R.I.P. Dinesh Allirajah

It's now been over a month since the terrible news of Dinesh's sudden passing reached us at Comma. Dinesh was a stalwart supporter of everything Comma (and Literature Northwest) did; a Founding Board Member of the former (2007-2012), and a Director of Comma Press since it became an NPO in 2012. Dinesh held Comma's hand, offered support, guided it as an organisation and, most importantly, invested his faith in us every step of the way. He was also the perfect author, always open and receptive to new ideas, a fantastic self-editor, and the most gentle of satirists, bringing the low hum of absurdity behind most situations into earshot.
Myself, Jim, Sarah and Isaac cannot express how much we owe to Din, how shocked we are at his passing, or how much he'll be missed.
Below is a short obituary, put together with the help of SuAndi of NBAA.

Dinesh Angelo Allirajah

6-05-1967 to 9-12-2014

Dinesh was born in Kensington in 1967 and grew up in Croydon, the second son of Sri Lankan parents Evelyn and Sivam. His Sri Lankan heritage was always dear to him – a springboard for the internationalism that informed all his creative passions and teachings – and yet, true to his humility, Dinesh spent a lifetime inwardly smiling whenever anyone categorised him as simply ‘Asian’.

    In 1985 Dinesh moved to Liverpool to attend university and attained a BA (Hons) in Modern History and then an MA (Distinction) in Ethnic Studies. In Liverpool he found the stimulus to explore the worlds of literature, music and performance in which he was to excel. During the First Gulf War he became a DJ and helped keep alive what, for many, was the only independent voice on the airwaves: the pirate Toxteth Community Radio. In 1992 he became a co-founder of the poetry performance collective ‘Asian Lives, Asian Voices’, which quickly built up a large following, performing at venues across the country.

     Within two years of arriving in Liverpool Dinesh also co-founded the Spark Collective, a multimedia performance company that took centre stage in the Liverpool live art scene - a diverse collective of talented artists that Din continued to support and admire in the years to come. During the '90s, Din built a career as a Literacy and Creative Writing teacher, facilitating workshops in community centres, schools and prisons, and latterly delivering Creative Writing modules at LJMU, then UCLan and Edge Hill Universities. His literary repertoire expanded to take in poetry, song lyrics, jazz poetry (as one of ‘The Imaginary Selves’), short fiction, literary criticism and reportage (most recently on his brilliantly funny and erudite blog, Real Time Stories). His work was recognised and published in countless places: Sable Magazine, Peepal Tree Press, Spike Books, The Windows Project, Comma Press, Moving Worlds Magazine, and Amauta Publications, among many others. He also performed his work internationally: touring France, Poland, Germany, Bangladesh and Nigeria, often with his close friend George McKane (founder of Liverpol's youth arts project, Yellow House). Dinesh's first short story collection, A Manner of Speaking was published by Spike, winning praise from Levi Tafari among others, and he was working towards a second collection, through various commissions, with Comma Press.

He once described his stories as ‘narratives of the unattended moment’, giving airplay to what happens ‘on the edge of the crowd’, where characters have to suddenly reassess who and what they are. He often said the Czech dissident and exile, Josef Škvorecký was the author that most influenced him.

    The term ‘Cultural Activist’ hardly does justice to Dinesh. He worked tirelessly as a believer in the liberating and educating power of the arts, and the list of positions he held demonstrates just how much he was willing to give: Chair of NALD (1995-97), Chair of Catalyst Dance and Drama (1999-2001); Chair of the National Black Arts Alliance Trustees from 2002 onwards; Founding Board Member of Literature Northwest from 2005, and one of the four directors of Comma Press from 2012. Din worked in numerous other capacities across the Northwest, including at the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and the Liverpool Irish Festival, and played an instrumental role in establishing Liverpool’s Writing Officer.

    His encyclopaedic knowledge of writers was matched by an equally staggering knowledge of music (jazz, in particular) and cricket. A shrewd intellect, a master of the subtle satire, and a generous, supportive and trusting soul. Perhaps most of all, Din will be remembered for his humour. Even when he took ill, he jumped at the opportunity to poke fun at his own ironic situation (on his blog): the image of a writer, finally with time to write!

    Everyone who met Din liked him, instantly. You didn’t need to know him long, in fact, before you loved him. He’ll never be forgotten. The many organisations he helped - Comma Press, NBAA, LAAF, NALD, UCLan, Edge Hill, The Bluecoat, etc – will work together to establish a commission or a prize in his name. He is survived by his mother and older brother Duleep, his fiancée Vicky, two sons Bruno and Rufus, and their mother Jo.