Diverse thinking for diverse publishing

The panel discussion ‘’Who Are We and Who Do We Want to Be? The Future of Diversity in Publishing’’ hosted by Porter Anderson (editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives) examined this question at the Frankfurt Book fair 2021. Anderson was joined by Pierre Astier of Astier-Pécher Literary Agency, Ravi Mirchandani of Macmillan/Picador and Juliette Ponce of Éditions Dalva. Each speaker took a different angle in considering the meaning of ‘’diversity’’, such as language, ethnic minorities and gender.

Astier began the discussion highlighting the importance of supporting diversity in languages and discovering new voices with writing in languages other than English. He is watching what is going to happen and says we must preserve these languages. I fervently agree with Astier, particularly having studied and read books in Irish and French and felt how richly these languages contributed to telling stories in their own unique way. Anderson used the term ‘’small languages’’ which I found problematic, particularly when talking about inclusivity as it could suggest these languages are minor or unimportant just because they aren’t spoken by millions. While that wasn’t his intention, I would say ‘’not widely spoken languages’’ is more appropriate. Anderson highlighted how different dialects in Mexican audiobooks was another positive step towards diversity in languages. Identity is closely linked to languages and publishing must reflect this if it wishes to diversify the voices we hear.

Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam (a country without language is a country without a soul)

Pádraig Pearse

The UK has a narrow view of diversity, Mirchandani says, the society believing that it refers to ethnic minorities. He stated that a broader understanding of what diversity means is needed. Mirchandani showed how colonization has diversified the UK, ‘’We’re here because you were there’’. He spoke about how Jewish and Scottish publishers have helped to establish UK publishing as it is today, mentioning MacMillan publishers which was founded by Scottish brothers. This diverse contribution existed in the past and will in the future.

Ponce only publishes women writers on a wide variety of publications. She says the Me Too movement in France highlighted strong feminist texts, although women are still under published, and less reviewed (unless it is a timely book on a topic like abuse). Ponce doesn’t want women to be put in a box, the authors she works with feel grateful for a safe space to work. It didn’t surprise me but did sadden me that in the 21st century women writers may only feel safe with a women’s only publisher.

very creative women who have a lot to say

Julitte Ponce

Anderson ended the talk by asking what needed to happen for the future. Astier said inviting other cultures to join in events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair would help. Mirchandani stated ”both and” not ”either or” would be beneficial and to fight stereotypes of cultures (such as having cherry blossoms on Japanese books, or the Eiffel tower on French books). Ponce agreed that a less stereotyped view of diversity is needed. Personally I am hopeful for further diversity being shown in publishing. The very fact that it is a part of conversations in panels such as this bodes well.