Publishers, agents and authors continue to respond to Black Lives Matter protests

Publishers, agents and authors continue to respond to Black Lives Matter protests

Publishers and authors have continued to share reading lists and offers of support following the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But some have been called out for failing to take the situation more seriously sooner and for not doing more to find or promote diverse talent.

As The Bookseller reported this week, initiatives have already included a £20,000 donation by Hachette UK, split between the United Families and Friends Campaign and the Inclusive Indies Fund, and author Reni Eddo-Lodge pledging money to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

But there has also been criticism about the trade's apparent sudden conversion: the agent and Curtis Brown chair Jonny Geller issued an apology after a Tweet he put up, saying, "There will now be a desire to read new voices and listen to the unheard and buy the books by those who - up to now - have been ignored by the mainstream", was hit upon. Eddo-Lodge responded: "Aren't you a literary agent? It's literally your job to find the voices." Aitken Alexander agent Emma Paterson tweeted: "Unheard by whom, Jonny, and are you able to define ‘mainstream’?"

Geller later wrote: "I'm sorry I caused offence. This is a time to listen & to act. We will do more."

Headline commissioning editor Katie Packer stated: "To agents/editors popping up now to ask black authors to send submissions to them - where was this energy before? what are your motives for doing this now? is your new-found desire to be representative matched by a desire to do intense anti-racism work? think about it."

Meanwhile over the past few days, publishers and writers have been posting reading lists on social media of books by BAME authors.

Faber & Faber tweeted a list of books, writing: "In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement we've pulled together a range of important books to help educate on racism and white privilege and what you can do to help enact change." Titles on the list included Wesley Lowery's story of the BLM movement They Can't Kill Us All (Penguin).

In a video posted on Twitter, Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo chose Forced Out by Kevin Maxwell (Granta), the former detective's exposé of prejudice in the police force. She wrote: “It's fascinating to see so many lists of essential reads by black British writers circulating, inspired by Black Lives Matter. Forced Out published in May 2020, really needs to be on them. Let's get our own house in order, my fellow Brits.”

THRIVE, Hachette UK's BAME employee network, issued a statement to say it "stands against racism and discrimination in all forms" and "will always strive to be a voice for equality and inclusivity. Books have the power to educate," it said. "They have the power to build empathy for experiences that may be different to our own. They gave the power to inspire change. Now and always, black lives matter. So we will continue to use our platform to support, celebrate and elevate black authors and books."

It also shared a picture of a number of books published by the company from authors including Colson Whitehead, Andrea Levy and Nelson Mandela.

Agency Aitken Alexander posted its own list, writing: "We’ve put together a list of anti-racist reading, including authors we represent and those we don’t. Please feel free to make suggestions. We are committed to amplifying the voices of black writers everywhere."

Over at Kirkus Reviews a list of antiracist books for young adults has been compiled, featuring Kim Johnson's This is My America (Bantam Dell) among others. Meanwhile charity WorldReader has also put together a list of “essential storybooks on race and inclusivity” for children, including Skin We Are In By Sindiwe Magona and Nina G Jablonski (David Philip).

Author and agent Nikesh Shukla has also offered free mentoring to a black author working on their debut novel. Asking people to contact him on Twitter, he wrote: "If you're a black writer in UK working on your first novel and would like an hour of free mentoring over Zoom, I'd love to offer my time over the next month."

Writer Stacey Hallls has also made an offer of advice for people who want to know more about writing and getting published while Harper Voyager commissioning editor Natasha Bardon has offered to look at the first 20,000 words of unagented BAME authors' work and talk through their publishing questions.

Meanwhile, independent publisher Broken Sleep has raised over £3,500 for Black Lives Matter. A statement on the press' website said: "Black Lives Matter is working for a world where black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise." Donators will be entered into a draw to win a free year's subscription to Broken Sleep Books. Book bundles from Bloodaxe by authors and poets including Imtiaz Dharker, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Agard and Grace Nichols are also featured as prizes in the draw.

And 4th Estate has made Superior by Angela Saini available as a free audiobook "as part of our commitment against racism, and to help facilitate ongoing conversations".  

Elsehwere, a post on “non-optical allyship” by Square Peg editor Mireille Cassandra Harper got so much interaction online that it has been published by British Vogue. Harper is donating her writer's fee to the fund for Belly Mujinga, a Victoria station worker who died from coronavirus after being spat at.