Publishers need to be braver on diversity

Publishers need to be braver on diversity

Publishers should “be braver, be too brave” when it comes to taking on new writing if they want to become more diverse, poet and writer Salena Godden told the Stoke Newington Literary Festival.

Godden was joined on yesterday’s (7th June) panel, focussing on diversity in the industry, by writer Courttia Newland, children’s publisher Sarah Odedina, and Crystal Mahey-Morgan, from Zed Books.

Godden said publishers needed to “think about the fact that you’re making books for the next 100 years, not just for now”.

Odedina, children’s publisher at Oneworld, said she thought “publishing consistently underestimates its audiences", and that publishers needed to understand there was an audience for more diverse content.

Newland, who said he was tired of only being asked to speak on panels concerning diversity and that writers of diverse backgrounds should be integrated into other events, said publishing often saw writers from diverse backgrounds as “other” - a sentiment Odedina agreed with.

"We need to be published as writers first and foremost...not seen as 'other', not different, not segregated,” said Newland.

The panel also discussed the lack of diversity in the publishing workforce, with Mahey-Morgan saying: "If you don't have a diverse workforce, you don't have the insights to engage with the right audiences."

Earlier in the day a panel titled The Diversity Manifesto looked at children’s publishing, and aimed to come up with practical ideas to help increase diversity.

Author Catherine Johnson said in her 20 years of being a published writer she had only had “one non-white editor”.

“These people aren’t getting up the ladder,” she said. “There very much the mentality of ‘people like us’.

“Children’s publishing is a lovely world, but it is a ‘people like us’ world.”

Writer SF Said said he thought there had been a “massive generational change” in his lifetime in attitudes to race, but that more needed to be done to make young people from diverse backgrounds realise writing was for them.

“How can we make young people who are going to be writing stories in 20 years time think ‘it’s fun to do that’?” he said.

Stoke Newington Literary Festival took place from Friday 5th June to Sunday 7th June.

Authors appearing included Owen Jones, Will Self and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.