Photography by Katie O'Neill and Iqra Saied

Shirley performing at the Manchester International Festival in 2019 (Photo: MMU)

Poet and writer Shirley May is a poet from the Speakeasy Collective in Manchester, which she co-managed  for five years. She is also director of 'Young Identity' - a writing collective which works with 13–25s in the Manchester area. Her own work has been published in several anthologies 


Shirley is one of the best known and loved performers on the Manchester poetry scene and has performed at many well-known venues in the UK and internationally, including appearances at the Nuyorican Cafe in New York and the Calabash writing festival in Jamaica. Shirley has recently received an honorary fellowship from the Royal Society of Literature for her support work for young writers. She is a visiting fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University and poet in residence at the Race Archive - Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust.


Shirley believes her role is to make both performance and page poetry accessible to young people in Manchester. She has worked for 18 years to promote a culture around performance poetry to make it "cool" and happening by mentoring and supporting new writers in schools and community groups.

Shirley's aclaimedpoetry collection ‘She Wrote Her Own Eulogy’

Shirley published her first poetry collection ‘She Wrote Her Own Eulogy’ in 2018 to great acclaim, in which she explores her family’s Jamaican heritage and the Black-British experience with deep emotion and lyricism.


Shirley and her team of young writers and mentors believe that the voice of young people in writing is as valid as adult writers. She seeks to free "de inna voice."

She has worked alongside great names in poetry by offering a platform for their work to be showcased, at the many events she has organised.


She’s a motivational speaker and through her work, she tries to inspire, challenge and give tailored advice to groups and individuals, especially around creating personal goals and looking at ways to achieve them.

THE SHOOT: Werneth Low Country Park, Hyde

On the edge of the Pennines with panoramic views across Greater Manchester - One of Julie's favourite walks close to her home in Broadbottom

Student reflection: Iqra Saied

This was my first photoshoot for the Greater Mancunians project. At first, I was feeling nervous about working with Julie, but she was compassionate and pleasant. Soon, I felt relaxed as we talked and got to know one another. It was brilliant to work alongside ex-student Katie O'Neill who advised and guided me on how to capture the perfect shots. The location - Werneth Low was beautiful, It provided magnificent panoramic views of Greater Manchester... a wonderful backdrop for my pictures. My final images successfully portray Julie's fun loving personality.

It was a privilege to work with Julie and Katie. I hope to get another opportunity to get to work on this fantastic project in the future.

Katie, Julie & Iqra

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© The Manchester College 2021

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