The Young Inferno

A Lewes Live Lit stage adaptation of the book by poet John Agard with illustrations by Satoshi Kitamura revisiting Dante's Inferno from a teenage perspective.

This family production featured Kitamura's images from the book as a backdrop for a fast-moving romp through the nine circles of hell, with Aesop as the 'fable-full' guide for the young Dante.

A one-off performance

The Young Inferno was performed once only as a special commission for Free Speech, a young people's festival focused on creativity with the word, presented by Lewes Live Lit in 2009. 

Directed by Susannah Waters with performances by Richard David Caine (Dante), Louis Saint-Juste (Aesop), Sophie Roberts (Beatrice), Richard Attlee and Nicky Blackwell (various parts).

First and only performance: Saturday 27 June, 2009

Photo, right: Richard David Caine as Dante and Sophie Roberts as Beatrice »

The writer

Poet and playwright John Agard is a great friend of Lewes Live Literature, having collaborated many times with Artistic Director, Mark Hewitt, on projects and festivals, and in the particular the black and white festival (2005).

A hugely popular performer who is studied on the school GCSE  syllabus, he was origially born in Guyana and moved to England in 1977, where he became a touring lecturer for the Commonwealth Institute, travelling to schools throughout the UK to promote a better understanding of Caribbean culture. In 1993 he was appointed Writer in Residence at the South Bank Centre, London, and became Poet in Residence at the BBC in London as part of a scheme run by the Poetry Society. He also played a key role in the 'Windrush' season of programmes in 1998. He won the Paul Hamlyn Award for Poetry in 1997 and has travelled extensively throughout the world performing his poetry.

His published poetry includes Man to Pan (1982), winner of the Casa de las Américas Prize, Limbo Dancer in Dark Glasses (1983), Mangoes and Bullets: Selected and New Poems 1972-84 (1985) and Weblines (2000. More recent poetry collections include From the Devil’s Pulpit, We Brits (2006), shortlisted for the 2007 British Book Awards Decibel Writer of the Year award and Clever Backbone, published by Bloodaxe at the same time as a new selected poems with accompanying DVD of filmed perfiormances Alternative Anthem. He is also the author of many children's books.

‘John Agard’s poetry is a wonderful affirmation of life, in a language that is as vital and joyous as we are able to craft it in the Caribbean, in spite of our history of distress’ – David Dabydeen

‘His poems are direct and arresting, playful, full of startling imagery, and are hilarious, passionate and erotic as often as they are political – often managing to be all these things at once – Maura Dooley

‘One of the most eloquent contemporary poets…rich in literary and cultural allusion, yet as direct as a voice in the bus queue’ – Helen Dunmore, Observer

Reviews of the book

A funky and powerful book. Agard takes Dante's famous poem about a visit to Hell and reworks it to today's youngsters, mingling 21st Century street cred with ancient mythology. Kitamura's stylised black and white illustrations draw the reader effortlessly in. - Northern Echo

Dante’s Inferno reincarnated in a graphic novel format and retold with the sharpest wit by the brilliant John Agard, this visually intriguing book is a wonderfully accessible way into the classic… This book is every English teacher’s dream and so much more. - Bookseller

John Agard's Young Inferno transposes Date's epic poem into the modern day, as we follow a hoodie-clad protagonist who is guided by Aesop through each of the nine circles of hell. Satoshi Kitamura's lively illustrations draw on a diverse range of influences - from Biblical to cinematic - in this wide reaching and ambitious work. it is an energetic, high impact version of one of the seminal texts in literature. - Bookseller

It's hard to imagine a more ambitious project than a child's version of Dante's Inferno, but thank goodness someone had the vision to commission John Agard to write YOUNG INFERNO and Satoshi Kitamura to illustrate it, because between them - with a nod to Dante, of course - they have created a masterpiece. Guided by Aesop instead of Virgil, we see Frankenstein as a bouncer outside Hell's Second Circle 'frisking souls for scandalous traces' and Einstein in the Third Circle:'How was he to know that his equation/would lead to two cities' devastation?/ All the more reason to cherish reason.' The astute child can look for clues in the illustrations as to who might be 'that smooth duo who caused much blood to flow/between the Tigris and Euphrates'. - Daily Telegraph

The Young Inferno is published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books.

Visit the Frances Lincoln website

The illustrator

Satoshi Kitamura was born in 1956 in Tokyo. He says that when he was young he read comics and admits that these have had a great influence on his style. He says he was also influenced by anything visual from a tin of sardines to the fine art of the East and the West. He was not trained as an artist, but at the age of 19 began to do commercial work. From 1976-1979 he worked as a commercial artist in Japan, working as an illustrator for adverts and magazines. He moved to London in 1979 and worked mainly at designing greeting cards. He started illustrating for Andersen Press in 1981 after he had an exhibition of his work at the Neal Street Gallery in Covent Garden.

Angry Arthur, written by Hiawyn Oram, was published in 1982 to great acclaim. Satoshi Kitamura won the Mother Goose Award, presented annually to the most exciting newcomer to children's book illustration for Angry Arthur in 1983. Angry Arthur also won the Japanese Picture Book Award. UFO Diary was short listed for the Smarties Prize in 1989.

In 1999 Red Fox published the paperback edition of Goldfish Hide and Seek. This hilarious picture book tells the fishy tale of a loveable, eccentric goldfish seeking out his playmate, Heidi. Not content to limit the search to his goldfish bowl - which demonstrates true 'tardis' tendencies - he jumps outside and has a dance with Mr. Cat. Satoshi says of Goldfish Hide and Seek: 'The story is originally from my goldfish trying to commit suicide, jumping out of the fish bowl - I got the idea from that. It's about two fish in a fishbowl that play hide and seek. Although it's no ordinary fishbowl, for some reason there are lots of creatures in it . . .'

Satoshi Kitamura was the overall winner of the National Art Library Illustration Awards in 1999. Satoshi's Me And My Cat? was short listed for the Kurt Maschler Award, and won the Smartest Silver Award in 2000. Red Fox will publish Ned and the Joybaloo in June 2001.

'Kitamura's originality lies in the imaginative use he makes of the cartoonist's art. Deceptively simple, it is at the service of a remarkable sense of design and real gift for narrative.' T.E.S.