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Juliet Gilkes Romero

Reading Round Lector
Lewisham, London
Juliet Gilkes Romero
Image credit: Paul Tschornow

I am a stage/screen writer of Caribbean heritage, born in east London and raised in Suffolk. It sounds like a cliché but I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My parents (from Trinidad and Barbados) realised this too and encouraged my love of books, language, and theatre. For 2022–23 I became the writer-in-residence at the National Theatre attached to the New Work department. Even though my dad is no longer with us, I know he would be extremely proud. How did I get here? Curiosity, creative resilience, and perhaps a touch of madness.

My fascination with the power of language began at Brighton University where I studied Applied Language. Sociolinguistics was a major part of the degree and deals with how we speak differently and use language to convey aspects of identity, class, and gender. Sociolinguistics teaches us about real-life attitudes and how they impact the way we live. This led me to a career in news and current affairs. As a BBC reporter/producer I worked in countries including Ethiopia, Cuba, and Haiti. Through the latter, I was able to follow in the footsteps of novelist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston.

The gathering and relentless cycle of ‘breaking news’ sharpened my curiosity about politics, democracy, and the contentious battle between ‘truth’ and ‘alternative facts’. But somewhat exhausted by the advent of 24-hour news, I decided to take a break to pursue an MA in Writing for Performance at Goldsmiths College, London University. It felt like liberation. But in order to progress, I had to
unlearn strict newsroom editing skills and ‘re-trust’ my raw, narrative instinct. That initially was hard to do. I had to accept that a first draft could never be ‘broadcast’-perfect, and I remember feeling very nervous about sharing my efforts.

I learned the most dissecting text with actors and was speechless the first time I saw one of my play drafts read. Since then my plays have included The Gift, a retelling of Medea filmed for Jermyn Street Theatre’s 15 Heroines, The Whip (Alfred Fagon award 2020) staged at the RSC’s Swan Theatre, and At the Gates of Gaza, winner of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Best Play award 2009.

My writing career remains rewarding and challenging in equal measure. Self-doubt powered by the vagaries of rejection strike when least expected. Financial security is not guaranteed, and I have made mistakes. But I am the writer I am today because of testing experiences, and I am grateful for that.
Journalism taught me to listen, to be open to anything and everything. It’s made me passionate about the telling of the human experience and in that regard journalism and theatre are very similar.

I tell everyone, whether budding novelists or playwrights, that the enemy to creativity is self-doubt and to be creatively resilient. I think many dynamic and diverse new writers will emerge as a result of this cost-of-living crisis and past pandemic. I very much look forward to what they have to say.


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