Publishers should emphasise 'joyful' qualities of diverse books, Levine says

Publishers should emphasise 'joyful' qualities of diverse books, Levine says

Publishers “should stop thinking about BAME talent as fulfilling a school requirement” and “should emphasise the joyful and literary qualities" of diverse books, Arthur Levine, founder of the independent publisher Levine Querido, has said.

In a keynote speech on the third day of The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference on 22nd September, Levine argued that there no trade-off for having a publishing mission driven by equity and inclusion and quality, and that by making his publishing programme’s diversity "a given" he was "free to search for writing that is outstanding by any measure”.

He explained: “It's about a deeply held belief that there are amazing authors and artists out there of all different races and ethnicities with amazing stories to tell and art to create. How can a programme reach its potential for excellence without reaching for that well of talent? How can we not find a better understanding of the eternal truths of life without looking at it from as many angles as possible?”

Levine said during his previous job at a large corporate publisher, there was a focus on trends, “despite the inevitable long gap between a decision to publish a book and the book appearing in the market”. 

He warned this was problematic because “our comfortable talk about trends allows us to wrap a quilt of familiarity around ourselves", adding: "What we know is what we know and what we want to publish is what is working now, which is, at its best, what was working when we made the decision to publish two years ago.” 

He said this “gives great power to unexamined commonly held assumptions” and that by only looking at trends, publishers are not looking deeper at their own attitudes “or how those attitudes bring about outcomes in a vicious cycle—and this blocks true creativity”. 

Levine argued that inclusion is a “realistic representation that is truly for everyone, not some idealistically progressive notion” and said that publishing in the US and the UK “consistently lags behind in reflecting this change”.

He cited a report by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education which showed just 7% of children’s books published in the UK from 2017 to 2019 feature characters from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background.