Around 2,000 people joined Stormzy to celebrate the launch of his new Penguin Random House (PRH) imprint #Merky Books, with poet and performer Benjamin Zephaniah, author Malorie Blackman and rapper Akala also featuring at the sold-out event.
Described by PRH as the “world premiere launch” for #Merky Books and the musician’s first title, Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far, the line-up at the central London’s Barbican on Wednesday evening (7th November) also included Caleb Femi, previously London's first young people's laureate, with an allocation of free and discounted tickets given to youth and school groups. The event was announced last month and is expected to be Stormzy's only UK appearance to discuss Rise Up.
Organised by Penguin Live, attendees enjoyed spoken word performers curated by London-based performance poetry organisation Apples and Snakes and selected by Stormzy, including contest winner Brandon Turner, joined by poet Bridget Minamore and Femi. A panel discussion followed featuring Zephaniah, Blackman, and #Merky Books writers Chelsea Kwakye, Ọrẹ Ogunbiyi, and Jude Yawson, chaired by rapper Akala. The evening finished with a one-to-one interview between Stormzy and Akala.
Akala and Stormzy (©Blaow)
#Merky Books is an imprint within William Heinemann, a division of PRH, which is “dedicated to publishing the best new fiction, non-fiction and poetry”, the publisher said. The imprint was announced in July and is curated by Stormzy, it publishes two to three books per year, forming “a home for a new generation of voices”.
Editorial director of William Heinemann, Tom Avery, told The Bookseller that the partnership with the musician had been in the works for some time.
“We began speaking to Stormzy a few years ago, and gradually developed the idea of the imprint as way to reach and engage with a new generation of readers, and to provide a platform for young writers whose voices are not always heard,” Avery said.
“Stormzy and Team #Merky are dream authors, and as passionate readers, insightful and careful editors. The project is, like most things that Stormzy has done, groundbreaking, and will, we hope, help to change the publishing landscape in a number of positive ways.”
Of the sold-out launch event which featured 2,000 attendees, he said: “Stormzy and his team came up with the idea of a live event showcasing new talent and some of the writers Stormzy admires most, like Malorie Blackman, that would also provide a platform for an inspirational discussion to help young aspiring writers believe their dreams are achievable.”
The imprint also includes an open submission competition to find new works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry and a paid internship.
The panel (©Blaow)
“We are hoping to announce details of the open submission competition later this year, and the internship early next year,” Avery told The Bookseller. “The internship will be a paid placement within #Merky Books, starting next year. We want #Merky Books to break down barriers within publishing, and believe that offering paid placements is one way to help achieve that.”
He said the response to the imprint had been “very positive and inspiring”.
Stormzy said of his team’s imprint: “They allow me to be my true creative self, in the purest sense of it. I know I’m going to be protected. I know everything’s going to be in place. Value, especially in creative industries, especially in music, is tangible. With the best people you won’t even know what’s going on. I want it to be this engine, this hub. This thing that’s larger than anything, larger than myself. An umbrella for healthcare, music, education and architecture. A beautiful thing that does beautiful stuff.”
Each guest received a copy of Rise Up included in their ticket, described by PRH as “featuring never-before-seen photographs, lyrics and contributions from those closest to him, [it] is the #Merky story, and the record of a journey like no other”.