“Building Inclusivity” (take two)

C686ijaWcAEJta6.jpg-large It has been a month since the London Book Fair. Three days full of the publishing industry, with international publishers and international speakers. The event gave me a chance to get information for upcoming assignments and encouraged me to gain inspiration for my pre-thought up dissertation topic.

One talk that I attended that I found especially interesting was the Diversity in Bookshops talk that took place on the Wednesday morning. Strangely, the evening before I had taken a trip to Waterstones to buy and start reading The Good Immigrant, an anthology published by Unbound in 2016. By chance the editor, Nikesh Shuklah, was a speaker at this talk. The night before I hadn’t been able to put the book down so I was very happy when I attended this event to find he was speaking.

A current issue in the publishing industry is the lack of diversity, something that is hopefully changing. November 2016 brought the first Building Inclusivity Conference by The Publishers Association, where speakers from publishers such as Penguin Random House and Barrington Stoke spoke about what is needed for change. Linking to this conference was the introduction of the new Inclusivity in Publishing Award, also introduced by The Publishers Association, to encourage more publishers to promote inclusivity and change as ‘publishers are at the heart of driving change’ (Stephen Lotinga, The Publishers Association CEO).

14% of the UK population is Black, Asian or minority ethnic, 40% of London yet only 2% of the publishing industry. These statistics make it quite clear that the British society is not reflected in the publishing ecosystem. Diversity is important as it provides a celebration of otherness, a celebration of what makes us different and of what makes us the same. Additionally, although women dominate the industry, it is interesting to note that the chief executives, the bosses and high up members of the industry, are in fact men.

The lack of diversity in the publishing industry reflects on the lack of diverse literature that is put out to bookshops. If you want humans to feel unrepresented then don’t give them a reflection of themselves (Nikesh Shuklah, LBF 2017). In order to change the lack of diversity in the publishing industry – arguably due to the middle class, white, male dominance of the industry – publishers such as Penguin have introduced new programmes to encourage and support writers from under-represented communities. Write Now is a scheme that aims to ‘find, mentor and publisher new writers with different stories to tell’ regardless of the demographic or racial background. The publishers want to publish all representations of the British community, from the middle class highly represented to the under-represented community – all of which make up the UK society. It aims to provide representation for all humans, to give them a reflection of themselves. 10 writers are selected from these events to take part in a year-long mentoring programme, working alongside Penguin in order to give opportunities of support, to encourage new literature.

Community should be reflected in a realistic cultural level, to be able to read about disabilities, traditional and non-traditional families. If they are constantly “othered” or not there, then they will feel marginalised. The Good Immigrant provided a platform for coloured writers, to give reflection for those who are not reflected in British publications. I enjoyed reading this text as I was able to relate to some of the experiences of the BAME writers, being a mixed ‘British-Pakistani’ individual, such as relatable stereotypes and misunderstandings within the society.

The crowdfunded publication’s success was shown as it went on to win The Reader’s Choice Award. The success of publications such as The Good Immigrant and Nasty Women, by 404INK, shows that there is a place in the publishing world for new, under-represented voices. People want to be see a reflection of themselves in what they read. Building inclusivity in the publishing industry is forever necessary, especially in a multicultural Britain.

 Anyway, if you don’t like someone’s story, you write your own’ (Chinua Achebe).

 In 1997, writers of colour were gaining recognition. The time provided hope for the build of inclusivity in the British publishing industry, realising it was out of touch with the multicultural society. It provided hope for new literature and new voices. 2017, and again the industry is pushing the concept of building inclusivity. It is important to try to understand what went wrong twenty years ago, why the British publishing industry are again having to strive for inclusivity, and hopefully this time inclusivity will be met.

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Author: fkhan38

MSc Publishing student at Edinburgh Napier. Intern to Scottish author, Sara Sheridan. A keen reader and runner - with more effort being applied to the latter...

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