Wheatle, Edwards and Okojie play to explore publishing's diversity record

Wheatle, Edwards and Okojie play to explore publishing's diversity record

Authors Alex Wheatle, Yvvette Edwards and Irenosen Okojie are collaborating on a play exploring the publishing industry’s diversity record.

"The Green Room", a comedy-drama, follows six authors at different stages of their careers, all of whom have been nominated for a diversity in literature award. As they wait in the green room for the awards ceremony to start, the authors’ egos, secrets and disappointments are gradually revealed. 

The play will be directed by award-winning director Roy Alexander Weise, who helmed Natasha Gordon's "Nine Night", and will be streamed live from Theatre Peckham on 4th July. It is billed as "a timely and clear-eyed exploration of the publishing industry, and the obstacles new and established writers of colour in Britain face while trying to carve out a career".

Wheatle (pictured), who is a producer on the show, said: “I wanted to be involved as a producer on 'The Green Room' because we can’t keep relying on, and screaming at, funding bodies to put our narratives on stage.  Sometimes we have to find a way to fund it ourselves and/or create partnerships, like we have done with Words of Colour and Theatre Peckham with support from UCL. It’s the Garveyite in me. I’m also involved because the play is funny as hell. 'The Green Room' is also a reminder for publishers and writers of all backgrounds of what Black creatives have to navigate in their chosen careers.”

The play’s announcement  comes on the eve of the first anniversary of Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing, the first in-depth study in the UK on diversity in trade fiction which found that publishers still see writers of colour as a "commercial risk".

Edwards, who has co-written the script, said: “Though everything of importance around the lack of diversity in the publishing industry has been methodically proven by statistics, Black authors were still being invited to literary festivals to take part in ‘diversity’ panels. Wearily they discussed the issue instead of promoting their work, as if the resolution rested with them and not with the industry itself. After many of these panels, I’ve had some very funny discussions with other panel authors, full of dark humour used primarily, I think, as a coping strategy against the trauma of having to constantly relive all the mechanisms that obstruct our access to fair and equal inclusion and progress.'The Green Room' captures some of these affirming conversations, which is why we found writing the play hilarious.”

Okojie, co-writer, added: “Diversity is such an important theme, and is an issue that has affected me, Yvvette and Alex. We each had different battles getting published. Now that we find ourselves in the position of being published writers, we have a platform, and we want to use that platform to affect change. We are all community-oriented writers. We all care about the industry. We all care about pathways for other writers of colour. We chose comedy to tell the story because we want to impact people in ways that are subtle and pertinent, while leaving them with something to think about.”

All proceeds from the show will go towards Theatre Peckham, and the performance is co-funded through a UCL Culture Beacon Bursary, with support from Words of Colour Productions, Rhythm Kitchen, Samantha Williams, Shahid Miah and Akosua Boakye. 

Joy Francis, co-producer and executive director of Words of Colour Productions, commented: “We are excited to be collaborating on, and co-producing, this very funny, timely and thought-provoking play. After numerous studies which have provided the publishing industry with road maps to transform their poor progress on diversity, it’s time to step up and make our stories visible. It is essential to be entrepreneurial and create cross-sector collaborations to show writers and readers of colour that they matter, and to let the next generation of writers know they have a future in literature and the arts.”