‘There's a whole world of writers to read who are not like you ... All we have to do is read outside of our comfort zone’ - Lemn Sissay
‘When I was a child I loved reading but I remember thinking “where are the stories about people like me?’ - Paul McVeigh
Social diversity among creators, audiences and industry professionals is essential for building a strong creative economy and ensuring that the benefits of cultural participation are shared by all.
In order for these social and economic benefits to be spread throughout all social groups, it is imperative that the culture on offer reflects the diversity of our society and a plurality of stories is being told. If audiences feel that culture reflects and speaks to their own experience, they are more likely to engage and more readers will be created.
A survey conducted as part of Arts Council England’s report Literature in the 21st Century found that 73% of respondents felt that there was an issue with the underepresentation of minority ethnic voices in literary fiction. Similar concerns exist around class and regional representation. A 2018 study found that only 1% of British children’s books feature a main character who is not white. This must change so that literature truly reflects the make-up of the society we live in.
In June 2020, a partnership of Goldsmiths, University of London, Spread the Word, and The Bookseller published Rethinking 'Diversity' in Publishing, the UK's first academic study on diversity in trade fiction in publishing. Its authors Dr Anamik Saha and Dr Sandra van Lente highlighted the assumptions made by publishers about reading audiences, publishers’ inexperience to reach more diverse audiences, the lack of creativity in looking for authors and in promoting them, the centralised nature of book-buying decisions in retail, and a general complacency when it comes to engaging with new audiences – among many other systemic challenges that can only be overcome with a less risk-averse approach.
The report urged publishers, agents and booksellers to:
- Value and engage directly with Black, Asian and other minority ethnic audiences: To make publishing more diverse, publishers need to learn to value non-white, non-middle-class audiences.
- Hire more diversely: Hiring more people who belong to marginalised communities will help publishers to tap into new audiences – but only if staff are given the resources and freedom to do this work without being burdened to speak for these communities.
- Develop strategic alliances: There is already a network of writing agencies and audience engagement practitioners that publishers can use to reach new audiences. Publishers need to invest in establishing long-term partnerships with these organisations to find and develop talented writers of colour, bringing them to publication and to audiences.
What Are We Asking For?
We must take steps to open up the creative industries more widely and welcome new entrants irrespective of class, age, disability, gender or gender reassignment (including trans), marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, nationality or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Innovation depends on fresh ideas, and to ignore currently under-represented groups is a waste of talent and potential.
Where we are now
In 2020 we still have a long way to go.
If you want to help progress race equality in the UK, we have listed some resources you might find useful:
The Let's Talk About Race report (from a Civil Society Futures inquiry) is aimed at what charities and NGOs can do, but it has recommendations for what we can all do to take action around these issues and to help progress race equality.
If you come across resources to add to this list, let us know.
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