Stripes Publishing on championing change in YA

Stripes Publishing on championing change in YA

Stripes Publishing, an imprint of the Little Tiger Group, has just published A Change is Gonna Come, an anthology of YA short stories about change by authors from BAME backgrounds, in response to the lack of diversity in publishing. Ruth Bennett, commissioning editor at Stripes, and editorial mentee Aa’Ishah Z Hawton, who shadowed Bennett during the editorial process, share their experiences of working on it.

Can you sum up A Change Is Gonna Come in one sentence?

RB: It’s a YA anthology featuring brand-new work from BAME writers – there’s poetry and prose, a range of different genres and styles, and above all it’s a great read!

AZH: I’d like to steal the title of Catherine Johnson’s story in the anthology and say that the book represents astounding talent and unequalled performances! It’s a timely and crucial book that showcases the best of YA.

Why did you think it was important to publish A Change Is Gonna Come?

RB: Publishing is a notoriously slow-moving industry and there’s been much talk of the lack of diversity both in the workforce and in the books we publish. There are some great initiatives working to address this, but we didn’t feel there was enough change happening that was visible to readers, book buyers and – crucially for us – teenagers. The books you read when you’re young stay with you for life and we wanted to produce something that could have a real impact on teens right now, rather than accepting that things would be better for teens in two, five or 10 years time.

Why did you put out an open call for submissions for the anthology from unpublished writers?

RB: There are many great writers of colour who have overcome obstacles to become published and they don’t always get the attention and recognition they deserve. However, we knew that there are many more talented writers out there, struggling to get that vital first break in their writing career. We wanted to provide an opportunity for these writers to have their work read and their talents recognised.

How did the established authors in the collection get involved?

RB: We approached authors we wanted to feature in the collection and, in the case of the brilliant eight writers included, we were fortunate that their schedules allowed them to contribute in the timeframe we had for the anthology! Writing a story from scratch, in response to a theme, is no small task. We’re delighted that these writers were as passionate about the project as we were, and were able to comply, producing such high-quality and thought-provoking work.

Did anything about the submitted stories surprise you?

RB: I was delighted by the number of submissions we received and by the quality. I wouldn’t say this was exactly a surprise, as it was exactly what I was hoping for.

AZH: I was actually the first person to go through and read all of them. It made for a lot of reading, but I’m so pleased we got as many submissions as we did. It was interesting to see overlaps of topic within the broader theme of change, even as writing style and genre differed.

Do any of the stories particularly stand out for you?

RB: An impossible question to answer! Thinking about the anthology as a whole, the four stories chosen through the open-submission process stand out to me precisely because they don’t stand out. Interspersed with the stories by established authors, I defy anyone to be able to identify which they are. 

AZH: They’re all wonderful, but I read “Fortune Favours the Bold” and saw myself reflected back in certain elements. The way Yasmin Rahman explores anxiety and tackles racism and embraces female relationships all combine to make a tremendously powerful story. In “Marionette Girl”, Aisha Bushby presents an extraordinary and feeling depiction of what it can be like to have OCD (without forgetting the mandatory Harry Potter references). Tanya Byrne’s writing is exquisite; one can’t help falling in love with Esther and the romance itself. Irfan Master’s story easily wins over the sci-fi geek in me, and he writes with his usual heart.

What did you learn from publishing the anthology?

RB: So many things. To name just two: in the hands of writers like these, the future is bright; and, if you have an idea for how to make a change, act on it – find people with the same hopes and dreams you have and build something together.

AZH: What I’ve seen from this process is just how many writers of colour are out there trying to make it – and how many readers are inspired when they read A Change Is Gonna Come. This isn’t surprising – you only have to be a person of colour, or belong to a marginalised group, or be engaged in the ongoing discussion to understand how important this book is.

Aa’Ishah Hawton and Ruth Bennett

Ruth, why did Stripes involve Aa’Ishah in the project?

RB: Improving diversity in the publishing industry isn’t just about the books we produce; it’s about the workforce, too. We wanted to offer a flexible and in-depth placement, allowing a talented future editor to get real experience of the book-publishing process, working in a way that would suit their circumstances. Aa’Ishah’s perspective on, and her input into, the development of the project has been invaluable.

Aa’Ishah, how did you find the process of working on this book? Why did you want to work on it and what did you learn from it?

AZH: I knew I wanted to work on the anthology the moment I saw the announcement in The Bookseller. As someone trying to break into the publishing industry, this was obviously important in terms of gaining experience; how often do you get the chance to do some in-depth editorial work and see a book to its end? Crucially, however, it was also the chance to work on a book that represents an active step towards making this industry more inclusive at every level. Seeing everything come together to form a physical book that people are now reading has been incredible. The first few months or so in particular were quite hectic as I had to edit manuscripts to quite short deadlines and then also read the submissions (especially as I was fitting this around other placements). It’s been a really useful experience in terms of understanding more broadly how a book evolves, as well as actually working closely with each story. Ruth has been great at keeping me in the loop during the quiet times as well.

Working on this book has taught me first-hand the joy of working on superb stories and of sharing them, and the difference that I hope I can continue to make, with readers.

What has the feedback been so far?

RB: We’ve had an overwhelming amount of support from within the industry during the process of creating the anthology and some fantastic early reviews. Most importantly, though, is the feedback still to come – that of the teens we hope the book will inspire!

AZH: Working on the book was emotional for me – reading something in an editorial capacity and thinking, It’s me. To then see the book go out to early readers who feel the same and who say, “wait – maybe I can write, too” has been amazing.

Little Tiger Group’s brand director Lauren Ace and publicity and marketing executive Charlie Morris will be talking about their approach to PR and marketing for A Change is Gonna Come at The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference 2017. Writer and teacher Darren Chetty, who wrote the foreword, will also be speaking about the thinking behind the book. For more information on the conference click here.