Growing up in the West Midlands, I turned my back on reading books and even visiting libraries for many years. When I start to think back to why this was happening, I realised that not seeing Asian representation within publishing and at libraries was a key factor.
The creation of DESIblitz, the UK’s largest online British Asian magazine, was my first attempt at trying to achieve more diverse representation within online writing and journalism - with newsrooms in the UK having only 0.2% from BAME backgrounds. In order for the UK publishing industry or any industry to thrive, it must reflect the diverse cultures and experiences of the people and society in which it is present, and this is certainly not the case within the UK’s publishing sector.
My first venture into literature events began with the production of a specific British Asian Literature strand for the Birmingham Literature Festival in 2017. At DESIblitz we then went on to produce a high quality independent literature festival every year since, with funding from Arts Council England. Thanks to Covid, last year’s festival was online-only; this year, we’re planning a hybrid event featuring conversations, panels and workshops from the likes of Sathnam Sanghera, Nikesh Shukla, Preethi Nair and Bali Rai.
The communities that engage with our festival are crying out to see more Asians talking about their experiences from real, lived perspectives and not watered-down versions that publishers think will sell better. This is a huge missing piece that is still prevalent at literature festivals around the country. It is essential we create opportunities for new voices to enter the industry that have not been changed to portray a particular view of their culture or distorted by the publishing process, to ensure we continue to have authentic representation at all levels.
Why do we struggle to get hold of Asian representatives who work within larger publishers in the UK to speak at our festivals? We all know that representation in race and sex is hugely important to attract talent and as the UK gets more and more ethnically diverse, the publishing industry needs to start thinking about what audiences for festivals and book sales will look like over the next 20-30 years if they are to remain relevant. A considerable amount of work still needs to be done by the publishing industry to ensure that Asians are being recruited at all levels. We are helping to bring Asians into the industry at the grassroots level, but if they not being supported further up the chain by the larger publishers then our work will not be as fruitful as it should be.
The sector is fragmented and many Asians who are looking to enter the publishing industry do not have relevant contacts or knowledge about how to get into the publishing sector. Therefore we have designed the DESIblitz Literature Festival so that it includes workshops for in depth learning/questioning and networking opportunities to help create new connections for emerging talent.
The festival aims to engage young British South Asians with literature and creative writing (since typically South Asian parents do not push their kids into Arts & Humanities), to open doors for British South Asian writers to be specifically recognised within their own communities and beyond, and to provide a chance to see and hear stories of struggles, challenges and success from established authors. The festival is unique in the sense that no other UK Asian platform is pushing this agenda of arts and culture, encouraging people to read books and stories they may never have heard about.
We are trying to remove as many barriers to entry as possible and we feel that small steps in the right direction will get us there in time but we welcome the support of the sector to ensure that our progress is supported further up the chain!
British people from Asians backgrounds need to see and hear people who look like them and who come from similar backgrounds at publishing industry-led events and festivals. It’s not just essential for the wellbeing and flourishing of our communities. It’s essential for the future of the book trade too.
Indi Deol is the founder and director of both the DesiBlitz Literature Festival and DesiBlitz.com the UK’s leading online magazine for British South Asians. Free tickets to the DesiBlitz Literature Festival are available here: https://www.desiblitz.com/arts/events/
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