Meet the Team

Charlotte Cornell

I used to teach GCSEs and A-Levels in Drama and English Literature in Canterbury. Every week when I walked through the city, I’d wonder why there wasn’t a proper memorial, or statue (or just something!) to commemorate Aphra Behn. I was teaching her plays to my students and yet there was nothing about Aphra (not even a coffee shop named after her!) in the city in which she grew up.

I’m now a writer and political researcher, plus a mum to three young children. I won the Canterbury Poet of the Year competition in 2020 and that really got me thinking about how the much-much-much better Canterbury poet Aphra Behn needs celebrating. I want everyone to know just how ground-breaking she was: poet, first ever professional female writer, anti-slavery novelist, LGBTQ+ icon, playwright and…spy! 

Aphra Behn came from a humble family and through hard work and talent broke down barriers for those generations of women, and other writers facing social barriers, who came after her. She inspires me (and I'm now writing a PhD, at the University of Kent, about her early years) and she inspires my daughter. Aphra Behn deserves a statue, more performances of her wonderful plays and more celebrations of such an incredible life.

Evelyn Cornell

Hi, I'm Evelyn Cornell and I’m 9. I love drama and writing scripts for my friends to perform and I go to drama lessons in Canterbury – I’d love to be an actor one day. My mum was telling me about a local woman – Aphra Behn - who lived a long time ago, who was the first ever (wow – how amazing to be the first ever for something!) woman to get paid for writing plays and we wondered why there was nothing celebrating her in Canterbury, near where we live.

How many statues of men you see around? A lot, right? Well, I think now is the time for better statues and definitely for better statues of amazing women!

Stewart Ross

It took me a long time to reach Aphra Behn. At my all-boys school, where Austen waved the female flag unaided, Aphra wasn’t even on the map. I don’t recall her being any more noticeable at university – if she did feature in a fleeting footnote, I don’t remember. Things changed when I became a full-time writer and began to take a closer interest in the profession. Aphra’s name kept cropping up. Intrigued, I read some of her work and Janet Todd’s fascinating biography and went to see the RSC’s rollicking Rover. Yes, this Aphra Behn was something special. Canterbury born, too. So why on earth was there no …? Something had to be done. I joined the Canterbury Commemoration Society and now, in conjunction with A for Aphra, we’re doing her the honour she so richly deserves. At last!

Rebekah Beattie

I first encountered Aphra studying for my Drama and Theatre Studies degree, and I remember asking the lecturer, “why have I not heard of this incredible woman before?!” It seemed baffling to me that such an important figure in our history should have been so absent in my education up to that point. 

After completing my degree at Royal Holloway, University of London, I continued to feel her presence in our rich theatrical history as an actor and producer in Bristol for several years. I moved to our inspiring literary city in 2007 to teach and am now Head of Drama at The King’s School, Canterbury. It is a vital part of my job to ensure that our female students can feel empowered to follow their interests and passions, and for our male students to recognise and champion female experience and excellence alongside their own. I see this as one of the primary reasons that we need to honour her, in her birthplace, so that our children can know her name from a young age. Having also written IGSCE and A Level textbooks for the Cambridge exam board (with Harper Collins), as well as writing poetry and prose for pleasure, I know I have her to thank for blazing the trail! 

My most important job to date however, very much calls on me to invoke her courage, talent and spirit; as a mum of two girls who both exude a love of theatre and the written word, it will inspire and delight them to see our wonderful Aphra immortalised in their home city.

I’m really excited to be part of this project.

Jan Pahl

I am delighted to be supporting the Aphra Benn project.  She was the first woman to earn her living by writing, and the first to write a book in which a slave was the hero, so she should be better known than she is. I am Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at the University of Kent, where several of my research projects focused on women and their lives.  I am also the Vice President of the Canterbury Society. I shall enjoy working on a project concerned with an interesting woman who was born in Canterbury and who went on to be such an innovative writer.

Helen Gillis

After travelling and living in Canada for 10 years I returned to the U.K. with a Canadian husband in tow. I finally decided to complete my Humanities degree through the Open University whilst working as a bibliographical librarian at Canterbury Christ Church University.

When I was in my thirties, I finally found Aphra Behn. How had it taken so long, I wondered? I had studied the Tudor and Stuarts for my A-Levels and I had written essays about the Interregnum. I knew of many male playwrights from the time - yet I had never heard of Aphra? This was 20 years ago, but even so I remember my huge feeling of indignation when I typed her name into Wikipedia and found she had been born in Canterbury. I was devastated: this great woman was all but forgotten in the very city I lived in.

I contacted universities, councils, art and drama departments nationally and internationally but with little interest. I was just an unknown individual with no power behind me. I gave up. Nobody cared. Kit Marlowe - of course a man - was the undisputed ‘literary king’ of Canterbury. 

One day, I saw that a new Geoffrey Chaucer statue was to be unveiled in the city. My indignity returned with force - a statue for a man who had lived in London all his life; yet Aphra Behn, born and raised in Canterbury - the first English literary female writer who had earned her living solely by her writing, adventurer and spy, was set to continue languishing forgotten, genius buried by Victorian ‘morality’. Something had to be done. I contacted the Canterbury Commemoration Society and became a member. My quest to commemorate Aphra Behn in the city she was born continues - that is why I am so excited to be part of this amazing project.

Connie Nolan

I have long been interested in historic figures, particularly women who have often been hidden from view, and their impact on our current lives. As a Canterbury city Councillor, I am keen to preserve and develop our local heritage. 

Aphra Behn was an important literary figure; it is a great shame that she is not more celebrated in our historic city. If anyone is asked about the literary connections of Canterbury people talk about Chaucer’s pilgrims, perhaps Kit Marlowe, but rarely mention Aphra Behn. She was a fascinating woman born in Canterbury: an English playwright, poet, novelist and reputed to be a spy. Canterbury should definitely have a memorial to her.

Carolyn Oulton

I’m Professor of Victorian Literature at Canterbury Christ Church University. As the Director of the International Centre for Victorian Women Writers, I know the importance of role models to nineteenth century female novelists. But I’m also project lead for and part of the Creative Writing team - having the first professional woman writer on our doorstep should be a source of pride and inspiration to a new generation of authors.

Euphemia MacTavish

I studied at Edinburgh College of Art and then worked as a Freelance Illustrator in London on various women’s issues in Spare Rib and other magazines.  I was Subject Leader in Printmaking at Maidstone College of Art KIAD, then worked at Canterbury Christ Church University until very recently. I’ve exhibited extensively throughout her life as an artist/printmaker/draughtswoman/painter… sometimes moving into short film and 3D works. 

I am so excited to be able to assist in this wonderful plan to promote Aphra Behn.  She is a woman who inspires freedom of thought and principals, now, in a time when democracy and rights are being eroded, to be able to speak out and be heard.  She is a wonderful example for future generations of girls to claim autonomy over their lives and is a truly worthy example to be honoured in Canterbury, the UK and beyond. 

Richard Andrews

From my school days I have been entwined with drama and theatre, acting, writing, directing and producing. As Director of Kent Youth Theatre over the past 22 years my beliefs and philosophy have been firmly established; that there is an intrinsic power in this world of “play”. The force of playing is highly constructive and irresistible. Being a gifted storyteller is a priceless and, as a world community, we relish and reward them for their gift. Aphra Behn is a gifted storyteller. Her absence, from our theatre and consciousness is tantamount to a "cultural crime”. I think the Aphra Behn project is something quite unique, right, appropriate and long overdue.

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