Lantana Publishing’s evolution has been remarkable—and rapid. Founder Alice Curry explains to Tom Tivnan why the list has refused to compromise on its inclusive ethos.
Can you tell us how and why you set up Lantana and how it has gone in the first couple of years?
I founded Lantana in August 2014 with higher hopes than budgets... I soon learnt that passion and good friends are key to (sanity in) this industry and I look back on those early months when I was building a team and learning the ropes with fondness.
A major milestone last year helped us on our way. The first book I signed—Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini’s Chicken in the Kitchen—won a Children’s Africana Best Book Award, was chosen for the international White Ravens honour list and was also nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. This boosted our confidence and our reach, and we’ve been astonished and gratified by the support and encouragement we’ve received as a result.
You are a relative newbie to publishing, having come into it from academia. Do you think that can give a fresh perspective on the industry?
I’ve always been drawn to the space between publishing and academia—that primarily unexplored gap between production and analysis—and I think that a creative and insightful dialogue could and should take place between these two disciplines. My unusual route into the industry has enabled me to approach publishing with few preconceptions (and a blissful—possibly wilful—failure to be put off by its many challenges), and has resulted instead in what I consider our strongest asset: a cardinal rule to live by our principles and never compromise the integrity of the text.
I find it interesting that you view diversity as an opportunity—not that it is just something that’s “good” to do, but that there is a business case for publishing diverse voices.
The UK has a rising minority-ethnic population and the publishing industry as a whole operates increasingly on a global level. With the BAME population in the UK estimated to have a purchasing power of around £300bn, I really can’t understand why publishers aren’t falling over themselves to publish content that really speaks to this demographic.
The publishing industry has historically been resistant to change and our current political and economic climate isn’t entirely conducive to taking “risks”. But I, for one, consider publishing books that are diverse and inclusive in content and production not only an ethical imperative but also a sound business model.
And do you think the diversity in publishing climate is improving?
It’s definitely encouraging to see that there have been some significant improvements. The Writing the Future report, commissioned by Spread the Word in 2015, helped lay the foundations for change.
The Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour; the Bare Lit Festival [an annual event that promotes the writing of people of colour]; the writer-development scheme Megaphone; the publisher-awareness sessions organised by Inclusive Minds; and steps taken by the larger houses to incorporate more diversity into their infrastructure have all had, and continue to have, an impact.
But I do think that small, independent publishers that can embrace change quickly and bravely, as well as forward-thinking, not-for-profit organisations such as Media Diversified and Creative Access, will be at the forefront of real change going forward.
Alice Curry will be speaking at The Bookseller's Children's Conference 2017 with children’s author and illustrator Nadine Kadaan about publishing books for today's audiences. For more information on the conference click here.