Children's book blogger Fabia Turner has launched a competition for Black children's book writers, to be sponsored by inclusive indie publisher Knights Of.
Turner — a teacher, educational books editor and founder of Black Children's book review blog Candid Cocoa — has founded the Jericho Prize, with the aim of showcasing the work of unpublished or self-published Black British children's writers.
Submissions are open from from 9 a.m. on 2nd August to noon on 2nd September and manuscripts must fall into two categories: either a picture book for children aged 4+, totalling no more than 800 words, or a short chapter book for the seven to nine age range, between 10,000–15,000 words. All manuscripts must feature a Black or mixed-Black main character.
The winner of each category will receive £500 cash, funded by Knights Of, as well as editorial consultancy with Anna McQuinn from Alanna Max, or Carla Hutchinson from Piccadilly Press and Hot Key Books, and design consultancy with author-illustrator Ken Wilson-Max.
Turner said: "I want people to feel more connected to the publishing industry... so that they can feel this is something for them. As a Black person having worked in publishing, there have been times when I've felt on the outside. I want Black writers to feel this is an accessible industry, that this is something they can get involved with at any level."
If the book is published, the winner will also receive a listing with inclusive-led independent bookshop Round Table Books, in its physical and online stores, and a book review published on Candid Cocoa, in addition to six months' promotion on Candid Cocoa's social media.
Knights Of is to fund the inaugural competition prize money, while Arts Council England is supporting the administrative costs.The project is also supported by Penguin Random House Children’s, Storymix and the Youth Libraries Group.
Speaking to The Bookseller, Turner described how the inspiration for the prize came from both a political and personal place, as well as the reality of the publishing industry. Turner's son is English-Jamaican and ensuring he was comfortable with his ethnic identity was part of the main driving force behind the prize.
"Obviously what happened last year around George Floyd's death had an impact on me as a Black woman. My main driver was more personal though, I was really worried about the breadth of the literature [my son] was bringing home from school," she said.
"Even though we're in 2021, it felt heavily white-centric and eurocentric, the things he was reading. It feels like a step backwards in terms of diverse literature on the curriculum, particularly in terms of the books teachers are using."
Citing the recent CLPE report, that showed that only 7% of the children’s books published in the UK over the past three years featured characters of colour, Turner said: "I want to do something to help change that, and to make sure my son, growing up in this country had exposure to multicultural and multi-ethnic reading experiences.
"We need to do a lot more in terms of recognising Black people in society and recognising them as people worthy of being noticed and celebrated in books and respected. That's really important for primary children because they're so impressionable in their formative years. They need to be exposed to books that celebrate Black protagonists and Black life experiences. The latest report confirmed for me that although there had been progress in general ethnic representation in books published in the UK, there was still a lot of work to be done."
Turner is an active member of the Critics of Colour collective, an organisation for people of colour which aims to make writing about theatre, dance and opera more accessible. She decided to repurpose her arts blog to analyse Black children's books to encourage teachers to use them in the classroom, and reviews books with links to the Early Years Foundation and Primary National Curriculum.
"I think part of the reason why Black children's books aren't used in primary school is a lack of confidence. This lack of exposure isn't just something that affected my son, it's a wider issue — a universal issue really," she said.
Addressing the competition's target audience, Turner commented: "I want to get the message across that the resources on the website are accessible for all writers — they're there for everybody who is a new writer. I don't believe in the idea of pigeon-holing writers, the competition is not about finding Black writers who only write Black childrens books. It's just that at the moment, we don't have enough children's books featuring Black characters, and at the same time we don't have enough Black children's writers. We do have amazing people such as Patrice Lawrence, Malorie Blackman, Catherine Johnson. But that's not enough. I feel the competition will enable us to find that talent that's out there. At this moment, it makes sense to put those two elements together. It's important for Black writers to have first dibs on those types of books."
Commenting on the prize's future, Turner added: "I'd love the prize to continue, Knights Of have been so generous in funding the cash prize, and we do have support from ACE for the adminstrative side. I do hope that relationship will continue."
Knights Of publisher and co-founder Aimée Felone said: "Fabia got in touch to talk about the prize she was setting up, for Black British writers specifically just to give them a space to present their stories, to get them out there, but she did also put an emphasis on the fact they were deseving of a cash prize as well. That is something, in this industry, that is often spoken about — the monetary side of things. We were really keen to support, in terms of publishing, but also monetarily as well. Money goes a long way."
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