Mslexia removes Shriver as judge over 'alienating' comments on diversity

Mslexia removes Shriver as judge over 'alienating' comments on diversity

Women’s writing magazine Mslexia has removed Lionel Shriver as a competition judge following the author’s controversial statements on diversity in publishing.

Shriver was set to judge Mslexia’s £5,000 Short Story Competition later this year, but after the publication of a widely-criticised opinion piece for the Spectator last week - today also condemned in an open letter by writers on PRH's WriteNow mentorship programme - the "difficult decision" was made to axe her from the role.

Debbie Taylor, founder and editorial director of the not-for-profit organisation, explained Shriver's recent comments were "not consistent with Mslexia’s ethos and mission" and risked alienating the women it is trying to support.

"Since our launch in 1999, Mslexia’s raison d’être has been to provide a safe space for all women writers –­ whatever their circumstances – to develop their craft. We actively encourage submissions from marginalised writers and frequently draw attention to the issues they (we) face," said Taylor. 

"Although we welcome open debate, Shriver’s recent comments are not consistent with Mslexia’s ethos and mission, and alienate the very women we are trying to support. We have therefore made the difficult decision to replace her as our judge."

In the piece, entitled "When diversity meets uniformity", Shriver took issue with Penguin Random House’s voluntary inclusion tracker. Through measuring the diversity of its authors and staff, it hopes to work towards "reflecting UK society" by 2025 - the end-goal being to publish a broader ranger of voices. Weldon called it "an ambition, not a quota" and emphasised "this is not just a moral imperative but a commercial opportunity, enabling us to reach new and different readers".

Shriver had questioned whether such an initiative could jeopardise "literary excellence". She wrote in the Spectator: "From now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes. We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling."

Following the strong reaction to her article, Shriver has stood by her views. She told the Guardian: "I am not anti-diversity, and I have no problem with the programme that PRH runs to encourage the development of a broader range of voices. But statistical targets perfectly mirroring the UK population in race, gender, class, ethnicity and disability are quite another matter."

She added: "The US has had much more experience with affirmative action [positive discrimination] than the UK, and the policy has had unfortunate consequences. Even the US has moved consistently away from numerical diversity targets."

A new judge will now take Shriver's place for the short story competition, which is part of the magazine's wider Women’s Fiction Awards. The magazine has a shortlist of potential candidates and will be announcing Shriver’s replacement in the coming weeks, ahead of the competition’s 1st October deadline.