a healer-doctor and shared and taught Mary many of her skills utilising traditional Jamaican medicines. Mary and her siblings Louisa and Edward were born ‘free’ unlike many of her contemporaries at the time. Her father, James Grant, was a white Scottish army officer stationed in Jamaica – which at the time was a British colony. 

Mary forged a career that embraced the roles of nurse, doctor, carer and business woman. Her lifetime travels pervade the autobiography, and this festival marks the 200th anniversary of her first solo journey to London in her late teens.

Festival ambassadors for #ATownExploresABook23 will be Melisande and Susan. Melisande proudly said: “We learned every single thing about Mary Seacole in Year 2. She was a woman who wanted to be a doctor just like her mother. She wanted to work with Florence Nightingale, but in the end, she set up her own hospital called ‘The British Hotel’.” 

Whilst our schoolchildren are brimming with knowledge about Mary Seacole, her adventures are unknown to many adults, and the 2023 festival looks forward to exploring the adventures of this pioneering woman, led by our Year 2 pupils. 

Every year the festival teams up local artists with local schools to create outdoor art across the green spaces of the town. Lead artist, Emma Harding, says, “the focus on Mary as a woman of the world, inspired by her mother’s medical practice offers the festival artists so many starting points from which they can share their creative skills with children in Hastings and St Leonards. I’m looking forward to working with a creative female team to showcase the many facets of Mary Seacole’s life and experiences.”


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