Kureishi defends PRH's diversity goal as 'wise and brave'

Kureishi defends PRH's diversity goal as 'wise and brave'

Hanif Kureishi has hailed Penguin Random House's (PRH) diversity initiatives as "wise and brave".

Following the furore over Lionel Shriver's opinion piece in the Spectator about PRH's goal to "reflect UK society by 2025", Kureishi wrote in the Guardian that the debate had "awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears".

"The furore over Penguin’s wise and brave decision to 'reflect the diversity of British society' in its publishing and hiring output seems to have awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears. They appear to believe that what is called ‘diversity’ or ‘positive discrimination’ will lead to a dilution of their culture. Their stupidity and the sound of their pathetic whining would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for Britain. You might even want to call it a form of self-loathing; it is certainly unpatriotic and lacking in generosity," he said.

In her widely-criticised article for the Spectator two weeks ago, Shriver branded PRH "drunk on virtue" in response to its bid to measure and improve diversity at the publishing house and questionned whether "literary excellence" could become "secondary" in the pursuit of its inclusivity targets. 

Kureishi argued in his piece that "fear of other voices" stems not from concerns over a publisher's quality control but anxiety over quite the reverse. 

"The truth is, the conservative fear of other voices is not due to the anxiety that artists from outside the mainstream will be untalented, filling up galleries and bookshops with sludge, but that they will be outstanding and brilliant," he said. "The conservatives will have to swallow the fact that despite the success of British artists, real talent has been neglected and discouraged by those who dominate the culture, deliberately keeping schools, the media, universities and the cultural world closed to interesting people.

"It is good news that the master race is becoming anxious about whom they might have to hear from. At this terrible Brexit moment, with its retreat into panic and nationalism, and with the same thing happening across Europe, it is time for all artists to speak up, particularly those whose voices have been neglected."

After being dropped as a competition judge by Mslexia, Shriver has subsequently said her statements have been taken out of context and clarified she believed diversity was "a laudable goal ... but it shouldn’t be the primary goal if your company is meant to be doing something else". She has said further, following an open letter from the first cohort of PRH's WriteNow programme, that she "applauded" the scheme.