Knights Of's Aimée Felone has won the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize for her "astonishing contribution" to the industry in just five years in publishing.
The co-founder of publisher Knights Of stood out as "an effective activist for change and creative business woman as well as an inspirational role model", said judges.
Knights Of, which Felone co-founded with David Stevens, has established itself as an inclusive independent publishing house and made headlines for its £50,000 crowdfunding campaign to open Brixton's first permanent inclusive children’s bookshop.
Felone also contributes beyond the walls of the publishing house, sitting on numerous boards and steering groups dedicated to the creation of a more representative workforce. She was honoured at the prize ceremony, with a keynote from Guilty Feminist podcast creator, comedian and author, Deborah Frances-White, at Stationers’ Hall in central London tonight.
Felone said: “I’m grateful to everyone that nominated me for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize, and to everyone that has supported my growth so far. I wholeheartedly believe that it’s our experiences—positive and negative—that make us who we are. There’s nothing I would necessarily go back and redo, I’d just encourage younger Aimée to believe in the power of her voice and let her know that it’s OK to not always have everything planned out.”
She told The Bookseller that she encouraged all women in the sector to make their voices heard: "It might seem difficult at times, but it is possible." Picking up on comments made by "The Guilty Feminist" host Deborah Frances-White at the event, Felone said that women should not feel worried about encroaching on areas dominated by men. "You shouldn't feel like you are invading a space but there to create your own." She added that indie publishers were leading the charge: "There are things that the bigger houses are doing that is making actual space, but the strength lies in the indies and in the indiividuals; we are doing a lot of the work and shouting at the industry but also in the spaces where change isn't happening. We are putting a lot on the line and that is because we are passionate about what we do."
Inspired by Verna Wilkins, author and founder of Tamarind Books, Felone added: “She is a constant source of inspiration for me. She sat with me late last year and offered so many words of wisdom on how to survive and thrive in an industry that can sometimes seem to be more interested in talking about its issues rather than solving them. She was one of the first Black women to take up space in children’s publishing and has surely paved the way for me to even exist and have a voice in it today.”
The judging panel comprised of 2017 winner Alice Curry, Ain Deheb Bensenouci and prize committee members Rukhsana Yasmin, Julia Kingsford and Emma Paterson and co-chaired by Felicity Bryan Associates m.d. Catherine Clarke and Walker Books publisher Denise Johnstone-Burt, said: "Every year the standard of entries for the KSW prize is astonishingly high and 2019 was no exception. The need for change with new business models within our industry was reflected in the many submissions and all the applicants demonstrated dynamism and entrepreneurship as well as continuous striving for greater inclusivity and diversity. Our shortlist is an outstanding group of women and choosing a winner was hotly debated. Aimée Felone stood out as both an effective activist for change and creative business woman as well as an inspirational role model. We applaud her success and look forward to seeing what she does next."
The 2019 shortlist was a hugely competitive list of change-makers featuring The Literary Consultancy director Aki Schilz, OWN IT! co-founder Crystal Mahey-Morgan and Nosy Crow contracts manager Ola Gotkowska alongside 404 Ink co-founders Heather McDaid and Laura Jones.
The prize, founded in 2003 in honour of Kim Scott Walwyn, former publishing director of OUP, recognises the professional achievements and promise of women who have worked in the UK publishing industry for up to seven years.