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E


very few years there is an urgent need for a new report on what has been a huge absence of the voices of people in colour in literature as practitioners, publishers and festival curators. Commensurately,


there are those who disagree that there is an absence, and point to a few famous names as testament to the fact that there is no problem. But those few famous names only serve to mask the paucit of our numbers in the industry. Past reports on this very issue include In Full Colour (2004), Free Verse (2005), initiated by myself, which took on the poetry sector, followed by Writing the Future (2015) and Freed Verse (2017). Rethinking ‘Diversit’ in Publishing arrives as another clarion


call to an industry which, with all the apparent goodwill in the world, hasn’t changed fast enough to become more inclusive. It’s frustrating to read in its pages that the publishing industry is still run by the predominantly white, middle-class demographic of years ago, and that the perceived target reader is a middle- aged, middle-class white woman, who apparently does not have the imagination to want to engage with writing by people of colour, which is plainly untrue. There is also the misguided belief—still, in the 21st century—that black and Asian people are not considered to be a substantial readership, or to even be readers. All of this is ridiculous. But wait, it gets worse. Unfortunately, for too many in the industry, books by writers of colour are still considered niche rather than having universal appeal, even when there are so many exceptions to prove otherwise. I was told that my 2013 novel, Mr Loverman, was negatively considered by some in the industry as triple niche because it was about an older, gay, black man. What were they saying? That whiteness reigns supreme, heteronormativit is acceptable, and old people begone from the pages of our books because you are of litle importance? The truth is that good literature about anything can be enjoyed by all kinds of people. Literature transcends all perceived differences and barriers. It’s partly the point of it.


I’ve been working professionally in the arts as a writer since the arid early ’80s, when our books had not yet come into existence. There have been several developments since then to improve our representation in the industry. Some have been publisher-led; many more activist-driven. There have been progressive results, so it’s not all doom and gloom. In the past few years British writers of colour have forayed into the world of non-fiction with staggering success, publishing an array of titles around culture, gender, race, identit, class. Yet how many novels by black British male writers were published last year? I can think of one. How many black British women? I can think of eight. These figures are appalling, and show us how much further we have to go to be integrated into British publishing. Because I’m a believer in the mantra, “for the many, not the few”, I believe that my recent success winning the Booker Prize will only be truly meaningful if it opens doors for other writers of colour to break through, especially those who are forging their own creative paths and not seeking to replicate what already exists.


I hope that those who need to read this report pay atention


to its recommendations on measuring diversit, target audiences, notions of qualit, hiring practices and partnerships for change. I look forward to a time when these reports are no longer necessary because the publishing industry reflects our societ at large and is truly egalitarian with its staffing at every level, especially senior positions, and with a fully diverse and inclusive roster of authors.


Then, and only then, can we say we’ve arrived.


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