CILIP has responded to criticism about the diversity of its Carnegie Medal longlist - which features no BAME authors - saying that while it "acknowledges and respects the concerns expressed", the longlisted books were "judged on merit and on an equal playing field".
The 20-strong longlist, which was announced this morning (16th February), included big name authors such as Mal Peet, Meg Rosoff and Horatio Clare, but has been criticised for not including a single black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) writer.
Sunny Singh, co-founder of the Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, said that the absence of BAME writers from the longlist was a “deliberate snub” from the prize’s organisers, while Wei Ming Kam, sales and marketing assistant at Oberon Books and co-founder of the BAME in Publishing group, told The Bookseller that the lack of diversity was “appalling”.
“I think it's appalling given the incredible quality of the few books by writers of colour in children's literature this year: Orange Boy by Patrice Lawrence (Hodder), Alex Wheatle's Crongton Knights (Atom), The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House), Polly Ho Yen's Where Monsters Lie (Corgi) - any of these (and others) should be on that longlist," she said. "They are all wonderful and deserve recognition."
Kam added: “The books you read as a child stay with you for life, so it is obvious that a lack of diverse books for children adversely affects kids who don't see themselves reflected on a regular basis. The importance of knowing that someone like you wrote a book you loved cannot be overstated."
“This is basic stuff, and I'm so, so tired of needing to say it all the time", she said. "We need to engage and empower more writers of colour to submit to agents and publishers, but we also need to push and give recognition to those who get published - what is the point if they aren't supported?”
Crystal Mahey-Morgan, founder of storytelling brand OWN IT!, said it is "hugely problematic" that the Carnegie prize has not been won by a BAME author in its 82 year history.
"Are we really expected to believe that there was not a single book written by a BAME author that deserved to win on merit in 82 years? This isn't about wanting tokenism, it's about wanting an ACTUAL equal playing field. It is because of a lack of meritocracy that we continue to see unrepresentative longlists. What this is saying is that for the last 82 years all the best children's books have only come from white writers alone. This is simply not true", she said.
The longlist has also provoked outrage on social media. Author and poet Alex Wheatle tweeted: "No BAME writer on Carnegie longlist in a year where writers of colour have produced outstanding work. Appalling!"
Nikesh Shukla, author and co-founder of the Jhalak Prize, said: "Congrats and all but kids need diverse books."
Meanwhile, Miriam Khan, publicity assistant at Usborne Publishing, tweeted that she was "deeply disappointed" in the longlist.
Nick Poole, c.e.o. of CILIP, the librarians' body which administers the awards, said the organisation "acknowledged and respected" the concerns expressed over BAME authors not being represented in the longlist for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal.
"The longlist, shortlist and winners are selected by youth librarians who work with children and young people every day in schools and communities," he said. "As members of the library and information profession, they have made a commitment to our professional Ethical Principles, the first of which is 'concern for the public good in all professional matters, including respect for diversity within society, and the promoting of equal opportunities and human rights'. These principles guide all of our work on behalf of readers and library users."
He added: "The books on the longlist are judged on merit and on an equal playing field. This year's longlist represents, in the opinion of the judges, the very best books of the year, with no consideration of gender or ethnicity of either the writer, illustrator or audience. The broad subject matter of this year's longlist - stories about refugees, disability and migration - illustrates the breadth of range that the Medals are known for."
Last year, World Book Day reiterated its commitment to promoting a “diverse range of authors” after criticisms about the lack of writers of colour in its 2017 selection. Similarly, World Book Night responded to criticism about the lack of ethnic diversity among authors chosen for its 2016 list, saying it is a “great shame” that there were no BAME writers included.
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